From Holiday To Holi-Day To Holy Hell What’s Happening Today (My Adventures In India)!
In the last few months in India I’ve bared witness to:
- 1 restaurant that redefines food
- 3 hospitals
- 5 neurologists
- 15+ public parks
- 20+ temples
- 1,100km of road trips
Let me set the scene (before I blow your mind with the world's best restaurant).
I’m not someone who travels by meandering through a capital city before quickly fleeing to the most famous natural scenery and then fly home a week later.
As a digital nomad I prefer to act like I’ve lived somewhere my whole life, and then absorb a culture through osmosis (otherwise known as eating).
I like to live how the locals live, eat where they eat, and consider each destination home for the duration of my stay.
As of the time of writing this, I’ve been in India for a little over 4.5 months.
However, there’s been enough action to fit into a story spanning 4.5 years.
I’ve spent time hobbling around hospitals speaking to neurologists, time in coffee shops speaking to the elderly in hope of pinching some sage Eastern wisdom, and time in the local parks speaking to kids playing cricket (mostly through improvised sign language).
It's been two thirds Michael Palin, and one third unaired episode of House MD.
The Innocent Arrival
My friend picked me up from the airport as he always does (he’s from Gujarat and to leave me to make my own way into the city is akin to cultural blasphemy in India).
The first week we catch up over beers and nibbles, I spend half of the time mocking him for his poor choice of beverage as he polishes off yet another Kingfisher.
If you’re coming to India I URGE YOU to try Bira 91 instead.
After needing a checkup with some issues I was having with my leg, I’m kindly recommended to drive 1,000km from Jaipur to the Northern city of Chandigarh to get the best medical advice in the country.
So much for settling in.
My undesired journey North
This was quickly made worthwhile when I discovered the further North you go in India, the spicier the cuisine becomes. Upon hearing the news I could feel my eyes welling up with tears, tears of joy.
Not to be confused with the tears of agony you might get when eating the chilli based, molten curries of Punjab.
2 things immediately struck me about Chandigarh
Rock Garden of Chandigarh
- It’s a LOT cooler than Rajasthan, which makes sense as it’s near the Himalayas.
- The congestion is non-existent compared to the major cities. Green parks and trees sprout from every corner of the city and you’re never surrounded by an industrial cacophony of concrete.
The air is crisp like freshly cooked samosa batter - and the locals are sweeter than a mango lassi.
After visiting the hospital I was assured that nothing serious had befallen me, and was told (yes not recommended but told), to meditate to reduce stress in dealing with my symptoms.
What better place to learn how to meditate than India?!
Within weeks I was looking at more temples than a cross-eyed ear doctor.
A month into my trip me and my Indian buddy knew a handful of locals in the stores, coffee shops and dhaba’s (humble street restaurants named after motorway food stops).
I’d also accidentally adopted a little rascal called Anurag.
My new mate Anurag
This is the beauty of spending prolonged periods of time in one place. The bonds you cultivate have time to blossom.
Before I get into the festivities of India that I accidentally took part in, I need to put a special thank you out there onto the internet, as testimony of my undying gratitude.
THANKYOU SHAMA DHABA!
Some good Dhaba at last
This is not your ordinary Dhaba. I don’t even know if the people cooking here are human in form, such is the deity-like flavours imbued into every dish.
The tawa chicken would have Gordan Ramsey screaming expletives at himself in the bathroom mirror for ever thinking he could cook a half decent curry
It tastes like all of India’s finest spices, stirred into a liquid epiphany.
That last sentence only doesn’t make sense because you haven’t tasted it.
Indian food serves in it's traditional trays
The boneless chicken patties are umami rich cuts of tenderised meat, marinated in a delectable masala, sprinkled with coriander and garnished with hope.
I almost wanted to use matchboxes to build a tiny mausoleum, not dissimilar from the Taj Mahal, around my now empty plate of food the first time I finished a meal there, as a symbol of my respect.
Shukriya Shama Dhaba! (that’s thankyou btw)
“It’s Holi Day Tomorrow By The Way”
6 weeks in, with my new favourite weight gaining pitstop (shama dhaba) firmly part of my daily routine, my friend decides to casually mutter “it’s holi-day tomorrow by the way”.
This is what I meant by treating every trip like I’m a local. Thousands prepare and fly out to India specifically for this event, whilst I almost missed it in a haze of daydreams about my next curry.
Enjoying Holi Day - The Festival of Colour
Whilst Diwali (which I accidentally experienced last year in Rajasthan), is the festival of lights, Holi is the festival of colour.
It sounds bombastic, but Holi is a physical representation of what India is at heart.
A colourful fiesta that strikes at the senses. I mean strikes at the senses literally. You’ll have psychedelic pink powder flying into your eyes, ears, nose and mouth for the day.
Locals enjoying the festivities
Holi was one of the most pleasant surprises of my life. In fact I loved Holi so much I vowed to never wash my Holi garments as a token of respect. I also have no faith the colours would come out. I might display them in a case like a signed football kit in a trophy room?
It seems Holi Day caught my eye!
Holy Hell What’s Going On Today?!
Remember when we could go outside and plan a picnic without feeling the need to look up hazmat suits on Amazon Prime first?
The global lockdown from COVID-19 has been one of varying degrees in different countries. India has been one of the stricter ones I can firmly attest to.
Friends back in England tell me they have“only had 1 hour of exercise time outside” in increasingly frustrated tones.
Calling home during lockdown
Whenever I hear that I scratch my head wondering what the word “outside” means, as I spiral into a dystopian world of sweltering Indian heat inside of a box room decorated with the world’s weakest ceiling fan, eating a diet comprised almost entirely of lentils.
My very ineffective air con unit
It sounds worse than it is.
I’m a stoic traveller who doesn’t mind humble means for months at a time. It’s now almost 2 months into the lockdown and only last week was I permitted to leave the street I currently live on.
I’ve gone from an unexpected 1,000km commute the second I arrived in India, to walking a total of 46 steps around my box room, over a 7 week period.
Now the country is slowly opening. Restaurants aren’t yet open (moment of silence for Shama Dhaba), but fruit stands and basic grocery stores are.
Local Grocery Stores
I will likely be stationed here for another month or two.
And no doubt in typical Indian fashion, there will be more monkey business to attend to than a weekend stag-do with Hanuman.