Introduction to India 101 (Chennai)

“Incredible India” was only a slogan we saw in the consulate. After 3 days we spent in Chennai, we realized that maybe this is the most appropriate slogan to define India.

We arrive Chennai before the sunrise after a 1,5 days of journey with 17 hours of waiting in Shrjah Airport. When we step outside, we hardly breathe because of the hot weather and moisture. Breath-taking in real terms…

We reach Erik and Selcem’s house early in the morning. Thanks to Couchsurfing, we get into the a totally different culture slowly not to have a culture-shock.


November and December is the monsoon season in Southern India. That’s why we always take our rain covers with us. But it’s not bad to get wet, as even the rain is warm. Everybody on streets walks either on their naked feet or with slippers…

Chennai is the 4th biggest city of India, the traffic is too dense. In the beginning, we get crazy because of the sound of horns. For us, horn sounds aggressive. But nobody is angry and the flow of the traffic depends on this. In all the congestion drivers communicate by horn. A very developed language, that can be examined by linguists. Behind many vehicles, it’s written; “sound horn”.

The thing we come across everywhere, after sound of horn, is the spice odor, of course. The whole city is like a huge spice bazaar. But this is a different language also. In the mess of sounds and colors, odor becomes an element of marketing. A smell you like, mostly takes you to a dish you like…

To all languages around us, the local language of Tamil Nadu region (Tamil) is added. Even if you learn Indian before your arrival, it doesn’t work in this region. It’s easy to find someone speaking English, but it is hard to understand people with their body languages for the first days. People bobble their heads while they are talking; which means sometimes “maybe” or “yes”. So, they confirm what we say, but it looks like they are saying “oh you lucky bastard!”… To say hello, to say goodbye, even when they are angry, people bobble their heads in similar way. Also, we say “thank you” to everybody as we get used to, but we are answered just with a head bobble again. When we talk on this with our host, he says that saying “thank you” is not preferred as it cuts the interaction and help. Communication is going on…

This is a very colorful world… From temples to the streets, everywhere is colorful. Especially the clothes of the women… Of course the colors and the view have a language too. It is possible to learn about the social status or the marital status of women just by looking at what they wear. The paintings on forehead also gives detailed information about the people’s ages, status or the changes (marriage, having kids) in their lives. People express their identity…

Many religions live together in Chennai and people reflect their belief everywhere easily. While looking at a Hindu temple in a Christian neighborhood, you can hear the prayer call for Muslims. By looking at the paintings on the cars, you can learn about the personality and even the political view of the owner. Walls are full of posters and graffiti in Tamil.

Even everything looks like flowing very fast, people are not indifferent. Everybody comes to us with love and wonder. We try to be careful while taking photographs not to disturb anybody. But sometimes, somebody approaches us to take a photo with us.


Walking in the city is enjoyable as there are many things to be explored on each step. Also transportation is variable and cheap. If you have a luggage, it’s logical to take a cab because the other vehicles are generally crowded. You can use rickshaws or shared taxis for short distances. Sitting on the front seat makes you frightened at the first time, but when you get used to it, the journey becomes a movie. Buses are also cheap but they are mostly too crowded. Shared taxis cost 15 rupees (25 cents) for 10 kilometers. Train lines exist in Chennai which were built in the times of colonization. Neither stations nor trains has been restored since the time, but for long distances train is the cheapest (5 rupees/8 cents, in the city) and easiest way of transportation. Travelling by train also gives a great chance of observation.


Coaches are divided roughly in 3 classes. 1st class, 2nd class and the ladies. Men are not allowed to the couch of the women, but women can travel in the other coaches (usually with their spouse) is they want. Until now, we didn’t see any officer to control the train tickets, but anyway everybody  buys their tickets.


Even it’s a conservative society with traditional lifestyle; people are open for anything in India. A transgender woman in the ladies wagon caught our attraction. When she shakes her hands, someone gives her coins and takes the blessing for her child and for herself. Later we learned that, in Hinduism, these people are respected as it is believed that they have an effect like sorcery on people.

Streets are shared with cows, pigs, goats and dogs. In Chennai we ran into just a small numberof cats. But the cats’ role is taken by the crows. It is very common for a crow to get closer to you and ask for some food when you are sitting on a bench.

Alcoholic drinks and cigarette is not consumed widely in India. It’s not strictly restricted to smoke in public areas, but it is not approved.

Both crowded streets and suburbs look safe in Chennai. We were warned to be careful while walking but we didn’t run into any kind of disturbance or the attempt of thievery. We didn’t run into a fight or even a small argument. People respect each other’s personal space.


Before our arrival, we were told that India is more like a continent than a country. In a couple of days we spent, we felt like we are in a totally different universe. First, everything looks chaotic. But after a little bit of understanding and comprehension, chaos becomes cosmos in which everything is in harmony.

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