Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Little Bit of Indian Culture

The past two weeks have been full of learning experiences, to say the least. I love getting to experience the true culture of places I visit - far more than the "culture" that you see on TV or experience in tourist areas. I don't know how all of India really is, but here are just a couple things I've seen here in Hyderabad in the south:

Rickshaws and Roads. Rickshaws are like 3-wheeled "mini taxis" and it's the type of transportation most people here use if they're going somewhere too far to walk, but too short to endure the bus (Though buses are very inexpensive to ride, they're outrageously crowded here and often don't come to a complete stop. They're referred to as "running buses" for that reason. They're super uncomfortable and you typically only take them if you're going a distance farther than half an hour away.) Rickshaws are also known as "ricks" or "autos" and they're definitely not built to transport several large Americans at once - but we do it anyway.

Autos are the little yellow 3-wheeled vehicles. 

They break down all the time. Our driver was actually kind enough to give a fellow auto driver a "push" while we were driving one time.

The roads are always very crowded and the pollution is awful. I suppose there are technically traffic laws, but they mean nothing here. Lines are ignored, stoplights are only obeyed if the police are there to enforce it, and horns are actually used more as a courtesy to let someone know you're near them than as a tool to tell someone they've pissed you off. Needless to say, with as many people as are one the road (both walking and riding), horns are a constant sound here. It's gotten to the point where they all just blend together for me and I don't even hear them anymore. 

This was at a point where the stop lights were actually being obeyed so the intersection is clear for once.

The roads (called "lanes" here) are super crowded and there are so many people walking that crosswalks (if they exist at all) are never used. My first day here, it felt like we were in the video game Frogger trying to get across a highway. It freaked me out the first day or two, but now we're all pros at crossing an extremely busy street. I've learned it's best not to really look to hard before crossing, or else you'll lose your nerve. Motorcycles are also everywhere, usually with at least 2 or 3 people on them (sometimes up to 5 or 6). I'd say for every car and rickshaw, there are close to 2 motorcycles or mopeds around here.

West Marredpally Road, the area of town where we live in Secunderabad.

Shopping. Buying most things in India is a whole new experience. Most of the things we buy are from little markets along streets, and most of the things you buy from there are bartered. Unless the price is already given on a price tag, you can usually expect to haggle WAY down whatever price the seller offers. Many people here think that all Americans are rich, so they typically tell you a price that's about twice what it should be. We have a few favorite places to shop for clothes and cool items around here - namely James Street Bazaar, Charminar, and Shilparamam Crafts Village. But you really have to be firm, or you'll get  ripped off big time.

James Street. Shop after shop of haggling goodness. 

Charminar. It used to be a mosque, but is now mainly a tourist attraction with loads of shops in the surrounding streets.

 Charminar is pretty much the bangles capitol of the world!

Inside Craft Village. Ganesh is a very popular god around here.

Though the majority of the population can barely afford to survive, the top 20 or 30 percent of Indians LOVE their malls! There are probably 4 or 5 big malls just around Hyderabad. Their stores are very American-ized and so are their prices. Nothing is cheap at the malls here (except for KFC, which a few bucks cheaper than in the states). And they're big on security all over the place too, with full on metal detectors and areas to be patted down outside of entrances to most large buildings. It makes sense that they would be though, considering all the dangerous countries surrounding us in India.

Seriously, 5 stories worth of mall right here. 

A typical security checkpoint outside a large building.

All in all, India is great. A lot of the stereotypes are true, which is really funny, and a lot of things are way more intense than I could have imagined. But we're loving the experience!

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