07 Jul Series Feature: An Invitation to India, Pt 3
An Invitation to India – Part Three
Red Moon Rising
Written and Photographed by: James Artaius
They say that cities reveal themselves at night…….
That a place’s true nature is shown not by the bright, all-encompassing light of the day, but by what its people deem worthy of worshipping with illumination once darkness descends.
In visiting various countries and cultures around the world, I’d say that there is a great deal of truth to this sentiment. There are exceptions, obviously; sleepy Cotswold villages tend to switch off at 5pm, for example, their quaint slices of Britishness (sliced in strictly triangular sandwich form, of course) having characteristically little to say once the cream teas have been consumed.
For every early-to-bed, early-to-rise Castle Combe, however, there’s any number of near nocturnal locations whose picture postcards (or Google Images results) would be rather more limited were it not for their post-watershed proclivities. Despite all the veniality of its vampiric nightlife, Las Vegas is scarcely a place worth waking up before lunchtime.
Southern India sits somewhere in-between. By day it shows itself to be much the burnt-orange-hued, sapphire-skied smorgasbord of visual bombast that you might expect. But while the palette of colliding colours, creating tapestries of retina-searing vividness, remains much the same once the sun has gone down, the flavour of this magical place changes ever so slightly – both figuratively and literally.
The thickness of the air is pierced by the scent of paneer, as if the street food vendors are using a culinary version of the Bat Signal to summon weary travellers. It goes without saying that street food here should be met with as much caution as the water (for reference, brush your teeth with bottled water, never ask for ice when you order your drinks, and beware the freshly rinsed salad). However, with a little common sense and discernment, there’s every reason to follow your nose to a street food stall and sample some of the most honest indications of the local cuisine.
It should be remembered that there is nothing “wrong” with the water here; it just contains different kinds of bacteria than we have in our water at home. And obviously if you eat the snack that’s been baking in the sun all day, rather than watching one be cooked fresh for you, you’re just as likely to get “Delhi belly” anywhere in the world as you are in India.
An experience that is definitely different in India than it is back home, however, is a seemingly quite innocuous one: the humble selfie. It’s safe to say that if you’re a Caucasian, and in particular a Caucasian female, you are going to find yourself pursued by selfie-seeking paparazzi as soon as you step off the traveller’s trail.
My travelling companion was not only one of my best friends, but also a fabulous professional model – the stunning Chiara Elisabetta. It should go without saying that she’s no stranger to having her photograph taken, or to taking the odd selfie of her own. Still, that wasn’t enough to prepare her for the repeated cries of, “One selfie, one selfie!” and, “Madame, please!” that she was serenaded with whenever we ventured off the beaten path. Indian people love having their picture taken with pale-skinned travellers – especially “Barbie doll”, as Chiara became known.
It can get a tad tiresome constantly being cajoled – and, on occasion, pulled and prodded – into having the umpteenth picture taken with the umpteenth overly enthusiastic local. But it seemed to me, at least (and admittedly I had the luxury of being able to defer most of the paparazzi to Barbie), that this was only fair game. We were, after all, guests in these people’s towns, villages and indeed country. I just considered the selfies a sort of newfangled tourist tax.
“Once the sun has gone down, the flavour of this magical place changes ever so slightly… both figuratively and literally”
Besides, being snapped by paps was unavoidable whenever we went near any of the night market stalls. Well, they weren’t really “night market” stalls because they were open during the day – they simply didn’t seem to close, not until we’d long since eaten and gone home to bed anyway. It’s incredibly sensible to be able to do the food shopping in the evening, rather than during India’s scorching sunlight hours. That doesn’t make it any less novel, though, coming from England where simply being able to shop on a Sunday is still a relatively new thing.
Back on the tourist track, nightlife is much as you’d expect… except when it isn’t. Beaches and party towns seem to simmer down earlier than you would think (most bars and clubs were quiet by midnight, and utterly silent by 1am), but they’re suitably neon-drenched and bass-heavy until then. Elsewhere, though, enterprising entrepreneurs have devised clever ways of diverting revellers’ rupees away from the cash registers of restaurants and nightclubs.
One of the more ingenious nocturnal activities offered the chance to increase your money tenfold. Should you wish to transform 50 rupees (60 pence sterling, or 73 cents US) into a cool 500 rupees (£5.96 / $7.34), all you had to do was hold your body off the ground for two minutes on a chin-up bar. You didn’t have to perform an actual chin-up for that duration, just keep your feet from touching the floor. Sound easy enough? Perhaps it would have been, had the bar not been loose on the two supporting poles, causing it to rotate and shift your weight while you tried to hold on.
Drinking and dancing in Day-Glo bars, shopping for noisy shirts in night markets, wandering the alleyways sampling street treats, sitting by campfires amid fire poi performers, watching temples light up like ornaments as the sun sinks into the horizon… truly, the night reveals another side of India – it’s more playful side.
About the Author/Photographer:
As it says on his business card, James is a “Maître Jacques” – jack of all trades. An Olympus-addicted photographer, long-in-the-tooth model, lapsed journalist and recovering videogame addict, he currently makes his residence in the birthplace of catch wrestling, Wigan, in the northwest of England. He enjoys deciphering David Lynch and listening to The Midnight.
Check out his portfolio on PurplePort: James Artaius Portfolio