After a four-year hiatus, I finally returned to India on a 5-week trip, spanning 3 southern states and more destinations than ever before. It was great to be back home and spend time with family. Sharing a few observations (both subjective and limited) -

1. Indian cities are vibrant and a feast for the senses. The streets are a symphony of vehicles, people, and shops. The malls are packed, even on a weekday afternoon, and the streets and restaurants are bustling even late at night. You'll find more life in one Indian city than in most American cities combined, except maybe New York and LA. 

2. But the constant bombardment of rough and loud sensory inputs - noise, traffic, dust, pollution, smells, crowds, and chaos - can be overwhelming and tiring. Many tourist destinations, like the Abbi waterfall in Coorg and the palace in Mysore, were also too crowded to be savored. Even if you stay home, there seems to be an incessant stream of visitors (helpers and vendors). It made me more appreciative of my 'boring' neighborhood in the US, with its nearly empty streets, fresh air, and overall serenity. 

3. Commerce is everywhere, fluid and fragmented. Products can be customized and prices negotiated. Digital payments have skyrocketed and gone mainstream, with even street vendors and autorickshaws accepting payment through Google Pay or other UPI-based apps. E-commerce and local delivery apps like Dunzo and Swiggy have also really taken off. 

4. Honesty, conscientiousness, and quality aren't very common. We encountered dirty and dilapidated hotels, a fake tour guide, a lazy tour guide, a rental vehicle with a broken AC, an event venue with a broken elevator, and several canceled Ubers. Those who are naive and polite are inevitably taken advantage of. You must always be vigilant, distrustful, and assertive, which can be unpleasant and exhausting. Google reviews are helpful and fairly predictive, where available - businesses consistently rated over 4.5 stars are quite good, and those under 4 or 3.5 are pretty unreliable. You can also stick to only high-tier and reputed brands and service providers. 

5. Meals are delicious and diverse, but often excessive and heavy on sugars and carbs. Every other person seems to have diabetes or a significant paunch. People don't seem to use the stairs or walk too much. Lifestyle prioritizes indulgence over health. 

6. Religion runs deep in the veins of people in every stratum. Everywhere you look, you'll find temples filled with ardent believers. Faith, of different kinds and flavors, is evident in every aspect of life - from daily rituals to homes and workplaces to larger celebrations and pilgrimages. 

7. The upper-income class seems to live a distinct and good life, with helpers for all their household chores, nannies and fancy schools for their kids, extravagant restaurants, shopping, vacations, and increasingly liberal western attitudes.

My trip reminded me of the uniqueness, complexity, joys, and challenges of India.