We arrived at Tiruchirappali (Trichy for short, otherwise variously spelled Tiruchchirappalli, Tiruchirapali and Tiruchirappali) as the sun hung low over Tamil Nadu, India's southernmost state. From the airplane I saw the tan lines of dusty roads and sharp-cornered patches of agricultural green. A thick line of smog added visual levels to our descent, but the sky held out blue all the way to the ground.
We caught a taxi with little fuss and zoomed off in the golden sunset to find a hotel near the bus station. Women in a rainbow of saris walked the roads beside us; yellow, honking three-wheeled taxis (called autos here) feinted left and right in the traffic; cows chewed grass unmolested. We had arrived.
The next morning we set off to survey our surroundings, feeling like explorers. We walked the wrong way, out of town, along a highway and through villages spliced into the city. Everyone was friendly, throwing us toothy smiles and generous “hellos.” Nearly everyone spoke English. We ate breakfast for 25 cents, checked out a local supermarket, ate our spicy lunch like the locals—with our hands and off of a plate made from a piece of banana leaf.
In the afternoon we walked the other way, attempting to reach the city bazaar so we could buy some mosquito-foiling long sleeved shirts. Instead, we found small shrines to many-armed Hindu gods, vegetarian restaurants, hand-painted movie posters, a giant vegetable market and a lot of people wondering why we were walking and wanting to shake our hands.
We decided to extend our original sight seeing plan. The temples and bazaars will wait; today was for us to discover India.