11 Feb 2006
We didn’t plan on going to India. One morning in Cambodia Brandon asked me if I wanted to go to India. We found out what a flight would cost and a few months later we were off to India.
On our flight to Delhi, an Indian businessman asked us if we would be meeting a touring group. We said “no” and he said “ohhhhhhh”. He said we must be heading south then. “Nope, right across the North” we said. “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. Well…too late now. We are already on the plane
Personally, I found that India kicked my ass for a good month. I was very ill which turned otherwise tolerable circumstances into hellish nightmares. I cried everyday for the first few weeks—for no reason. I felt spent in everyway possible. If I would have really persevered and put up posts on this site they would have been full of #$%s and $%&s. I can easily say I hated the first month of our two month trip. But now that I have time to reflect, holly hell—it is an amazing place. It is everything—good, bad, really bad. If you have ever been there, you know—it’s India, and that says it all.
There is too much to say about India and everything you say can contradict itself or easily be the exact opposite of another person’s experience. None-the less, I’ll giver a shot.
Not many people will be able to experience the joy of arriving in Delhi, India, for their first time, at 1:00 AM. One of the better uses of $10 USD I have ever had was a prearranged pick-up from the airport. From the moment I left the airport was in the kind of shock I wouldn’t have believed existed unless I had experienced it myself. The drive to the hotel was in complete silence. The crumbling concrete and scattered groups of people huddled around small fires looked more like a war zone than capital city. I knew to expect experiences like this in India, but was still surprised.
On our way to the hotel there was a heavy smoke in the air and I was looking around for a fire, or a bloody pile of burning tires. It took a few seconds to fully comprehend this was air pollution that doesn’t actually go away. I was dumbfounded. I still have yet to decide if I am that naive or if India truly cannot be anticipated or preconceived in any reasonable fashion.
So, planning the prearranged ride was a stroke of genius, as was pre-booking our hotel room .Choosing to stay in the Paharganj district was perhaps not so genius. Like many other travelers we decided on this area because it is a budget area and it is centrally located. When our car pulled up to our hotel we actually had the driver walk us down the alley to the front door because Brandon (6’7, 210) and I were scared. The shops on the main strip had been cardborded and tarped up for the evening and people were sleeping lined up like sardines under blankets and tarps.
Let’s just get this cow thing out of the way now too. I knew there would be cows everywhere. I get the idea of the Holy cow. I did not however, expect to see cows in the concrete jungles of main cities. Perhaps in parks of main cities, or green areas—but never did I think that cows would live on the streets. I guess my idea of cows being “everywhere” was more like “practically everywhere”. Seeing these cows on main roads in the city was as bizarre to this prairie raised girl as a fish walking down the street.
The sheets on the bed had every imaginable stain and if someone ever decided to clean the bathroom they’d need to begin with a hammer and chisel. I decided that I’d rather be dirty than try to shower. The best part was that the door didn’t lock from the inside and anyone could walk on in at any time. I woke up in the middle of the night with a wet face and realized I was crying in my sleep. How was I going to make it a full 2 months! Is this really what all of India will be like? I thought I could handle this…
Luckily, not everything seemed quite so terrible in the morning. Brandon checked around at other hotels and we actually had the best room out of the bunch. And by the looks of many of our fellow travelers I was not the only one to forgo the whole bathing thing.
We arrived in India three months in to our trip, and we had a daily schedule that worked for us. We were used to walking everywhere and trying to eat more adventurously. It only took one morning to discover things were going to change big time in India. On our first morning we decided to walk around and check things out. I clung to Bandon’s arm as he pulled me through the predominantly male crowds. I truly mean I clung in this particular instance. It isn’t that I was truly afraid; I think there was too much sensory info to process at once. Crowds of people staring at you, you staring back. F#@kn’ crazy.
Jama Masjid & our attempt at the Red Fort
Oh, how we didn’t get it. We visited Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, in Old Delhi. You can see the Red Fort from the mosque and we figure, let’s walk over. The park that looked harmless from a distance was actually full of homeless people who up close exude the horrific ravages of urban poverty. Many of the people in this area did not look like people.
Basically, Brandon got swarmed. He was yelling at me to keep walking while he dealt with the crowd attached to him. I could see the shadow of what was happening but didn’t turn around. He had one guy who wasn’t going to give up. He was hanging on to the back of Brandon’s shirt and wasn’t going to let go. A police office drove through the area on a motorcycle and the man ran away. We were never able to get the handprint out of the shirt. To this day, it is still there.
Later in the trip we read Salmon Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh novels where the exact same situation occurs to characters in the narrative of their books at the exact same spot. In retrospect it makes sense because giving alms is one of the pillars of Islam. After devotees pray, at the mosque they give alms to people in the area. Well, that is my theory at least.
Best part—when we go to the Red Fort it was closed.
Let’s get out of here!
Catching a train out of Delhi isn’t hard if you plan ahead. There is a foreign ticket booth on an upper floor in the New Delhi train station .There are touts everywhere trying to point you in other directs. Always assume the foreign ticket booth it is open. They are fairly helpful. Make sure you have a lot of time as the lines can be long. You also have to have proof you bought your Rupees in India in the form of an ATM statement or an exchange receipt.
I really didn’t like Delhi and I need to know if there are enjoyable parts to the city. Let me know if you have had a better experience!
Locations Visited: Delhi