Sunday, December 12, 2010

India: Days 1 and 2

I am in New Delhi, India, and it is December 13, 2010. Before coming here, I stayed overnight in London, and I enjoyed it--I got to see a dear friend, and it was the first time I'd been in the U.K. and avoided its usual rain. It was interesting seeing the cigarette boxes in the duty-free shops at Heathrow, which have the following 24-point font label: "Smoking Kills." (In case you didn't know.) After an 8 hour flight from London to Delhi yesterday, and another 30 minutes drive to my hotel, I've arrived mentally and physically.

The weather in India is delightful--California weather, really. Everyone told me I'd be in for "culture shock," but I've experienced no such thing so far. I wonder if people who talk about culture shock don't understand that poor people really do exist outside of television commercials. (Or perhaps some people view any place with weak commercial zoning laws and a removal of their ethnic majority status as sufficient to cause shock.) Certainly, I've seen poor people, including the so-called "slumdogs" (from the excellent film, Slumdog Millionaire). On the way to my hostel/hotel, several children came up to my taxicar, motioning for money. I did the Thai/Indian palms-together motion, saying "Namaste," and they left me alone. The salesmen on the street are far more persistent. Already, I've been propositioned to buy sunglasses and 32 gig memory cards for ten minutes straight. These sellers walk alongside you, sometimes tugging your sleeve gently, thinking that if they follow you for at least 10 minutes, you'll give in and buy their goods. Sometimes, and far less often, a poor woman will tag alongside you, asking for money or food, but they are comparatively less persistent. If you're not inclined to buy something or provide charity, just keep walking, be polite, and after some time, they will move on to the next tourist.

I'm staying at TJS Grand, which is located in a lower middle-class section of Delhi. Everyone here has been very nice, and many people speak at least basic English. The highlight thus far has been getting fresh chai on the street. For just 22 rupees, a hard-working man boils the milk, crushes the cardamom, cuts the ginger, dishes out the sugar, and prepares a wonderful cup of tea just for you. Overall, the food has been quite good. There's a small restaurant near my hotel called "Raffles," which has excellent food. I suggest ordering the combo, otherwise known as "thali" (pronounced "tal-ee"). I had already had some street food, so I ordered naan and sweet lassi, and I think I've found my own personal food combo. I could drink about ten sweet lassis a day and still not have my fill. I also enjoyed having cold coffee in McDonald's, which is a sweet coffee drink.

I am now waiting to have breakfast in the hostel/hotel, and then we will be going to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, for two days. We've got an excellent tour guide from Gap Adventures who calls himself "Luv." The name actually suits him. He speaks perfect English, is in great shape, and very sociable. He lives an hour and half away from this hostel and had to leave early to get back to his place. That reminds me: traffic. The small cars here compete with tuk-tuks, small motorbikes, and various other methods of transport. At first, the honking seems incessant, but once you realize drivers are honking not out of anger, but to advertise their location, it all makes sense. I have walked through dense traffic and not been scared, but my sister took half a day to adapt. She seems fine now. Walking with me, we received a few stares, as we're obviously out of place with our non-Indian features, but we've never felt unsafe. Some dogs roam the streets, but they all seem docile. Bottles of water are about 15 to 20 rupees, and I recommend picking one up for your hostel/hotel room, as tap water isn't known to be completely safe. If you go into some restaurants, they will serve you a large soda in a cup for just 20 rupees. The exchange rate is about 45 rupees to one American dollar, so while it's possible to spend loads of money on nice lodgings and fancy food, it's also possible to live quite cheaply here.

Breakfast will be served soon, and I don't know if I will have access to a computer at my next stop, but I will try to post again if I can. To more chai, naan, and the simple things in life,

Your humble traveler,

Update: this became a 5 part series.  Part 2 is HERE.

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