Hi, everyone! How are you? I am currently in Kerala, South India enjoying the back water trip. I wanted to update my blog, but recently my hard drive broke down will all pictures in it until New Delhi. Therefore, I decided to write articles about Central Asia after I recover photos (who knows when) and start writing about India for now. For New Delhi, I borrowed some pictures from my friend Johannes so that you have an image about it. Thank you Johannes!
India welcomed me in its own way even before I entered the country. That means my flight from Bishkek was delayed for 12 hours(!)It was supposed to depart at 11AM and arrive in New Delhi at 2 PM. When I first heard the delay announcement, it somehow sounded right. I was excited to see the Pamir Mountains from the sky in day light and trying the real curries in the streets of Delhi in the early afternoon. But would it be so smooth to enter the country of chaos? Of course not.
Everyone around me was upset to hear about the delay and the improper information from the flight company. Overall we were hungry. It seemed that most passengers of this flight were on transit from Istanbul, waiting since 5am with no food. However they kept patient and did not make a big fuss about it. It surprised me as my images of Indians were complete opposite. I imagined that if these were Chinese tourists, they would be making a demonstration in the lobby.
Pegasus Airlines promised us to serve food at 3pm and 6pm, but I guess that was Kyrgyz time so just before 4pm, they distributed a cheese sandwich a size of a baby’s palm. What made me upset was that there were actually enough to handout at least 2 to everyone, but they only gave seconds to the ones who asked and brought the entire plastic bag full of extra sandwiches and cakes back to their office. Kyrgyz people! Never fail to let me down until the last minute.
Finally before 9pm, the emergency airplane arrived from Istanbul and we were allowed to board. Everyone was happy, even after the poor problem handling of the airline company which made us waste the entire day. Watching people rooting and cheering when the plane left the ground, made me feel that I was going to a complete different country than Kyrgyzstan, where people rarely smiled or displayed happy emotions.
At the time I arrived to New Delhi airport, it was 2am already. An American guy, who I promised to share a taxi with, ditched me so I was all alone. I thought about using my travel insurance to get a bed in the airport hotel, but it was fully booked. The benches were all taken and I was not able to find a place to sleep either. Normally I would stay at the airport, but with my heavy backpack on my shoulders and the lack of sleep since 5am this morning I was in desperate need to lay down. I decided to take the notorious prepaid taxi to the city after asking the company again and again about the safety of their taxi.
The staff took me outside of the airport to the car parking, where their taxi driver dressed in uniform with gloves introduced me to the back seat in a professional way. Delhi seemed to be much cleaner than I imagined, with international hotels like Mariott and Novotel lining up on the wide road from the airport. But very soon the scenery changed, and I was able to spot rusty huts and dirty trash on the streets.
When my taxi arrived in the cheap hostel area called Paharganj, which looked like a huge post war black market, I was shocked with the amount of garbage on the streets. All of the buildings there looked like it was falling apart and I worried about my safety to stay there alone. In the small alleys, I saw a homeless husband and wife bundled up in a dirty blanket sleeping on top of the fruit sellers stall. In the next alley, a dog was sipping mud water from the puddle. I felt something large move behind me, and when I looked back it was a stray cow going over the garbage. Wow, I thought. This is really India.
When I got off the taxi, the smoky air hit my nose; it was the smell of burnt garbage. The driver asked me for a service tip which I refused as I already spent a fortune coming here. I walked in the alleys to find a guesthouse which was still open. After being declined by 3 full hotels (it is high season), I found a cheap place and took whatever room they had there.
The room smelled like old wet cardboard. The linen looked like it had been there for a long time, and perhaps not washed either. I could see a brown foot print on the sheets. The toilet which its color reminded me of the feces itself was definitely not cleaned for a very very long time. From the broken tap water flew nonstop, giving the room an atmosphere of a river. I looked at the room key, which was a giant pad lock instead of a normal key. Every single thing was telling me that this country is going to be a whole new experience.
Next morning, I woke up in the stinting smell of the toilet. It was coming from the mattress beneath me. Probably the damp bed had sucked the smell from the lavatory during all the years. I took a shower and went outside to eat.
I can’t describe the astonishment I felt when I first stepped outside into the sunny and dusty streets of New Delhi. Women in all sorts of colors of traditional dresses and men in bright turbans were coming from all directions. The rickshaws and scooters decorated with flowers, coconuts and Hindu god stickers honked at everybody. The colors of textiles over flowing on the street, the smell of fumes and incense sticks mixed together and the Bollywood music playing in the back was telling me only one thing; “Welcome to India!”
For a few minutes I stood there to feel and breathe the air around me. I could not move. I could not believe that the world still had to offer me a place that was so different from anywhere I knew. I had been traveling for 15 months but I felt as if I just started. I had the exact same feeling as the time I landed in Bangkok, my first visit to a developing country on my very first backpacking trip 4 years ago.
At the same time, everything looked familiar to me. I have been a big fan of Indian culture since teenage hood. I can recall my mother trying to stop me from going to school wearing a psychedelic Ganesh (elephant god) t-shirt and burning a stash of nagchampa incense sticks in my room. Walking in Paharganj was like walking in the history of my wardrobes. I found everything I wore in the last 10 years. Memories rushed to my heart.
I had lunch at an “open cafe” just beside the street of an open men’s toilet. (That means no walls) Then, I followed the main bazaar that stretched from the New Delhi train station. After knowing that there were no ATMs in the area (later I found many) I walked about 1km to Connaught place, a big shopping area in the center of the city. On the way I saw dozens of homeless people, a squirrel and even monkeys. At the Central Park, I spotted many couples making out under the trees. I didn’t think you could do that in India.
I got a variety of brand new cash all with Gandhi faces on it and walked back to the train station. On the guidebook I read at the cafe this afternoon, it said about many travelers could not make it to the “International Tourist Bureau”, a ticket office for foreigners inside New Delhi station, because they have been fooled by the scammers who told them that the office was closed and introduced them to a tourist agency next to the station.
I could not believe how stupid these people were when guidebooks tell you over and over about the classic scam tricks in New Delhi. Inside the office, there were more than 100 people waiting. As I picked a number and sat on the chair, an Israeli traveler in his 40s approached me and offered to “join forces” when he discovered that I was alone. I rejected him politely because he was completely stoned and also saw some bad intention in his eyes. Friends told me before that I needed to be careful of even fellow travelers in countries like India, Nepal or Southeast Asia where people stayed a long time, ran out of money and tried to trick other travelers.
At the station I also met a German traveler who just arrived a few days ago for vacation so we decided to have dinner together. While I ate and chat with the German traveler Johannes, an East Asian girl sitting at the next table came up and talked to us. 20-something girl claimed that she was also from Japan and asked us all sorts of questions from when we arrived, if we were together or not and where we were going. When I told her that she didn’t look Japanese, she was surprised and slightly offended. I was very suspicious about her because no Japanese person will ever come up to somebody and start talking like this. This was simply not our culture. I could also notice the small accent even though she spoke fluently.
She told us that she had been living in India for the past few years working at an animal hospital. When she left for a short period, I told Johannes to watch out. He was surprised and said he could see anything strange in her. The girl came back half an hour later with a business card of her Indian friend who organized train tickets and tours and told us to contact him whenever we needed help. I saw this Indian friend watching us from behind. I remembered that she was talking to another solo traveler when we entered the restaurant. I didn’t feel good that she used my nationality to trick people.
After drinking a couple more chai and chatting with Johannes until 10pm, I returned to my hostel. Earlier today I moved to another one just around the corner which was clean and cheaper.
The turban owner talked to me for a few minutes after I asked him for the wifi password saying that he had never met such a confident traveler from Japan because we usually looked worried or scared. He said that he couldn’t believe that it was my first day in India and that I was a great inspiration to him.
“It’s true that many people don’t make it to the Tourist Bureau and get scammed at the station. I can write a while theory about it. Even the police and the officers who work at the Tourist Bureau itself are involved in this scam. If the people who worked there told you that their office was closed and advised you to go to a tourist agency, many people would believe it. This is how it happens. Maybe I can tell you more about it tomorrow. Come down for chai.
He seemed like he was gaining my trust by explaining these tricks but I knew that he was also a scammer. On reviews of the hotel, people wrote that it was the cleanest hotel among the budget ranges but you needed to be careful since the owner introduced travelers to an “International Travel Agency” to sell expensive tours. I remembered the words of my friend saying that the tourist scammers in Paharganj was exactly everyone.
While I was checking my email, a fight outburst in a small alley right in front of the hotel. I heard a scream of a woman and several men who was yelling and throwing things. The voices and sounds only got bigger and bigger. It was such an aggressive fight which I’ve ever came across. The women sounded like she was at death threat. I looked outside. There was a mob of people yelling and screaming. I got terrified and started to shake. Is this the beginning of a rape? Is she getting killed?
An older American girl tapped my back and told me that it’s alright, that this is normal here. “Really?” “Yeah it happens all the time. But because of this I don’t recommend you to go out at night” she probably noticed that I came back just half an hour ago.
I begged for her advice as a senior traveler who had spent a total of 3 years in this country. “There aren’t so many things but you should wear a scarf to hide your chest area” she said. This day I was wearing a T-shirt and a long skirt. “I mean this is okay too, but it’s better to wear one”.
Other things she suggested were to never mention to any locals about the fact that I drank alcohol or had boyfriends. “If you met some other travelers and went out for a beer, never tell this to anyone because Indians take it in a very different way. If ever someone asked you about your private life, tell them that it’s not good that they ask about it”
I thanked her and exchanged email addresses to reunite in Varanasi again. That night, I went to bed around 2am after writing a few postcards. My body was deadly tired but my mind was wide awake which kept me awake for another hour processing everything I saw today. Some things shocked me and some things confused me but I knew one thing. I have already fallen in love with this country.
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