Monday, February 28, 2011

India - Part 2: Delhi

Our first day of excitement started with us freezing our butts off. It was winter and we knew it would be cold, but it happened to be the coldest winter Delhi had ever had, ever. I was expecting 60, maybe 70 degrees, based on all my research. It was far colder and to top it off, no hotel rooms or cars had heat. Brrrr! We bundled up the best we could and headed out to see the sites. On our way to our first stop I saw my very first elephant making his way, with rider intact, down the prior mentioned crazy roads. Then I saw the camels. Then I saw the monkeys on the side of the street. In my first 15 minutes of daylight in the van I had seen all of this. Just another normal day in India.

The other things I saw were not as exciting, not as happy, so to speak. The poverty in India is astounding. There are 1 billion people leaving there and about 600 million of them are at the poverty level. Everywhere we went children would be playing in dirt and trash and people would be cleaning their little hut houses on the side of the roads, while right across the street there would be big, fancy hotels or even modern malls. It was like nothing I had seen. If you're familiar with AZ picture this: Scottsdale with all of it's fancy schmanciness and then right across the street from the mall and on both sides homeless people by the hundreds, straw houses, goats and giant piles of trash with small children playing in it. That's how everything looked. So odd and out of place but all in the exact same spot.

Photo Credit: Melia Metikos 2011
We went to old temple grounds first where we saw some of the most beautiful ruins I've seen yet. The one thing that made them stand out for me was the sanskrit writing. There is something beyond beautiful about that writing to me. Every word is like a breathtaking painting. After wandering around a bit there we went to The Lotus Temple. Essentially, a giant white building that looks like, you guessed it, a lotus flower. You have to take your shoes off (even in freezing winter) before you can go in to pray or meditate. We went inside, had a seat on the marble benches, and just sat in silence. I meditated for a little bit, something I deeply wish I did more, but admittedly don't make time for. It was a calm, very peaceful time.

We then went to the India Gate, a giant doorway type thing, that seemed to be incredibly popular for reasons I can't really remember, but I believe it had something to do with being a monument to a war. After that we got in the van and the group made a decision: Since we are such a small bunch, let's make our own schedule. We'll still see everything on the tour, but we can take as much or as little time as we want, stop for a coffee break every day, and make it our very own trip. Raj was cool with this so we went to get our first cup of coffee, or for me, tea. At this point we were all bonding nicely and had already started taking a bunch of pictures of each other to share later and show to our other friends back home. Just this week I got an email from Tony telling me I was famous back home at their hair salon as one of the group pictures of us was passed around daily. Friends to last a lifetime, I love it.

We had the afternoon free to ourselves until dinner, so we decided to go explore the neighborhood. This is a moment, again, where I'm glad I had a wonderful friend like Tony around. It's not entirely safe for a woman, a tourist even more, to go out exploring. Some places yes, some places not so much. Tony was our unofficial official body guard. On more than one occasion, even if Mary was taking a nap, he was ready and willing to go out exploring with Sunita and I and it was very appreciated.

We ended up only needing to go one block before we met a nice Indian gentleman who told us that the shopping center we were headed to was closed and that a four story mall was right around the corner. He even got us a little teeny tiny cab to take us all there. That was an experience all in itself. There we were, all four of us, sitting on a two person seat. It was warm at least, in the cold evening air. When the little cab got us to the mall we went in and discovered that this was no mall at all. It was a little four story building that a few men owned and operated and we were the new tourists that they had just tricked into getting there. The whole thing was a set up. It was safe, nothing scary about it, but a set up none the less. We did look around but then headed out to where our little scam cab guy was waiting. We later went to the originally planned outdoor shopping center only to re-confirm our scam, as the center was very, very open and tons of people were shopping.

We looked around for a couple of hours and did our best to not get scammed further. In other countries people will try and stop you to sell you things or to get money, but in India they are very persistent. Intensely persistent. They grab you, touch you, follow you for blocks, show you their babies to distract you, etc. At all times you have to make sure you and your belongings are safe and sound. Now, this is not to say that the people there aren't nice or that there aren't perfectly good, kind people there, because India is full of them as well. It's just imperative to watch out for those that aren't.

After perusing for a while we headed back to meet Raj and drive out to dinner. On the way back we passed some men on the street with gigantic guns. I remember thinking how odd it was that I felt incredibly safe, even with that five feet away from me. If I had been alone, maybe not, but I was with friends. That or I was so cold all sense of security and reason had left me. When we got back to the hotel I changed into warmer clothes. I was already bundled but we had an hours drive to dinner and it was freezing out. I emerged from the hotel resembling the little brother from The Christmas Story.

I was excited for dinner. I love me some Indian food and I was about to get a real, authentic Indian dinner. Or so I thought.  Dinner wasn't bad, it just wasn't great either. They had purposely toned it down for us tourists because they were expecting us that night. We were all really bummed out because we're big fans of the food. Raj promised us from there on out we would get authentic food after the four of us ended dinner looking depressed. We went back to the hotel, turned on our little tiny room heater and went to bed. I slept hard and soundly and thus far, didn't even miss home yet.

More to come tomorrow as I now need to go to bed and get some zzz's.

Related Post
India - Part 1: The People You Meet

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