Friday, 30 September 2011

29, 30 September 2011: Surviving My First Rickshaw Accident

Last night ended up being nice. I'm already becoming more comfortable and confident in my surroundings. I think maybe the beer I had with dinner helped to loosen me up a little, though not so much as to drop my guard. I came to terms with the fact that I'll be seen as a source of income by most Indians. I realized, though, that that doesn't necessarily cheapen my interactions with the people I meet. I can still be friendly and create meaningful connections.

After only one day, I'm starting to recognize people and they me. I say hi to the man who sold me my phone every time I pass by, as well as to the man who sells me my water. Last night, I was sitting on the balcony of the hotel when one of the staff members I'd previously interacted with asked if I'd like to have a beer. Of course! He put the bottles on ice for a bit while I wrote and gathered my clothing for the dhobi wallah. I then sat on the patio for an hour and a half with an Indian lager, watching and listening to the street life below me. There was a Hindu puja happening to my left and a Muslim salah to my right. I saw my first holy cow. It was magical!

This morning, I woke up with a resolve to see more of the city. I decided to ditch the internet and the Lonely Planet and find breakfast on my own. Soon after I left my hotel, I was approached by a young man who started asking me questions. Instead of ignoring him, I told him where I was from and that I was looking for breakfast. Tangentially, Indians always ask if I'm either English or Australias. When I tell them I'm from the U.S., they say I don't look American. I'm not sure what to make of this? Anyhow, he led me to a tiny South Indian restaurant that provided the very environment I was lamenting last night: a ground level shop with an open view of the street where I could sit and watch and eat and drink. Plus! I finally found some heat in my food. I had a masala omelet which was perfect. I then drank both a tea and a coffee while I watched the city wake up (most shops don't open until 11). I probably sat for an hour. The proprietor was careful to seat new customers in booths that didn't obscure my view of the street. People have been so kind!

After that, I started wandering in search of a similarly appointed street view. On the way there, another young man, ostensibly a tout like the first, approached me and started asking the same questions. Where are you from? You like India? Where are you going? I played along and answered his questions. In addition to lying about the length of time I've been in India, by the way, I've also invented a fictitious boyfriend who's always taking a nap at the hotel. He took me to a tiny stall along a back alley and bought me a chai. He then offered to be my guide and take me to the Hanuman temple in Connaught Place, the so-called heart of Delhi. I agreed.

I took my first rickshaw ride ever to get to the temple. It was a hairy drive, as were all of the proceeding trips. But for about $0.50, I was able to travel a couple of miles in a novel form of transportation. 

The temple itself is awesome. For one, it's built beneath this huge, as in multiple story, statue of Hanuman. 

You take off your shoes outside the temple and pay a little boy to watch them. You enter the temple through Hanuman's mouth and walk down a staircase. 

Once inside, you essentially walk up to statues of various gods, touch their feet and then bow to them. A priest pours a teaspoon of water into your hand which you sprinkle on your head. You also receive a lucky orange tilaka (you can kind of see mine in the top image). I hope my temple worship today counters the Kali curse I received yesterday. See, I'm already thinking like a Hindu. Inside the temple was a low cave that took you to a basement full of yet more gods and goddesses. The ground was flooded above my ankles. Finally, you exit through the mouth of a lion. I enjoyed it more than I expected to and look forward to visiting other temples.

Sunil, my guide, exiting the Hanuman temple.
After this, my guide/tout, Sunil and I took the Delhi Metro into a different part of Connaught Place. It's such an efficient form of transportation. It's a raised light rail. Why is Arizona's light rail at street level? This is so much faster. Delhi does public transportation remarkably well. For about $0.10, I traveled a couple of miles in 3 minutes. Incredible.

I bought a salwar kameez in hopes of minimizing some of the attention I've been getting. We'll see if it works. I kind of think I went to a place where Sunil gets a commission, because the prices, even after my haggling, seemed a bit high. I spent about $12 for 3 scarves and the salwar kameez. Later on, I bought a pair of pants I like better for only $2. I don't know. Even if I was ripped off, I don't mind because my day was so rich and varied thanks to Sunil's guidance.

After that, we went to a South Indian restaurant for lunch and I ordered a thali meal. So much food!

Then I lifted up the puri—the puffed up bread—only to discover more food!

It was delicious. I was maybe able to put a third of it away. The total? About $2.25.

At this point, I was getting hot and exhausted and needed to get back to my room and my glorious, powerful ceiling fan. So I told Sunil that my “boyfriend” was worried and that our day together was coming to a close. We took a rickshaw back to Paharganj and that's when the accident occurred. I'm not quite sure what happened, but it involved our bumping into a cab. The fender bender was followed by 15 minutes of heated argument between the drivers and a cop. My driver ended up being fined 100 INR, a miniscule fee. The driver was very good natured about it.

Reckless rickshaw driver
Back in Paharganj, I bid Sunil adieu and here I am, in my blessedly cool room at Rak International. I'll probably go pig out some more in a couple of hours and have a final beer before I begin my six and a half weeks of abstinence. 

Oh yeah! The best news of all! Vadim bought his tickets and got his visa. He's coming for real and I couldn't be more thrilled! Hooraaaaay!

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