Thursday, 29 September 2011

29 September 11: First Night and Day in Delhi

So I'm looking for my cab and here's where I mess up. Kind of. I'd arranged for a driver from the hotel to pick me up. I searched the crowd several times for a placard with my name. I have this stubborn streak that prevents me from asking for help or appearing vulnerable when I don't know what's going on. I try to appear composed and in control and do so at the potential cost of making a rash decision. As an aside, I'm sure India will quickly wean me of that tendency. Anyway, I entered that mode of unerring false confidence when I couldn't find my name anywhere. I didn't want to appear desperate or lost as I didn't want to look like a potential victim, and I certainly wasn't up for deferring attention and sales pitches after 48 hours in airports. India doesn't operate under the same strict adherence to a time table that the U.S. does. I know that. I also knew that I'd gotten through customs with alacrity and ease and was likely earlier than my driver expected me. Even so, the thought of standing there and, gulp, waiting, with that wall, albeit an orderly wall, of men standing opposite me and staring, was unbearable, so instead of waiting a few minutes for my driver, I walked to a government-approved taxi stand and gave them the address of my hotel. 

And that's where I screwed up again. As soon as I got into the cab, I remembered that it's important to get a prepaid cab. I hadn't even negotiated a price yet. My cab driver was sweet, though, and gave me an impromptu tour of Delhi as we drove the 40 minutes to my hotel. After about 15 minutes on the phone with my hotel ascertaining its location, my cabbie dropped me safely off. He even called the hotel and had an employee come out to meet me at the car and walk me back. I really appreciated that. I ended up paying at least twice what I should've for that cab ride, plus I had to pay the cab price I'd prearranged with the hotel. So I paid $30 on cabs last night. Outrageous, but I learned a lesson.

As to the driving in India. Ha ha. It's as advertised. It's Mario Kart with aggressive horns. The lane divisions are arbitrary as are the speed limits. I found it much more nerve-wracking as a pedestrian today, though, than I did as a car passenger last night.

Delhi itself is green and tropical. There are huge Plumerias growing all over. It was dark during my drive through the better landscaped, or even just landscaped, parts of Delhi, so I wasn't able to identify too many plants other than to see that they're lush, green, and moisture loving. It's hot and humid. It was 77 F when I arrived last night and it's certainly in the high 80s today.

My hotel room is up 4 flights of stairs. I'm actually off of a balcony that leads down to another balcony and an outdoor restaurant. I'll likely eat there tonight if it's open. The room is pretty nice. There's a big clean, hard bed without bedding. I'm glad I brought a big scarf to wrap the computer in as it's been doubling as a blanket for me this whole trip. The bathroom is tile with a drain in the middle. There's a sink, a western toilet, and a shower. There's also a geyser, which is a hot water heater, but I don't know how to turn it on. A large bucket is provided for bathing. A small bucket is provided next to the toilet for hand cleaning your bits after your business. I packed toilet paper :) There's one outlet in the room and a much needed fan, which quit working at some point during the night. When I arrived, I hand washed all my filthy clothes in the sink with shampoo as my Dr. Bronner's was confiscated at Sky Harbor (nooooo). Just now as I returned to my room from breakfast, a dhobi wallah came down from the roof above me and offered me his services. I didn't need him today, but will likely avail myself of him tomorrow or Friday. Support the local service economy and all that. I haven't bathed since China, other than to wash my face. It seems kind of superfluous here and I don't feel at all self-conscious of my rancidity the way I did in the sterile Beijing airport. My natural perfume blends nicely into the olfactory chaos of Paharganj.

Clothesline I set up in bathroom. It's too humid for clothes to dry, so I've since sent them off with a dhobi wallah.
Butt washing bucket
Oh yeah, Paharganj. This is the neighborhood I'm staying in. I'm just off the Main Bazaar, which is lined with colorful storefronts selling everything. I went out this morning to find an internet cafe so I could check my email and such. It was a little overwhelming.

Views from my rooftop

Dhobi wallah
And the men. There are so many freaking men here. I want to stop and look at things, but some dude immediately gloms on to me and tries to talk to me or sell me something. “Hello Madam. Nice sunglasses. I do not need anything. I just want to practice English.” “Very beautiful. What do you need?” “Come to see my shop.” “How long do you grow your hair? You have hair like Indian.” And then they follow you for a few yards. “Madam. Madam. Madam. I am try to talk to you, Madam.” It was initially scary, but it's already gone from being a safety concern to being an annoyance. I feel unable to linger on the streets. I have to keep moving. I want to take pictures, but that would mean standing still. I hope to hookup with some backpackers tonight or tomorrow whom I can explore the town with. 

The shopping looks like lots of fun, and I have an aversion to shopping. I'm pretty sure I'll come back to the States with a duffel bag full of costumes and scarves. The textiles are fantastic. Just wish I could look at them more closely. If you ever come to India, only wear what's on your back and buy everything else here. I'm tempted to chuck all my clothes and start fresh.

Breakfast was milk chai and paneer paratha with delicious, chunky, sour yogurt. The chai was too sweet and the paratha too rich. While I'm glad I'm not attempting to remain vegan on this trip, my body still isn't accustomed to rich, buttery foods. Even though I didn't eat last night, I could only finish half the paratha. The total meal cost about $2.

I'm back in my room now, writing this and grabbing some tights to put on. I'm wearing a below-the-knee dress with a t-shirt over it and sneakers. I'm going to add the tights to make it a little more conservative and hope that cuts down on the attention at least a little. After that, I'm off to search out a coffee shop I read about that I hope will provide a comfortable, anonymous view of the street life.

I imagine I'll be writing a lot over the next couple of days since I'm not yet sure enough to venture too far out of this neighborhood. It's going to be a lot of diving out there, tentatively looking around, and then coming back to the room to decompress. The writing will certainly fall off once I'm in Rishikesh.

Also, I've already decided that, as a woman at least, I'd much rather explore cities like this with another person. It'd be nice to share observations and have the semblance of a buffer against the crush of humanity out there.

Wow. I haven't written this prolifically since college.


  1. You should be a regular blogger! It's fantastic!

  2. Agreed.
    I'm quite enjoying the writing.