Overwhelmed in India
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 15 of 41 › view all entries
Two words.... CULTURE SHOCK!!!
Yesterday, for the first time, I felt like I live in this perfect little bubble at home without realizing how hard other people have it in other countries.
I arrived at the airport in Delhi and had to wait in yet another long line to go through passport checks. Again, people kept trying to cut the line. I found it to be very disorganized. I was a bit worried the hotel taxi driver would not be waiting for me since I stood in line for well over an hour. I was also a bit worried to get in a car by myself with the cab driver at 4 am. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. So I was just a bit concerned. I kept trying to call Larry, but for some reason my cell phone would not dial out.
Anyway, after going through passport check and customs, I exited and looked for someone who would hopefully be holding a sign with my name or the hotel name on it.
Sure enough, there he was.... this young thin boy that looked completely harmless. He looked like he could be my niece's age. Seriously. I laughed internally just thinking, "I can't believe I was worried 10 minutes ago."
He was very friendly. He grabbed my bag and motioned for me to follow him. He spoke very little English. So I followed.
Leaving the airport took us about 20 minutes, because of course there was a long line of cars trying to exit, and everyone was cutting everyone else off.
Ok - please remember it was about 4 in the morning, so there were not many cars out on the road at this time.
Once my driver cleared the exit and got on major roads, he sped like you wouldn't believe. He drove so fast. I was hanging on to dear life. He honked the horn at every car he came across. He cut other cars off. He was like an insane maniac. I thought for sure I'd die before getting to the hotel.
I arrived at the hotel and the staff there was friendly. They got me checked in and I was on my way to the room.
My room was nice, small but comfortable. It's just right. I put all my stuff down, got some of my belongings sorted, brushed my teeth, spoke with Larry and went to bed at 6 am.
At about noon I woke up and unpacked. I ordered lunch from the hotel restaurant. I had vegetable pakoras, aloo mattar and roti. The waiter had recommended this. What a great recommendation. It was delicious. I had about half of it, and saved the other half for dinner.
I showered and dressed and got ready to go see some sights.
I walked around outside, after asking the hotel receptionist how to get to Connaught Place, until I found a tuk-tuk (a rickshaw).
The tuk-tuk was sooooo cheap! It was only 100 Rupees to go to Connaught Place (that's a little over 2 dollars and the ride itself was about 20 minutes). He also drove like a maniac, and used hand signals to turn. All the cars kept honking the horns at him. I felt like I was participating in some dangerous game of "frogger".
We arrived at Connaught Place and I walked around a bit. After only a few minutes a man who spoke perfect English came and started talking to me. I guess I had the word "tourist" written all over my forehead. I think next time I'll avoid wearing the African jewelry I was wearing. So he of course, followed me from there on everywhere I went, making recommendations as to where I should shop, what I should order at restaurants. I tried to be polite, but short with him. I went into a store, and when I exited the store he was still there. He asked me where I was from. I lied and told him "France". He asked if we could have coffee and I told him no and asked he leave me alone. He walked away.
About two minutes later, another man approached me. He also recommended sights for me to visit and asked if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee.
After walking away, I grabbed another tuk-tuk to take me to the Gold Bazaar. Wow! What beautiful crafts and saris, and scarves. I couldn't help myself so I spent about an hour there shopping. My tuk-tuk driver had told me he would wait outside for me. I knew he'd be outside because I had not yet paid him the 40 rupees (less than 1 dollar) he had charged me to take me from Connaught Place to the Gold Bazaar. After trying to negotiate the prices on everything (bartering here is easier than in South Africa), I was happy with my purchases. I came outside to find my tuk-tuk driver anxiously waiting for me.
He was so adorable, this little old man who was so excited to get a dollar from me. He drove me to the Laxmi Narayan Mandir temple. It was beautiful but humble.
It's sad because outside the temple, I saw so many young boys selling random stuff. Some of the boys were selling calendars with pictures of Gods on them, other boys were selling gum and candy and other boys were selling postcards. I didn't plan on buying anything, but when two young barefooted boys came and showed me what they were trying to sell and the prices (less than 2 dollars) I decided they could really use my business. I purchased two booklets of postcards and a calendar.
The streets themselves are in poor condition. Next to the temple I had planned on visiting, there was another small temple. The road leading up to it was all damaged. There were little boys that could not have been older than 5 years, playing with the concrete rocks from the ruined pavement.
I had to take my shoes off to go inside. Yuck! I was so grossed out because I hate dirtying my feet, but I wanted to see the temple, so I removed my shoes. It was quiet inside. I took some pictures, came outside and walked over to the Laxmi Narayan Mandir temple. This temple was large. I was stopped by a guard who told me I had to leave my camera and cell phone. I asked him if he was sure my stuff would be okay, and he smiled politely and said yes. He gave me a lock to put my stuff in a small locker.
I removed my shoes again (gross) and walked around the temple. It was sort of weird. I was so unwilling to remove my shoes. But once I was walking around barefooted, I felt liberated. Like I had left my inhibitions at the door. I just read all the signs, and appreciated the art, architecture and statues around me.
There were other Indians in there praying. One young girl kept touching a statue and in between touches would bow her head a bit and pray. I wondered what she was praying for.
I then exited and went to the small shop next door. It was about 5:30 pm at this point and I had wanted to get back to the hotel before dark. So I decided to find a tuk-tuk.
The tuk-tuk driver I found wasn't fully sure of where my hotel was. I had given him the address and I could tell he was trying to think, but he told me to get in anyway. I got in though I was certain he wasn't fully sure of where we were going. He drove for about an hour.
Along the way, I tried to take everything in. At the red lights, I saw young boys selling more random stuff. One boy had about 100 cell phone chargers (who sells cell phone charges in the middle of the busiest intersection?), and another boy had towels. All the stuff I saw people selling just seemed so bizarre.
Along some of the roads, I saw tents made out of what I think was tarps. These were the Indian versions of the South African squatter camps. I saw families in the tents. I saw children, barefooted and shirtless, playing on the sides of the roads. One boy approached our tuk-tuk and asked for money (I think that's what he was asking for). I saw poorly maintained roads, poorly maintained cars, tuk-tuks being held together with tape, dirty stray dogs EVERYWHERE (even at entrances to temples) and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I saw poverty all around me.
I was just sitting there in the tuk-tuk letting someone drive me around, while I took pictures and I just started thinking, "I have it made back home." Honestly, I was so humbled and felt so privileged to be able to be here and see all this. I couldn't believe how much poverty I was seeing. I was thinking of other places I've been to and I can honestly say, India looked worse off than any other place I've been to. It looked worse than Cuba and worse than Colombia to me.
I don't know if it's because I was in a touristy spot in Cuba, but at least in Cuba I didnt' see the tents on the sides of roads. There it seems like people have little but it's all equally distributed. In Colombia, you see children selling goods on the streets, but I think it is worse here in India.
Even the hotel in India where I am staying seems like luxury to me now compared to what I witnessed on the streets.
My tuk-tuk driver was a bit lost along the way. He stopped a few times to ask for directions. I didn't feel unsafe, even when he got out and left me in the tuk-tuk by myself. He came back each time, with a big smile on his face and I was certain each time that this time he knew where he was going. It took him well over an hour to get me back to the hotel.
He had initially told me the fee to bring me back would be 100 Rupees (just a bit over 2 dollars). But I think it took him longer than he realized and I was just so grateful he got me back to the hotel in one piece safely (though he dodged a ton of cars, bicycles, dogs, and children on the streets and was honked at the entire drive back) that I felt 200 Rupees was more appropriate. So I paid him double what he asked.
He smiled at me and went on his way.
I am glad this is not the first foreign country I visit. Anyone who comes here first, without visiting any other country, would be in for the greatest culture shock ever.
It's sad that people live in such poor conditions, but I am glad to have seen all this. I'm glad I witnessed all of this first hand. It really makes me realize how good I have it back home. I feel like I live like a queen back home. It makes me really appreciate all I have.