July 09, 2011
Delhi at a Glance
I am in India. I can't even fathom how good it feels to be here. I have been wanting this to happen since I first heard about the Summer in South Asia program in December; and now its actually happening. Although I'm used to traveling getting here was difficult and I am so happy that I have been able to make the journey with a friend. Michael, a good friend and fellow intern in Turkey, is also interning at Shramik Bharti this summer. We left on Thursday June 30th around 11pm from Ankara to Istanbul by bus and although I had been fortunate enough to have pretty good health for the majority of the two months we spent in Turkey, I randomly got very nauseas and threw up on the bus. It was quite terrible because it was the middle of the night and the bus ride was 6 hours long. The journey was terrible since I felt so sick I also couldn't sleep and unlike some of the other buses we have been on in Turkey the service wasn't very good. Fortunately for us however, we arrived on time to Istanbul, around 6am and then took the tram all the way to the airport. I was so happy that I had begun to feel better and that it was easy to navigate our way to the airport, particularly considering how confusing Istanbul can be. After that we spent around 8 hours in the airport waiting for our plane to arrive and tried to spend the last of our lira.
We flew on Etihad airways which had extremely nice service. We had a layover in Abu Dhabi and we were even able to eat with a friend of ours family that lives there. After that we had a short flight to India (around 3.5 hours) and arrived in the airport completely exhausted but excited. The airport was just as gorgeous as everyone said it would be. It was also interesting because going from Turkey to India was such a transition. Aside from the lack of English speakers in Turkey, parts of it seemed like the US. I think that is partially because we spent a lot of the time in the major cities, but regardless I felt very comfortable traveling there and didn't experience a lot of culture shock. India has been pretty different, it is truly unlike any other country I have ever seen, and so completely opposite of what I'm used to. I have stood out before but never like I feel like I do in India. Luckily having family in both Kanpur and Delhi has helped make the transition so much easier and I was able to go to some markets and pick up some Kurthas (Indian style shirts that are made from very light cotton material) that help me blend in a little more. Going to the markets I realized I needed to brush up on my bargaining skills. It helps that I have read a lot (and been warned by my family) not to carry a lot of money around because of pick pockets, so when I don't have a lot on me I end up window shopping and the vendors realize the have to lower the prices or I won't buy anything. Its amusing and slightly overwhelming how much attention we unintentionally attract. People ask to take our pictures, and where we are going, do we want to see their shop, go on this tour or that, do we need help, take this ricksaw, etc. etc. Walking through the streets of Old Delhi is quite the experience. Its remarkable how different Old and New Delhi are. Its as if they are in different centuries almost. The latter has large buildings with gardens, trees, and nice cars while the former is extremely crowded and filled with rickshaw drivers, people lying in the streets, vendors and small shops, litter, and cows and dogs in the street. I am equally impressed and terrified of the driving in India. I wonder how people learn to drive without using their sideview mirrors or lanes. I also think that honking has a much different meaning here. People honk all the time and I think that it is an indication of where a car is (as opposed to being angry at something a driver nearby did like its commonly used for in the States) but I don't think I will ever figure out how drivers don't get confused by all noise. With so many cars that are constantly honking, its easy to get lost in the commotion even as a pedestrian or in the passenger seat.
I was really fortunate to hear about this new tourist bus (its called HOHO as an acronym for Hop On Hop Off) where there are tour guides on the bus that come around to stops every 45 minutes and tourists can just get off at the attractions they want to see and spend as long as they'd like because the bus services goes from 8am to 715pm. I got to see the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, the old fort, Humayan's Tomb, Dili Haat, Connaught Place, Chani Chowk, Qutab Minar, and many others. It was truly wonderful and I enjoyed myself a lot. It was nice to be able to see things on my own tempo, and then go on an air conditioned bus while traveling between places (it was around 102 F when I took the day trip). One thing that I learned the hard way is never to travel without an umbrella during the monsoon season. While visiting the old fort, it started to get cloudy and as Michael and I were waiting for the bus to pick us up it started pouring. Saying that it rained cats and dogs would be a vast understatement. Even though we were only outside for 10 minutes or so we were completely soaked, and it was the only time I didn't enjoy the air conditioned bus. Aside from that I also thoroughly enjoyed myself in Janpath, a smaller portion within Connaught Place, where I was able to find a lot of small handicrafts. While walking down the streets I saw a monkey eating McDonalds fries on the street. I stopped to take pictures and pretty soon after it ran up to a street vendors cart and grabbed down a bag of lays and doritos, ran back up to the building and climbed all the way up to the rough where it ripped open the bags and started eating the chips. Walking through the streets is so crowded and busy, and it seems like everyone has places to go--but for five minutes a large crowd paused to watch the monkey and the street was full of laughter at how sly he had been.
Delhi was great but I was excited to leave for Kanpur and begin my fellowship. I took a train from New Delhi to Kanpur and the ride was quite enjoyable. I had a samosa for the first time in ages and got to see some of the countryside as we drove past. The only major struggle I had was finding my cousin when we reached the train station in Kanpur. It was extremely crowded and there were no foreigners around so we both became a big spectacle. None of the people I asked for help spoke English and I was having a hard time finding a public phone. I was beginning to get really nervous because it was late and I didn't have many rupees on me but fortunately after an hour we found my cousin. Things have gone very smoothly since then. I had my first day of work today and it primarily consisted of familiarizing myself with the history of the water aid programs that Shramik Bharti (the NGO I'm working with) has implemented in the last three years that it was worked with another international organization WaterAid. The facilities are nice and everyone we have spoken with so far has been very accommodating and helpful with any questions I have had. I am excited for what the following week has to offer. For right now I'm just enjoying the food (especially mangos) and chai and trying to pick up some Hindi, I'm hoping by next week I'll have made more progress!
Posted by smusman at July 9, 2011 02:53 AM