Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
This is India – where the innumerable prodigious cows roam the streets with freewill and where Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Siks, Christians, and a variety of other religions and sects attempt to live in harmony with one another amid bustling overpopulated metropolises and fertile countrysides, notwithstanding that resources appear to be scarce and destitution is a normal state of affairs for many. Ultimately, my positivity would quickly be jaded.
After a 10-hour flight from Seoul, I met my cousin Mark, who had just flown in from Los Angeles, at the New Delhi airport at 10pm without any complication. From there we boarded the metro that would take us into the middle of Delhi within a few miles from our designated hostel; energy was high.
Upon exiting the metro station I was immediately hit with a blastwave of sultry, defiled air that made me stutter-step for a moment as I attempted to quickly acclimate myself to my new surroundings. Despite it being in the middle of the night, Delhi was a furnace; my entire shirt was soaked with sweat within five minutes. Not before long I took out the India Lonely Planet Guidebook that I brought with me and leafed to where there were several Delhi maps. Mark and I then endeavored to get our bearings on which direction we should take in order to locate our hostel. Normally, especially for situations like these when I arrive to somewhere new in the middle of the night, I’d have a compass ready to point myself in the correct direction when the sun is not visible; however, I somehow left it at home and I explicitly versed how frustrated I was for not having brought this vital travel tool with me.
Not having a compass surely costed us quite a bit of time and energy as we ventured through a myriad of dimly lit nameless streets carrying our heavy packs in attempt to find a marker that could signify which direction we should take; we were indeed confused and haggard. The next logical thing to do would be to ask for simple directions to the main highway in the area from several locals, and this is exactly what we did, but to not much avail. Many of these people appeared to never have seen a map of their city before and could not effectively help us, even when I was clearly versing nearby highway names in their tongue. However, one by one, some were able to point us part of the way. We could have hailed the taxi, but I was fervently bent on walking and finding the hostel.
Once we realized we were on the desired highway to “old delhi,” it was at this specific moment that we passed by an outside stall of somekind and I was almost utterly knocked out by the most awful, pungent odor I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. My nostrils were burned with such a foul, nauseating stench that I was at the verge of puking my guts out when I luckily was able to stumble out of its olfactory destructive emanation just in time. That was indeed a hellish moment never to be forgotten.
After crossing over the New Delhi Train Station, we officially reached “old delhi.” By the appearance on the basic map provided in the guidebook, I knew we were close, but another directional marker of some kind was needed. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn, and it was this wrong turn that led me to see some of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Despite the fact that we were passing many other foreigners seeking out cheap hostels as well, we were also passing dozens and dozens of men, women, and children in the dark, some of which looked dead and severely maimed, sprawled out on the ground or on wooden planks with very little clothing and surrounded by heaps of dirt and filth. Thinking of it now still makes me tremble.
My smile and energy quickly diminished after this point, and when we reached the hostel I was highly mentally agitated and perplexed, although I reckon I did not make it obvious at the time. After getting settled in our mosquito-laden room, I quickly expressed the need to find some bottled water. Commencing our search at two in the morning in hopes to locate a nearby store that was actually open, we crossed through another part “old delhi” and again encountered many more people and children sprawled out in the dark with very little clothing and covered in filth. The smell was so rotten that it made me sadly wonder how these people can endure it without losing their mind. Mark and I then discussed imagining “living in their shoes for 5 minutes” but quickly dispensed the notion after we found it supremely abominable. Before heading back empty-handed, we located a small shop and loaded up with enough bottled water to last us our short tenure in Delhi. During our return to the hostel, I couldn’t extinguish the atrocious thoughts of what I had just seen that began to burn through my conscience like fire.
Immediately upon our arrival back to our room, Mark did something that made me laugh: he set up a mosquito net over our beds.
A portable mosquito net, who would have thought? Ha ha, well, my cousin did, and I am earnestly thankful that he brought this along as it certainly protected us from the nuisance of getting bit by many mosquitos during the night, in addition to giving me a good laugh in a time of mental desperation.
Mark and I didn’t sleep much that first night and we woke up very early to seek a decent breakfast. To the “Chor Bizarre” we went…
Still half-asleep and jet-lagged, we walked through town getting our first daytime taste of India until we reached our destination.
The “Chor Bizarre,” which is situated within the Hotel Broadway, was recommended to me by Danaz, an Indian-English woman I sat next to on the plane. I’m ultimately glad I took her advice as this was quite a “bizarre” restaurant filled with interesting memorabilia found throughout local bazaars in Delhi, not to mention decent food. After getting refueled, we headed to the Red Fort.
Once realizing that the Red Fort was closed until 10am due to some kind unscheduled prayer service, we ventured to a nearby temple to have a looksee.
This temple was practically surrounded by it’s own ghetto, and almost the entire walk heading to this temple reaked of sewage and rotten eggs; we utterly lost interest by the time we arrived to the front gate, especially after ascertaining that we’d have to leave our shoes in an unsecure location outside the temple doors. From here we decided to take another walk around town to burn a little time until we could enter the Red Fort.
The Red Fort, essentially one of Delhi’s top 5 recommended sites to visit in the city, was not really worth the time or the money. The site’s buildings and fountains looked as if not much effort had been put forth toward restoration and Mark and I ultimately left unimpressed and disappointed.
The sun’s heat was blistering so we decided to take a break from walking to get a cold drink and some grub at a recommended restaurant located on the inner-circle of Connaught Place called “United Coffee House.” To get there, we had our first ride among many on a rickshaw.
Mark and I relaxed here for a few hours and had a good time catching up with one another talking about the “old days.”
Up to what I had seen and experienced in Delhi to this point, I was fairly discouraged and disenchanted, and Mark furtively snapped a photo of me that seemingly captured my mental frustration protruding itself physically.
I already couldn’t wait to leave the crazy big city, but I knew we had another day to dish it out in Delhi. It was time to pull myself together. However, maybe I was tired, maybe I was frustrated, maybe I just needed to take a breath. I don’t know what it was, but in a matter of minutes after this point, I seemed to feel much better. It was then that we set off on the next place we decided to check out: Akshardham Temple
Akshardham is the largest Hindu temple in the world and was built by 7,000 artisans and 3,000 volunteers until it’s final completion in 2005. It is said that this temple attracts nearly 70 percent of all tourists that visit Delhi, and I was able to see firsthand why. Look at it, doesn’t it look absolutely astounding?!? After pausing for moment infront of this temple in amazement, Mark and I then took a stroll around the temple until we stopped and sat down in one of the corridors outlining the its acreage. From there we were able to relax for a moment and look up at the many lofty columns, and I remember thinking – this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to India: to view and visit places like this. Now, I’m not Hindu, and don’t ever plan to be, but I can certainly enjoy and respect what the Hindus have erected in following their religious convictions.
After calling it a day, we headed back to the hostel and I was again reminded by the immence poverty laced throughout the city and knew that I would need to close the door on compassion in order to hinder myself from being momentously bothered and melancholic for the remainder of the trip. Slowly, but surely, I was able to manage my compassion to a level that made it possible to walk through the city with ease.
During our second day in Delhi, Mark and I headed to “New Delhi” and found the “All American Diner” to rest our tastebuds with some american breakfast cuisine that certainly hit the spot.
“New Delhi” definitely had a totally different feel and look than “Old Delhi”; it was analogous to a mini-america with it’s gated communities, BMW’s, traffic lights, and serene parks. “Are we still in India?!?” I emphatically questioned. The exorbitant socially-economic difference between the two major inherent divisions of Delhi within several miles of each other was one of the most extreme socially-economic changeovers I’d ever seen or experienced before; the disparity of wealth was remarkably salient.
We later bounced to the nearby Lodi Gardens, where many architectural works stood firm from the 15th century Sayyid and Lodis, a Pashtun dynasty which ruled much of Northern India during the 15th and 16th century.
Once we vacated the Lodi Gardens, Mark and I later ate an exquisite lunch at “Olive Beach”- a calm, rustic restaurant located within the Hotel Diplomat. It was here that I had one of the best meals during the entire trip: Greek Chicken.
After relishing our awesome lunches, we spent a little time outside the restaurant snapping a few photos before setting off to Cafe Turtle, one of the major expat cafes in Delhi.
The cafe certainly had a chill vibe, and I relished in relaxing within the comfort of a quiet cafe away from the tumultuous whirlpool of sheer mania in Delhi that I experienced for the first few days running around in India half jet-lagged and half mildly despondent. It was here at this cafe that I also pondered the contradiction of wanting to help out the poor somehow along with the fact that I was spending large portions of money (in Indian terms) on exotic meals that were only costing me roughly $10-$15. The money that I was spending on these meals could essentially feed a family on the street for over a week, and it was this thought that somewhat haunted me throughout the trip. It wasn’t until towards the middle of my trip that I decided to help out some downtrodden individuals and children in garnering some food.
Exiting Cafe Turtle in search for a taxi that could take us to a train station on the other side of town, we met Harbinder, a Sik taxi driver who was probably the most enjoyable driver we had the entire trip. He impressed Mark with his knowledge of stocks & bonds, and impressed me with his knowledge of history, the world, and just being plain cool. Upon ascertaining that we were visiting Mumbai later in our trip, he assured me that I’d find a beautiful Indian woman there and fall in love, but emphatically commented, “No money, no honey.” This drew laughs from Mark and I, and as we said our farewells to Harbinder, and to Delhi, I found myself relieved that we were leaving, but also sad that I could not stick around longer to perhaps do something special for someone in need.
Sitting at the train station perusing through all the photos taken throughout Delhi, I realized that I was a bit camera-shy and was mildly disappointed in myself for not having recorded better what I had seen and experienced. It would be different from here on out, and more patience and time would be given to “getting the shot” no matter the inconvenience suffered to myself.
Here’s a glimpse of what is to come in the next blog installment involving the emperor of the Mughal empire’s period of greatest prosperity and an ornate mausoleum dedicated to his third wife who died during the birth of their 14th child. Be inspired…