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Posts Tagged ‘Delhi’

Last Day in Delhi

In India on May 26, 2009 at 1:57 pm

One more bus ride to bring me back to Delhi and the end of my trip.  It was an overnight ride and as we sped through the night, we passed tiny houses on the edges of fields, and shanty shacks lining the roads.  No electricity except the glow from TV sets as locals crowded around to watch the cricket finals.  Doesn’t matter what happens in the day, there’s always time for sports at the end.

We arrived at the Old Delhi train station around 6am.  Too early for having to keep defenses up against the scammers but it was necessary to get to my autorickshaw.  I got off the bus, grabbed my backpack, and was immediately surrounded by men yelling, Madam! Madam!, everyone trying to get me to take their taxi.  I pushed through on my way to the prepaid booth when a little man planted himself firmly in front of me, stopping my path.  “Madam, where are you going?” he shouted.  I answered, “To the prepaid booth.”  He yelled back, “There is no such thing, Madam.  You should come with me.”  So I asked what the booth was and he responded it wasn’t what I thought it was.  I kept moving, almost stepping on him for all the times he tried to stop me with his body.  He kept yelling there was no such thing as a prepaid both, and even as I got to the booth, asked for my voucher and passed the seller my money, the little guy kept throwing his arm in front of me.  As soon as I got my taxi ticket, he shrugged his shoulders and stomped off to find his next victim.

I managed to get to my hotel and check in in time to get a free breakfast.  I had a shower and jumped into bed to sleep off the last few days in air-conditioned bliss.  Afterwards I had to organize my next day’s transport to the airport.  Still in cheap mode I was determined to find the city bus that went directly there from somewhere near Connaught Circle according to the Lonely Planet.  I walked into the centre in search of this bus and got sidetracked by some shopping.  As I walked along I heard a young voice next to me, “Would Madam like a necklace?”  I looked down into the dirty face of a street kid with strings of beaded necklaces looped over both arms.  I said “No” and kept walking.  He kept pace with me and said, “Madam wants, yes?”  “Madam doesn’t want,” I responded.  But he kept at it, and started smiling at which point I started laughing because he was very cute and trying to be persuasive.  I told him to bug off and turned the corner into a Bangladeshi street where refugees sell different crafts.  They were almost as persistent as the kid and my attention was finally caught by the beaded edges of saris.  As I started bargaining with one of the ladies for 7 metres of fringe, all of a sudden a voice said, “It’s a good price, Madam.  You should take it.”  The kid had followed me and taken me on as his mission.  I thought why not, used his help to negotiate a final price, and then told him if he wanted to hang out he had to be useful and help me find this bus.  We spent the next hour looking for the bus only for me to conclude it was only a legend after all and I’d have to take the subway to get to the main bus station.  By this time I’d found out the kid’s name was Sami, he’d taught himself English by talking to tourists, his mom made the necklaces, and his life was almost identical to the little boys in Slumdog Millionaire.  When I got to the subway entrance he said goodbye as they’d wouldn’t let him in there.  I ended up buying two necklaces in the end and getting a promise from him he’d meet me the next day so I could buy him an ice cream.  No success at the bus station either so an afternoon chasing shadows once again.

I went back to my room, watched crappy TV and enjoyed more air-con before venturing out to the hotel I originally stayed at 3 weeks earlier to negotiate a cheap cab to the airport.  The clouds came in and the skies opened up to pour down for the first time since my arrival.  I stood in the middle of the street with everyone else, face turned upwards, arms out, and welcomed the cool water on my skin.  The street turned to mud and we all ran for cover.  I eventually made my travel arrangements and returned to my room for one last sleep in India.

The next day I was determined to find something beautiful in Delhi, a city I find ugly, loud and dirty.  Everyone said go to the Lodi Gardens and they turned out to be paradise in the midst of chaos.  Cool air from all the trees, heavy fragrances from all the flowers, silent streams and mirrored pools everywhere.  I went towards the ancient Muslim tombs in the middle of the park and as I was almost at the entrance of one an elderly gentleman said good afternoon.  By this point I was used to ignoring any kind of greeting as it usually signaled intense bargaining and shouting sessions, but for some reason I answered him back and ended up sitting with him in the shade of a giant tree.  We bought water from a garden water-wallah to stay hydrated in the heat and discussed the recent Indian election and the politicians.  Dr. Singh was a retired ayurvedic doctor who still had a few patients in the neighbourhood.  When he finished his rounds he often came to the garden to enjoy the silence.  His wife had passed away 5 years earlier from cancer and he found his life to be lonely and challenging since then.  He spoke of his travels to Montreal, Los Angeles, and New York for medical conventions and how much he enjoyed his job.  I told him how lovely I had found Kolkata and he agreed it was a magical place.  Then I told him about the beauty of Darjeeling and some of the crazy situations I had found myself in on my journeys.  Then he said he wanted to show me something in Delhi that would help take away any negative feelings I had towards some of the people I had encountered.

Tombs in the middle of the Lodi Gardens. Delhi

View from inside a tomb at the Lodi Gardens. Delhi

After assessing that I could break him between my fingers if things got weird, we got in his car and drove into the city where he took me straight to the Presidential Palace.  I jumped out of the car to snap some pics while he circled because he wasn’t allowed to park while I looked around.

The gates to the Presidential Palace. Delhi

Then I got back in and we turned around and headed down the main thoroughfare to India Gate.

India Gate. Delhi

We spent about an hour wandering around, watching the tourists and kids playing with kites.  We had ice cream and chatted about life and what was to come.  He asked if we could have our picture taken together and then we got back in the car so he could drive me back to Connaught Circle to find my little slumdog. We said goodbye and I spotted Sami almost as soon as I got out of the car with his little friend, Anil.  The three of us grabbed another ice cream and sat on the side of the road as they told me about the village they came from and where they were headed in life.

As we walked back towards my hotel and the train station, we crossed the street while the crosswalk light was lit.  They scampered across trying to beat the waiting cars and I lingered, enjoying that the cars were indeed stopped and I didn’t have to scoot in between them.  Anil yelled back, “Madam, you must hurry!!”  I told him not to worry, the cars weren’t moving, but he didn’t trust the drivers, ran back into the middle of the crosswalk, faced the cars and threw his hands out in spread-eagle fashion to make sure they didn’t start til I got to the other side.  As soon as I reached the sidewalk he ran back to us and the cars were off.  They were going to miss their train back to their village and jumped up into a rickshaw but not before I snapped a shot of them.  These two were what I’d been looking for most of my trip and I loved that I’d finally found them at the last minute.  Between Dr. Singh and these two, they certainly had given me something to find beautiful in Delhi and a truly lovely end to this latest trip to India.

Sami, on the right, was my tag-along the last day in Delhi. His little buddy, Anil, joined us at the end for an ice cream. Delhi

Poverty

In India on May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

You can’t really write about India without writing about the poverty.  I haven’t written anything so far, not because I don’t see it, but because I’m trying to process it all.

In the Paharganj in Delhi where I first stayed, it’s so visible it’s painful.  I call a lot of the kids ‘spiders’ because of the way they move around on their misshapen limbs, or what’s left of them.  Everywhere you go there little kids accost you with hands outstretched asking for food.  “Please madam, one rupee”.  In Varanasi there were many as well but I don’t think I noticed them as much, possibly because when I was out I was usually in a rickshaw or down on the ghats.  Barely any in Darjeeling, except for one man I noticed on more than one occasion.  He was probably somewhere in his forties, bent and crooked legs, missing his left arm.  He was fairly quiet as far as the begging goes, but I noticed him especially because of his turqoise eyes, the exact same colour as Lake Louise in the Rockies.  I must have passed him two times up on the ridge towards the zoo and back, but the last day I was shoveling some Dairy Milk into my mouth when I passed him again with his hand outstretched.  It felt absolutely cruel to walk by someone in need while I have more than he could ever want, so I walked back and gave him the rest of my chocolate to be rewarded with the most beautiful smile.  You wish you could do more, but what?

Down here in Kolkata it’s bad once again.  Yesterday I passed a boy who might have had polio, his legs twisted out at weird angles behind him while he scooted past on his arms.  Another young woman lying in the gutter dragging her useless legs behind her.  Then in the evening I saw a man who had no legs below his knees.  We passed him on the way to the book store as he shuffled along on his arms, trying to keep his scarf from falling down and getting in his way.  Later on we passed him again, sitting with his back to a bank building, and when he saw me he reached out both hands pleading for money or food while his stumps wagged in the air.  That one was the worst, and again, what can you do?

Then there are the ones that make me chuckle for the sheer weirdness of it all.  Just around the corner from the hotel there is a woman who I don’t think can walk at all.  She’s missing most of the teeth on the right side of her mouth and the ones on the left are huge and fit poorly in her mouth.  She reminds me of those mechanical witches at halloween or santas at Christmas, the ones that stand there and wave back and forth.  She’s the same, she lies on her left side and with her right hand joins her fingers lightly together at the tips and bring them towards her mouth and then back about 6 inches before doing it all over again, again and again in rhythm.  The one time I didn’t see her doing that was when it looked like her hand had stalled in front of her mouth while her left hand tapped her begging dish, almost like her system had shorted out.

It’s hard to see this and I understand why people don’t want to know about it.  At least in Vancouver most of the worst of the worse is contained in the East Side so if you don’t want to see it you just avoid the neighbourhood.  But here it’s everywhere and it doesn’t take long to start blocking it out in one way or another.  Once in awhile it breaks through again and you’re overcome with a feeling of total hopelessness.  A bunch of us were discussing it one night, we can’t fix what the country’s government won’t fix.  I guess the best you can do is behave responsibly in your own country and try to right the wrongs there.  It’s frustrating and it’s sad.  How on earth could you ever repair something like this?

Off Again

In India on May 4, 2009 at 1:58 am

It’s been almost two years since I went off to travel the way I like which is usually to a place that looks completely unlike the one I grew up in and might be a little dirty.  This time it’s India for a quick three weeks.  Unlike some tourists who pack it all in and see everything there is to see I’ve opted to check out a few cities and sites and take my time getting from one place to the next.  Partly because I like to get the feeling of a place rather than just the flavour, but mostly because I’m tired of having a too-packed schedule which doesn’t allow for any deviation from the intended path.  I have no itinerary other than landing in Delhi with two nights booked at a budget hotel sans a/c.  After that it’s up to whatever the train/bus schedules permit.

Last time I was there in 2002 I was finishing up my overland trip and we were getting around by the truck we’d traveled in from Turkey.  I was always with Jim and Arnout while we explored new places so unlike other travelers’ stories, I got around fairly easily and was never harassed by men.  That will probably be different this time as I’m off solo and don’t have a personal vehicle at my disposal.  I’ve been getting mentally prepped for this, checking out what traveling sites have to say and by far the biggest thing to be concerned about is how many times the locals try to take the tourists for a ride on the swindle system.  For example, every guide book says when you’ve booked your hotel make sure you tell your taxi/rickshaw driver where you’re going and don’t let him convince you the hotel’s been burnt down or it’s full or that it doesn’t exist or that there’s a riot in the neighbourhood and it’s unsafe.

When I was there before I had booked a plane ticket at a shop in one neighbourhood and had to back a week later to pick it up.  I asked the first rickshaw driver how much the trip would be and he quoted me 10 times the price, adding “There’s a riot in that neighbourhood today.”  Remembering what I’d learned from what everyone warned me about, I went to the next rickshaw driver who charged the same price and used the same excuse.  By the third driver I was getting ticked off and told him not to rip me off.  He said he’d take me up to the neighbourhood but not into it as it was unsafe.  When we got there, there actually was a riot in progress and it did look a little messy.

Whatever happens I’m looking forward to it all and will update my blog whenever I get the chance.  As a wise friend did a few years ago, I’ll use the correspondence to gauge my tolerance and happiness levels inspired by my travels.  It’s not the easiest country to travel in and it tests the patience of the most saintly person, but I’m sure there will be many more highs than lows.

First stop is Amsterdam for 20 hours and dinner with friends, and then it’s off to Delhi and the 45 degree heat that awaits…