Ten days was enough to get a taste of India – the spices, the sights, the people, the garbage, the noise and more than long enough to learn more than a few lessons.
Delhi is a crush of traffic and shocking poverty. As if the smog, cows in the road and ragged kids coming to the cars to sell everything you can imagine wasn’t enough, there are broken down buildings, lots full of garbage and new construction going up everywhere. Below are two pictures from the Raddison Blu where we stayed – we loved it; we treasured the bubble it provided of amazing food, service and safety; but it also gave us emotional whip lash to look out and see the child picking through trash at 7 in the morning.
We were so thankful to be met at the airport by our driver for the whole trip, Indu. I sort of figured out the driving by watching Indu constantly navigating and honking. Marked lanes are meaningless – if there are room for three cars and two motorbikes, that is how many lanes of traffic there will be. It is a constant moving puzzle that is more like watching sticks and leaves flowing down a river than any flow of traffic I am use to seeing. Now imagine that every leaf or stick in the river is making its own decisions on which way to go – but there is a natural flow and call-and-response sort of system to the beep beep from one car to another. In all the craziness we never saw a real accident and hardly even a brush of one another. It has to be experienced to be understood.
The Delhi highlight for us was visiting the place where Ghandi was killed and reading about his life. Interestingly it is still a privately owned and maintained place, he was staying there for the last months of his life and the owning family of the property still lives next door. It was the top sight for all of us during our day of touring around.
We fell for the trick of being asked if we wanted to have a picture of us taken all together. I thought it might be a good natured offer since it was made by one of the security guards in uniform but then the hand came out for the tip and then came the offer to change money – and so it began. India is a constant beat down of people taking advantage of you, trying to get a few rupee out of you and pestering you. Everywhere. All the time. Thus the reason it is critical to have a great tour company and great guides that, as much as possible, help you navigate all of this and thankfully we connected with India Destination Experts and Elefantastic.
We skipped the train ride to Agra, and talking with other travelers, I think it was a good call. It sounds like it is just another assault on our western senses and that, coupled with having to get in the car at 6:30am to make the 8am train, was more than we could stand, plus, we loved the breakfast at the hotel. So we rode with our driver (he was going anyway obviously) and got to spend the afternoon with an amazing man, Raja, who was our guide for the Taj. He is muslim and has been a guide in Agra for 19 years. He was everything you should make sure a guide is – he was experienced, calm, friendly and gave great warnings as needed. The Taj is also one of the places they strictly limit what you can bring in and Raja warned us to leave everything but a camera in the car; but I forgot I was carrying my pocket knife in a side pocket of my pants. When Raja found out, he went up to the security guys, just reached over and grabbed my knife, walked it out to a friend of his that owns a shop outside the gates and returned. I asked him if he gets bored doing this and he said it is like eating lunch and dinner – it is not always about the food but always about who you are eating with. I can’t imagine going to the Taj and not having him as the guide. I didn’t know that the grounds surrounding the four water ways that represent water, wine, milk and honey also were fifteen feet below the walking surface so that, just as in eden, you could walk along and reach over and pick fruit growing at just the right height for you.
Raja took us for real chai (which just means “tea” in Hindi so now we can’t really say “chai tea” because we know that means we are just saying tea tea) and street snacks from a friend of his. After retrieving my pocket knife and buying a few postcards.
Next we will report on the second half of our India trip where we see a tiger, ride camels and wash elephants. And the best part of our time in India which was in Jaipor, where we stayed with a family and visited a local government school. It may be a bit since our time in Bhutan will probably not have internet service.