…originally written in October 2006 & emailed to friends and family …
I’ll try and type fast and keep my descriptions as short as possible for now as there is a line formed at the internet computer.
The first thing I can say about India is that it is tough travel. I believe that this is country #55 for me and is hands down the most trying of your patience, your humility for humanity and poverty, and on your ear drums. Right out of the airport, the traffic is loud, loud, loud. Everyone uses their horn as some sort of sonar, beeping and honking to push others aside, to alert that they are passing, and for pretty much any reason. Between all the honking, your ears are ringing by the time you arrive at your destination. At every stop, you are besieged by beggars & vendors selling everything that you can imagine.
Just getting from the airport to my hotel and I felt like I needed a vacation. The poverty is everywhere. Right in the middle of traffic lanes on the median you see people sleeping. They must surely be deaf to the incessant noise. Every mile or so you see someone using the big Earth open air toilet; the place is so crowded that I guess they are used to not having privacy.
Pedestrians be weary, they are the lowest on the traffic totem pole. As described in a clever book I read “The Holy Cow,” the pedestrians give way to everything or risk being run over. Above them on the pecking order is the bicycle rickshaw, they in turn give way to the motor-bike rickshaw, then to the small car & taxi, they in turn give way to larger cars, then to small trucks, and the monsters of the road are the large busses and trucks. But even the busses and trucks are not at the top of the pecking order. That is reserved for the Holy Cow. They are everywhere, they walk through traffic, and all stop and yield to the Holy Cow. It is really quite amazing.
While in traffic, the overwhelming stench of diesel smoke mixed with human and animal waste overrides the senses as horns bleat in your ears. On my ride to Agra from Delhi, it was all I could do to keep from retching over the side of the cab. I haven’t been that sick since Joe, my Instrument Flight Instructor, blind folded me and did loops and spins for 30 minutes until I turned green. Now, I never get air or car sick – that was at least, until I came to India.
Hotels and hotel service in Delhi and Agra could learn a thing or two. Unclean sheets, nasty bathrooms, & mosquitoes are commonplace. When all that is on the news is the several hundred cases (and fatalities) from Dengue Fever, it keeps you up all night worrying that you’ll soon be dying in an over-crowded mosquito-ridden hospital wing in the capital city of India.
Going to a restaurant is a wrenching experience. The food tastes great and so far has not made me sick, but those serving it and those waiting in line around you are far from considered sanitary by the standards of most industrialized countries. Many, I have just watched use the open air Earth toilet and have now washed their left (no toilet paper) hand with some water and are now handling the menu as they pass it to me. You really have to check your gag reflex and think of happy thoughts. Once the food comes though, it is quite delicious and your brain drifts to the impoverished children that have all lined the window of the restaurant and are now staring at you with their noses pressed to the glass. I find that the universal “give me money or food” sign is the same in the Middle East as it is in India, a gesture to the mouth with closed fingers.
On my first day of sightseeing I tried to get to the Indian National Museum. None of the cab drivers has heard of it and I somehow end up at the national railway museum next to the Chinese Embassy. I drive around Delhi all afternoon looking for the big museum, never find it, but find all sorts of adventure. I posed for a photo at the Indian Arch (looks like the one in Paris) with my taxi driver.
Eventually, I made my way into the Muslim quarter. Talk about taking a step back in time. This place is almost unchanged through the ages.
Most were genuinely curious of my presence. Whenever I took a picture, I would show a copy to them. This made a lot of smiles with the friends (top photo and below).
However, Americans aren’t too popular these days in the Muslim world and I did get quite a few dirty looks. One man said to me as he walked by, “This is not your home, you do not belong here. Go home.” Not wanting to get kidnapped and end up in an orange jumpsuit on Al Jazeera, I kept a constant look over my shoulder and kept moving – shooting pictures all the way. But overall, the people were friendly and were curious about me. I enjoyed watching them and seeing them going about their daily lives.
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