An Intro to IndiaIndia — By Amanda P on September 24, 2006 at 4:15 am
After a whirlwind tour of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Brazil, the girls and I took a short hiatus in New York City to stock up on supplies, hang with friends and otherwise fortify ourselves for the next leg of the journey.
We arrived in New Delhi, India about a week ago and after waking up in this steamy, spice-scented city, I finally understood how “normal” and “on-the-beaten-track” our trip has been so far! The girls assigned me the responsibility of choosing our first night’s lodging, and despite many hours of internet research, I ended up choosing a cheap hotel (still $12 per person, per night) a somewhat sketchy part of town. On our first morning, still quite jet lagged from the 14 hour flight, we woke up and walked out the front door into a chaotic side alley clogged with bicycles, rickshaws, cars, men frying bits of food in huge metal pans, half-naked kids scrubbing themselves down with soap in the gutter, women wrapped tightly in saris and gripping infants riding on the backs of mopeds. The air smelled like curry, car exhaust and sizzling vegetables; tinny, warbled lyrics sung by invisible Bollywood stars ricocheted down from open windows and only added to the odd sensation that somehow, we’d stepped into the opening scene from Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.
Jumping into an auto-rickshaw, we headed into the part of the city known as “C.P.”, a business district built by the British made up of three concentric street circles lined with tons of stores. Every surface we passed was spackled down with huge signs that looked like they were written Arabic script, but the language turned out to be-what else?-Hindi. We all grabbed the “oh shit” handles handing down for the roof as our driver careened through streets where lanes were totally ignored, horns blared from every direction and oncoming cars played chicken with one another at full speed.
Eventually we made it, mostly in one piece, to the official office of Delhi Tourism. The girls and I had merely hoped to pick up a few maps before breakfast, but somehow ended up getting strong-armed into a four-day guided tour of the Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) by an intensely talkative young sales guy named Ramen. A bit put off by the fact that this government-run office was actually in the business of hustling tourists, we tried to walk out, but our very persuasive host slammed down several huge ring binders full of photos on his desk and insisted that we admire them before he’d let us walk. Weak kneed from the ride over and by now, totally ravenous, we forked over $150 bucks apiece just to shut Ramen up so we could go find some food for-the-love-of-god.
Our happily commissioned representative then redeemed himself somewhat by throwing in a free sightseeing tour of Delhi and recommending a great South Indian spot just around the corner from his office. While 55 rupees for a vegetable dosa sounded suspiciously expensive at first, we did the math and realized that each meal sized entree would to set us back $1.10. We justified our grand tour by telling ourselves that at least the food in India would be cheap.
As it turned out, the four-day tour turned out to be one of our smartest purchases to date. The money we’d so reluctantly spent paid for a dedicated driver named Sunil (affectionately called Sunny, by us), who not only carted our obnoxiously chatty selves all over northern India in a clean, air conditioned car, but dispensed endless pearls of valuable wisdom and advice on everything from arranged marriages to unscrupulous shopkeepers to hit-and-run drivers (check out Holly’s blog later this week for more on that).
Our parents will be happy to know that he also pointed out the absolute absence of unaccompanied women on the streets after sunset and wisely suggested that we didn’t try to assert our American feminism by strolling alone at night or lingering at nightclubs (we had no desire to do either). He shocked us be revealing that certain hotel owners might actually try to make their guests sick by serving them bad food or tainted beverage, so that they’d be forced to stay and enlist the services of the in-house doctor. Of course, we have no idea if this tale is true, but when your local guide says “don’t drink the water,” you listen.
One of the most fascinating parts of our visits to major tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal (amazing) in Agra and the Maharajas Palace in Jaipur (unsettlingly erotic) was the fact that we-the dorkily dressed American chicks-were very much attraction to the locals. I lost count of the number of times that giggling women and groups of young Indian guys in aviator shades approached and asked permission to take a picture. As first we thought that they wanted us to snap a photo of their group, and were shocked to realize that they wanted us to pose in the photograph with them. There were so many requests for appearances that for the first time in my life, I had a rough estimate of what it might be like to be a D-list celebrity.
Who knew our tickets to stardom could be booked on Orbitz.com?