The flight to India is long. You have to get to Newark and then the direct flight is somewhere around 15 hours following the great circle route so you are up for somewhere around 36 hours for international travel. We arrived in Delhi late evening and were greeted by Neal and Ben (they had arrived 2 weeks earlier) who had cars waiting to take us to the Cabana Hotel. This was the first of many situations where one must trust that the person doing the driving knew what he was doing! Indians drive on the left which is not too strange to me having grown up in England. What I was not used to was the use of traffic lanes as guide lines only, continual weaving in and out of traffic by bikes, motor cycles, auto-rickshaws, pedestrians, feral dogs and the occasional cow and the constant use of horns to alert other drivers. Strangely, road rage as we know it in the west does not occur. At night given the amount of time we had been up this was a strong dose of culture shock! The Cabana is located off of the Main Bazaar in Delhi which is one of the poorer areas. However the hotel is accustomed to westerners and has most of the modern conveniences that we tend to expect.
The next morning we gathered on the open air roof top restaurant and hoped for some kind of service for chai (tea) and breakfast. As we were to learn during our three stays at the Cabana, service is hit or miss on the roof and by the end of the trip I had begun to compare it to the ancient British comedy Faulty Towers. The employees generally sleep on the roof and simply roll up their bedding when they get up. The set breakfast is masala omelet, potatoes, onions and green peppers cooked in what looked like ketchup and jam and toast. We ate that every morning at the Cabana which was a great way to start the day’s adventure.
Our first task as set by our trip leaders Neal, Ben and Stephen was to be escorted to a point in the Main Bazaar in groups of three and then find our way back to the hotel minus our escort. If we got terribly lost we were to get in an auto rickshaw and ask for the Imperial Cinema which was on the corner of the street near the hotel. Neal has named this first encounter “the plunge” and once again we had to trust that he knew what he was doing sending us off in small groups.
Nolan, Ryan and I stuck close together as we walked down the left side of the street taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We cautiously visited what were obviously stores set up for tourists as well as staring curiously at the tiny stores in the Main Bazaar itself. People bump into you all the time, beggars approach you for money or try to get you to buy into some scheme; urinals are provided which for the most part simply direct the urine back into the street and cows and feral dogs roam freely throughout.
The city does not come alive until around 10:00 a.m. and then it seems that people are frantic to get where they are going, but at the same time often have plenty of time to stop and talk to you. Many conversations start with “How long have you been here? How long are you staying? Where are you from? I want to improve my English so I talk to you. ” I met several Indians with these opening lines and had many interesting conversations with these friendly people. Conversations often led to personal questions about age, marital status etc. The cultural differences stood out clearly as did the Indian habit of making eye contact through staring. They are very comfortable staring and we learned to take advantage of this trait staring right back to study their faces and body language. I actually miss this openness back here in the U.S.A.
The three of us made it back to the Cabana as did the other groups. One of the fun things about traveling with a group is the sharing of experiences during group meetings – something else I am missing back here at home!
The Main Bazaar
|The carts in the foreground will be turned into produce carts later in the day. Typical housing in the Main Bazaar|
|A street close to the Cabana|
|Spices for sale in the Main Bazaar|
|The Post Office is located above these stores|
|An ox cart in the Main Bazaar|