The joys of 10 hour overland travel…heading out of our hotel in Jaipur at 6am to get an auto rickshaw to the train station, get on 6:50am train to Delhi, then once we arrive in Delhi, we fumble about the station trying to figure out how to get from the station, to our hotel. Actually, we needed to get to the train station to the metro station first. After asking for help from the security guards, we figured out the direction we needed to go and hired a bicycle rickshaw. The bicycle rickshaw was crazy! This skinny guy, who must have incredible cardiovascular fitness and really strong leg muscles, hauled the two of us and our two bags on a bicycle-pulled carriage. We felt really really bad when a rude vehicle or person would just pull out or walk in front of our driver, requiring him to brake, thus taking away all his hard-earned momentum.
We got to the metro station and followed the instructions we received from our last hotel. We were going to another hotel owned by the same company, so naturally we had them call the Delhi hotel and get directions for us, which turned out to take us ALMOST to our destination. Almost. It can make a person rather frustrated after traveling for 8 hours, and it’s hot, and we are hungry and thirsty, and have heavy bags, and the directions we relied on to take us to our next haven of air-con, clean bathroom, and cushy bed turns out to take us ALMOST there. The stop on the instructions was 2 stops too soon from the correct stop. After finding wifi at a coffee shop (where we enjoyed the best east-meets-west Indian coffee shop fare for lunch), we called the hotel and found our way there, safe and sound
Even though trying to find your way to a place in a different country can be a very interesting (and fun) part of immersing oneself in the culture, it can also be very, very difficult. It’s one of the most stressful things, actually. But in the end, it’s all incredibly worth it!
Yesterday, we hit a couple of the highlights Delhi has to offer. First was Jama Masjid. Built in 1656 by the same emperor that built the Taj Mahal (you can see the similarities, too), it is the largest and most ornate mosque in India.
A view of the black and white domes from the streets of Old Delhi.
Next, we saw Qutab Minar. At least from the outside…we didn’t go in. It is a stone tower 72 meters high built in 1193. At its base is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India.
The railway system in Delhi was rather impressive. It is pretty modern, looks like metros we saw in Singapore and Malaysia, and efficient. But the trains are CROWDED. And noticeably way more men than women. The crowdedness is a bit like Tokyo, but more chaotic as there is no order to standing in lines or the exiting and entering of passengers. You just shove. The metro here is where being a woman is a very good thing. The one car in the front is “Ladies Only”!
Our first day in Delhi, as we were traveling together in the normal part of the train where both men and women can go, I thought “WHY do they feel the need to give women their own car? How silly!” I had negative feelings about it, like maybe it was felt women shouldn’t co-mingle with men or something. Yesterday, I realized the one car for females, labeled at the platform with big pink signs in a pretty font with stars on them, is a luxurious oasis of freely flowing air-con uninhibited by the presence and heat of so many bodies, where more passengers can sit rather than stand, and there is all kinds of room to roam and stretch the legs. The men (along with a few fearless women who decide to cram themselves as well) are crammed like sardines….literally. When I was in the normal section, it wasn’t uncommon to be elbowed in the ribs, stepped on, or pushed to the side into another person. The one car for women is not crowded while the 5 or more regular cars are sardined. And it tended to look about 90% men, maybe more.
About separation anxiety: the unthinkable happened for about 10 minutes…Sean and I got separated. Actually it wasn’t that horrible, but it was a bit scary for a short period. On our way to Jama Masjid via metro, I sat in the sparsely populated “Ladies Only” car, while Sean was down in the very next car (crammed). We discussed and bought one way tickets to Chawri Bazar station. Since our hotel is in the outskirts of Delhi, the metro ride took nearly an hour. We didn’t see each other for most of it as men are not allowed in the women’s car and the men’s section was SO crowded I just stayed in the women’s. We were able to see each other fine at first, but when more women got on, the men were forced out of their seats into the next car, and instead of me going with Sean, we thought it’d be best for me to stay in the women’s section. One thing to mention: when the few more women got on, thus requiring the men to move, it was two scary, soldier-looking police guys with BIG machine guns that prompted the men to move. I was glad the men all jumped up and cleared an entire car for 4 women, because I didn’t want to see what would’ve happened if one decided to be rebellious.
So anyway, we were separated in the train, but that was okay. Problem was I assumed we would each get off the proper stop, and Sean assumed I would go to him first before getting off. Since Sean assumed that, he wasn’t in a position in the train to see the map with LED lights indicating where on the line we were, so he had no idea when we had arrived at the stop. So I got off at our stop. Sean, waiting for me to go to him, did not. A feeling of panic settled in while I was searching for him, and the train left, and he was no where to be found!!! Where is he!? This IS the right stop, right? Isn’t it? Did he get off earlier because he got claustrophobic? Because he emergently needed to use the restroom? Did he think we were supposed to get off at the next one? Did I get off the wrong one? What do I do?!
I realized I had no money, no phone, no way of calling the hotel or emailing Sean (that idea did cross my mind for some reason, as if emailing him would bring us together. No idea why.) I prayed for wisdom and to think clearly, and I knew I had to just stay put. Turned out to be the smart move…er…not-move… After 10 long minutes, his beautiful face popped around the corner. Turns out that two stops down, he told the guards he wanted to talk to his wife and found me not there anymore, so he got off and got back on the opposite train to our proper stop. Whew! First and last time (hopefully) we will get separated. And I don’t want to be without money again, either (this whole time he’s handled the money making it easier to manage, and I would take some with me when I knew I’d be on my own).
One thing we forgot to mention from Jaipur is having dinner with our auto rickshaw driver, Love. Remember him? One night we had him take us to an Indian restaurant recommended by the hotel because it was popular with foreigners. It is also popular with the “rich Indians” crowd, as Love commented. Love would wait for us sitting outside the restaurant while we ate so he could take us home. We thought that was silly when he could be having dinner with us inside, so we invited him in and he joined us. It was a fun experience…everything from him asking us if we would mind if he ate with his hands (how the locals typically eat), to him looking around intently and staring at all the foreigners around him, to sharing he is Muslim. It was a great time and we were glad to have been able to treat him to an early meal (he typically eats at 9 or 9:30pm).
Whew…sorry for the long post…
Today is our last day in India. We leave for Turkey!!! Excitement is in the air for many reasons, especially for our chance to see friends! We’ve enjoyed our time exploring this region (including Nepal) on the other side of the world from home…literally, as the time difference is 11:30. See you on the Mediterranean coast!