Saturday, December 29, 2012

Delhi: Chaos Wrapped Up in Grime

Mike and I are on day 5 of our India adventure and what a whirlwind it has been!

2:00 a.m. Dec. 26Delhi: complex and broken - We arrived into Delhi after leaving Dulles at 10p.m. on Christmas Eve. After travelling all day via London on Christmas, we got to Delhi at 2a.m. When we woke up at our hotel in Delhi later in the morning on the 26th we were greeted by this Elephant walking on the highway outside of our hotel room. That was pretty awesome.

The rest of first day in Delhi was…well bizarre. The entire city is covered in a haze of fog and pollution that makes it feel as though you have walked into a post apocalyptic, fallen city.  Beneath the fog (which is unique to the December-January months), buildings are vacated and falling down. People are squatting in parks, in the streets, and making little fires to keep warm. Scrawny, mangy dogs are lying around in pools of dirt; and people, bikes, mopeds, cars, rickshaws, and the Indian helicopter (a 3 wheeled taxi that is something like a hybrid between a car and a moped) are fighting over the same road. It’s complete chaos. 

3 p.m. Dec. 26 - Once we learned that we couldn’t walk around anywhere in Delhi (without being hit by a car or picked up by an aggressive taxi driver) and we couldn’t find any authentic open-air markets to explore, we spent a couple of hours at the house where Gandhi lived for three months before he was assassinated. It was a beautiful sanctuary in an otherwise crazy, broken, and chaotic city.  

7:00p.m.  Dec. 26  - Fighting through jet lag and sleep deprivation, Mike and I made it to dinner at a restaurant called “BBQ Nation.” We chose it because it was highly recommended among a very short list, and it was in walking distance to our hotel. A bit atypical, the restaurant was known for its "exotic meats." In a misguided pursuit of a wow kind of dining experience, I thought it might be fun. BBQ Nation was hidden in what appeared to be an otherwise shuttered mall and cinema house. As we gathered, fancy restaurants where tourists and wealthy Indians go to eat are hidden within the grime. Food was ok. They placed a charcoal grill right into the center of our table. We didn't get sick. Background and loud Karaoke and dance drove Mike out.

5 a.m. Dec. 27TO AGRA AND THE TAJ MAHAL – Mike and I head to Agra for a day trip to see the Taj Mahal. Since reported that it would be a high of 75 when we were there, we dressed rather inappropriately. It turned out to be a high of 55. The fog was so dense and low that the Taj Mahal appeared even more mystical and otherworldly.

The Taj Mahal and the sprawling Red Fort built by Islamic Moguls in the 1600s are amazing landmarks. Indians are very proud of it. In particular, the stone inlay and the carving of the marble of the building is spectacular.

8:00 p.m. Dec. 27 – we were supposed to board our “fast” train to return to Delhi—but it was delayed 3 hours. Worried that 3 hours might turn into 6 because of the fog, we decided to get a taxi back to Delhi. We were told the drive would take 3.5 hours. But the actual 7.5 hour drive turned out to be the coldest, scariest, and most frustrating driving experiences of either of our lives. First, the fog was so dense that the driver couldn’t really see at all. Second, it was freezing. Third, traffic was so bad that we were driving about 25 miles per hour—that is until we were about 5 miles from our hotel when the traffic completely stopped. We spent the last 2 hours of the treacherous drive in standstill traffic on the main highway into Delhi. At this point, we knew that our driver was almost out of gas and also had no idea where our hotel was. It was somewhat of a miracle that we got back to our hotel that night. It was 1a.m. – a few hours before we were to take off for the airport for our daylong journey to Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland.

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