A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Smelly Delhi

It was ominous when I googled the weather in India before we arrived. The temperature was 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the forecast was for smoke. Smoke? Is that a legitimate category? Not partly cloudy or partly sunny (and whatever the difference there is between the two) but smoke. We would soon learn it was the best description available for what we were to experience. The sky, a post-apocalyptic haze, was perpetually tinged in a yellowish decay dimming the sun into bright unnatural orange hues like a sunset at midday. I couldn’t help but think if this was a glimpse at the worlds fate: a pollution beyond repair. The air tasted of soot mixed with gritty concrete leaving a sickening residue on your tongue.

India is everything they say - crowded, crazy, and smelly. Possibly even, the filthiest country on earth. Like you stretched the Moroccan medinas and the African markets from a few square blocks to a few thousand square miles in every direction. We were, at least, emotionally and mentally prepared for the onslaught from our travels the last two months. See, you cannot go from North America or Europe to India directly, it is like going from the Plaza Hotel to the insane asylum, the contrast just might kill you.

You can't imagine just how chaotic the streets are. There are no lanes or signs or rules - the rickshaws and tuk-tuks veer dangerously out of control in the path of oncoming traffic, around crowds of people and their revered cows. Everywhere you look is layer upon stinking layer of rotting trash and shit, the pigs rooting in it along with the poorest people and tear-jerking children. Just take a brief moment here to be thankful for your first-world born lives, opportunities, and palatial estates - you live like kings and queens!

Traveling is not just going from point A to B to see this and that. We may be traveling the world to realize the meaning of gratitude. For our country and our livelihoods and to strengthen the most powerfully comforting desire in the world…home.

Of course we had to pick the craziest place to stay in Delhi, the Pahar Ganj area, or Main Bazaar. We stayed at Star Paradise (a laughably ill suited name) that has a website reminiscent of African menus where the photos have no correspondence to the actual hotel. They did have cheap room service and our first tastes of real Indian food, a traditional Thali, was very good offering a full platter of food for less than $2.
We spent the first day hunkering down and recovering from jet lag before venturing out onto the disorienting streets. After thirty minutes I was exhausted and flustered and ready for a nap. Instead, we hopped on our first ricksaw and headed to a popular shopping area called Connaught Place to buy some Diwali gifts which was like heading to Union Square the day before Christmas. Lined around a circular road, restaurants in the outer circle, shops in the inner circle, and sellers of all goods and services circling us like flies. A lot of the shops were very small but most were western with the likes of Samsonite, Levi’s and Puma. We couldn’t find anything appropriate until we headed into Haldiram’s which was a new fast food Indian restaurant with surprisingly great food and yummy Diwali sweets for sale.

We headed back on foot, struggling to interpret street signs at night and in Hindi. Down a wide, heavily trafficked boulevard that must have been a major bus stop. The stench of the wall beside which was like a kilometer long open restroom. It was one of those moments when you tell yourself to breath through your mouth but you know that every breath you inhale smells so awful that it is still nauseating. So you smell just a little to reassure yourself just how bad it is, and it is indeed that horrible. And then you start doing it all over again. Finally we were back to our room, and didn’t know what was worse.

As I perched on the bed staring in a daze at the broken toilet seat on the bathroom floor with cockroaches scampering everywhere they pleased, and the smell of human shit wafting up from the bottom of my right sneaker, I thought, “ah yes, I’m definitely in India“.

I know this post seems a little negative but it‘s not totally my intent, just my initial and severe culture shock. I’ve wanted to come here forever and I’m finally here! I’ll take the good, the bad, and the ugly over never really seeing this for myself. I know there’s an India out there somewhere that I will fall in love with…


Eben November 3, 2009 at 12:52 AM  

I guess Rumi never said anything about the odor of said net ; )
A land of many difficult contrasts, and also replendence - I hope some beauty and repose eventually caught up with you both.

corina November 3, 2009 at 3:29 PM  

sounds intense al! I'm not sure I'd be so cool about sharing my room with cockroaches.

Alison November 5, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

re: resplendence

we did have some magical moments,...posts to follow...

re: cockroaches

it's not so bad. after awhile they seem like pets. ron captured several under a drinking glass and we named them.

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