Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chaos shrugged

So I was going to wait until I reached Rishikesh to update, but I'm still a little jet-lagged and therefore awake at 6am.  Oh well, it's probably for the best, because last night was nuts, and it might help me digest it all if I can write it down.  So here we go.

First of all, I forgot to write about something that happened to me Friday.  I was walking back to my hotel when 3 women in full black burkas started walking toward me.  They had their hands out to beg, which wasn't out of the ordinary by any means, but it was the first time in Delhi I've felt frightened.  Why here, why now, with these 3 ladies, I couldn't tell you.  They weren't out of the ordinary, but there was something about how silently and swiftly they moved toward me, all in black except their unfriendly eyes, that just felt threatening.  For some reason it keeps playing in my head, so I figured writing it down might help me purge that one.  Anyway, Saturday morning I slept in till noon.  I did drug myself in an attempt to overcome the jet-lag, but it had a stronger effect than I intended.  After getting ready, I headed into the heart of Old Delhi.

A bit of background, Old Delhi is where the Red Fort, Chandi Chowk, and other various but huge mosques and temples are.  Needless to say, it is a VERY busy part of town.  My driver was quite capable though, and managed to get me to the Red Fort in pretty good time.  I walked around the grounds for a bit, amazed at the size of this monument and how much lawn was available (Some context, outside the gates - it's basically body to body and shop to shop).  I even saw a bit of blue and some clouds where the smog hadn't yet choked out the sky.  After a photo op, I headed into Chandi Chowk.

So Chandi Chowk is a major market in the area.  If you're a tourist, you will get hassled, and I definitely did countless times while walking down the street.  I think this is one time in my life that my clinical coldness came in very handy.  Avoid eye contact, say no (or nothing at all), and walk away.  I window shopped as best I could, but didn't buy anything since I didn't want to have to carry it to Rishikesh with me.  After a while, I met up with a tour group for a food tour of Old Delhi.

This is probably one of the best things I could have done.  The tour guide navigated us through tons of little holes in the wall (litterally that's all they were - holes in the wall of shops that lined the streets).  He gave us background on the food we were tasting, some history on the area, and even some tips for venturing on our own.  My palate was very pleased by everything we tasted, but moreover, I was a bit awestruck by the whole experience.  There is always a close tie between food and culture, and as we ate, I felt like I had finally gained a glimpse of understanding this strange world.  Food is cheap, sanitation pretty much non-existent, and beggars everywhere.  It's packed body-to-body, like a smog-laden mobile mosh pit, with about as much air available.  Needless to say, to an introvert such as myself, this is an incredibly high stress environment, but I try to breathe (as best I can) and take it all in.

The group I toured with had couples from Austrailia, Germany, Malaysia, a guy from Chicago, one from Brazil, and me.  It was a fun group, and in spite (or maybe because) of the craziness, we definitely had a good time.  They were avid travelers with tons of stories of their own to share, and I listened intently in an attempt to soak up their knowledge.  Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable, and did his best to answer our endless questions.

One thing that was difficult for me to understand, was why our rickshaw drivers got accosted by the police (beaten with a stick basically).  He tried to explain that with so many people, so much chaos, and in a culture where people have no concept of integrity, the police are under a lot of stress, and have little patience when dealing with others, especially the lower class.  Apparently, there isn't even a term for police brutality because this is such a common occurrence.  As gut-wrenching as it was, I could easily understand how in this society (overcrowded, chaotic, and cutthroat), there may be no other option.  Talking to or even yelling at someone to obey the law wouldn't work (they just ignore you), and to make matters worse, there are too many doing it to make civil discipline a possibility.  It was one of those moments I really reflected on western society and felt appreciation for the framework of civil behavior that holds it up.  Sure there are exceptions, but try imagining a place where those exceptions are the rule.  You'll feel grateful too. 

 So back to the food tour.  One of the places we stopped was a bread shop where they serve several different types of breads.  My favorite was green chile naan and a naan that was filled with sweet and condensed milk, coated in cinnamon sugar.  Wow...just wow.  But the coolest thing about this place was that it had been run by the same family for 7 generations.  Seven!  I can't even wrap my head around how they managed to keep it together for that long, but I guess in a society where there are few opportunities, mean family duty is king, and whether you want to be a bread maker or not is completely irrelevant.

One other really neat place served a lentil curry with ghee that was to die for.  The ambiance was difficult to explain because it was so sketchy.  But it was really good food (cottage cheese naan was especially delightful), and worth the sanitation risk.  This is the group in that restaurant.

After our last stop on the food tour, our guides took us to the metro, and guided us home.  This is where things got interesting for me.  My guide asked what station was closest to Maharani Bagh and instructed me which station to get off at.  The smartest thing for me probably would have been to call a cab, but I was feeling adventurous and willing to test the metro system I had heard to much about.  So I got off at my station, and on the way out was told I could find cabs just outside.  Well, it was 10:30 at night and there were only rickshaws outside.  I had heard I should avoid rickshaws, but at this point, I didn't really feel like I had a choice.  It was getting late, and the later it got, the worse off I was.  So I grabbed a rickshaw, who drove me near by Maharani Bagh, but then demanded more money to take me the rest of the way.  That pissed me off, and thinking I recognized the area, I figured I'd walk the rest of the way.

Yes, this was another dumb move on my part, and 30 minutes later I'm walking through a Maharani Bagh that I don't recognize at all.  I should mention, these places are huge, and once inside the gates, I can navigate pretty well, but outside, I'm basically useless.  And a side note bit of advice if you ever come to Delhi - stay in well known hotels so that people can direct you or get you home.  Most people in Delhi don't know where anything is unless they've been there themselves - including cabbies.  By 11:00pm I was getting a bit desperate.  I could call a cab, but have no way of describing where I am so that's still useless.  I ask around and keep getting different directions from different people, until finally, some guy offers to help me find my way home.  We'll call him Raj, since I couldn't understand, let alone pronounce, his real name.  Raj didn't give me creepy vibes or anything, but getting on the back of a motorbike with a stranger just has 'stupid' written all over it.  So I told Raj no thank you, but after getting directed in circles, praying for some help, and running into him once more just outside his store, I decided to trust my gut and take his ride.  Stupid as it may be, wandering in this area so late at night seemed equally dangerous and didn't seem to be getting me closer to home.  He could at least ask for directions and understand the ones being given, so I hopped on the bike, and was off.     

Luckily, as you may guess from my ability to post my experience, my gut was right.  Raj got me home in tact, gave me a new love of riding on motorbikes (because even in crazy traffic - it's a lot of fun), and also gave me his number. lol.  As you can guess, Raj decided he liked me from the moment he saw me, and decided to tell me while driving me home.  He was well dressed, not bad looking, smelled nice, and actually seemed different from many I've been dealing with.  I felt relaxed with him and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like I was in a Bollywood movie during most of the ride.  But the romance of it all seemed to get to him more than me.  His hesitation at spitting out the words "I like you" was actually quite endearing, but anybody who knows me knows my cold black heart and my response was "You don't like me, you don't know me." 

Well, he's a persistent one, and tries to give me his number.  Grateful for the ride, but not wanting to form any long-term ties, I take the number, but then being unfamiliar with my new prepaid phone, accidentally call it, giving him mine.  Woops.  Either way, I tell him I'm leaving early in the morning, and there's no point in calling me.  He asks me to call him and I tell him no.  His next words..."you break my heart" in his thick Hindi accent.  I choke back my laugh (mostly) and tell him I'm sorry, but I am grateful for the ride, and head inside. 

Well, not 10 mins go by and this guy calls me.  I answer it, pretend I was already asleep, tell him not to call back, and hang up.  At 4:30am he calls me again, and I decide to let my imaginary boyfriend answer.  Never before has my early-morning man voice been such a blessing.  He tells him to leave me alone and then hangs up.  I thought for sure that would work, but no, he just calls back.  This time I answer and tell him we've already left Delhi, that my boyfriend is not pleased, and his response is "your friend boy is not right for you.  I'm right for you.  Cherie I did not sleep last night, my heart..." I'm just annoyed.  So enter clinically cold Cherie again..."Sorry Raj, I don't like you, and you don't know me.  Good bye."

This is followed by several texts of "plz plz plz!" and other various desperate pleas for attention.  Those, I just ignored and have just confirmed to me one thing - well two things really.  One, I'm going to have to get a new SIM card, and two, thank goodness I'm leaving for Rishikesh today.  I'm in need of some zen.


  1. Cherie!!! I love reading your blog and I can't help but smile about all the Brazilians... You certainly attract them. :) now somthing I found funny...remember when we lived in SLC and I used to wacth my brazilian soapopera online about India? well, the handsome guy's name on that was Raj too.
    Keep up with the posts and please try to never walk late at night alone again...I was geeting anxiety just from reading and it doesnt sound safe at all.
    I love you!

  2. Yup, I agree with Ani, no more late night walks alone, or with strangers. :)
    But I'm glad you're safe and starred in your own version of Bollywood. What crazy adventures! It's awesome. :D
    Stay safe, love!

  3. Also, what if you were his destiny?!....jai ho!! lol