After over 18 hours of travel and one late night taxi, I checked into my budget hotel in the center of the capital city Delhi for some much needed shuteye. I was greeted with a free upgrade to a large suite, and wasted no time in catching some Z’s. The next day was one of the longest of my life – but in a very good way! The day started with me packing up and stepping outside into the complete unknown. As I walked the streets of the backpacker area called Parhaganj, my initial shock felt surreal. Orange dust filled the 100 degree air, shop owners and tuk tuk drivers stared with curious eyes at the 5’10 American roaming the streets with not a tourist in sight. I had truly stepped into adventure! I felt like an eager alien looking into a world completely unknown to me, and I liked it. It wasn’t long before I made a friend in Sahil, a tiny 23-year old from northern India who was happy to swap stories and show me around. He led me to a government-recognized tourist center in the main square Connaught Place where I negotiated an attractive price for a day’s driver.
With all the many attractions to see while in this bustling nation’s capital city, the choice to hire a car was one of my best. For a mere 1200 rupees ($22 USD), my new friend Krishna would take me in a comfortably air
conditioned albeit rundown vehicle to each major site of my choosing – waiting at each for me to roam as long as I pleased. This way I was able to successfully visit all New and Old Dehli have to offer. Each place was better than the next!
The state of these places, most of them built in the 1600s, is hard to believe – the architecture, history, size, artwork, and unique qualities of each took my breathe away. All day I braved the intense climate to visit the gargantuan Red Fort in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk (the Old Delhi bazaar full of sites, smells, shops, and more stares), the Jain Temples, the Jama Masjid (the largest mosque in all of India – one of my favorite stops), and Raj Ghat (a simple and serene memorial to Mahatma Ghandi who fought for Indian independence). It didn't take long for me to realize I appeared more interesting to some of the Indian tourists than the monuments themselves. At first the approaches for photos with children, men, and women alike were flattering - but after an hour or two I vetoed fame as ever being desirable. I could not walk but 5 minutes without a kind local asking for my photo. All I could do not to be rude was smile. "Say Cheese!"
In between stops (and one short hiccup with a flat tire), Krishna and I would make friends sipping street-brewed chia tea… the best I have ever had by far. I made sure to visit Humayun’s Tomb – one of my favorite places of the day. The towering masterpiece amidst well-groomed gardens was striking and beautiful, but after getting rid of enough memory card space on my camera, I continued on to the notable Lotus Temple. Resembling Australia’s Sydney Opera House, the temple (built in the 1980’s) celebrates the revolutionary Bahai belief which welcomes all religions as one. I could not tear my eyes from the perfect symmetry of the pale blue reflection pools surrounding the crisp white architecture – the pieces of the roof form a lotus flower, the national flower of India. Inside I was overcome by a sense of calm permeating from the scene.
The large pillar and grounds of the Qtub Minar was next – a photographer’s dream with the endless rows of intricately-carved pillars and eye-catching arches. Lastly I got to briefly see the welcoming India Gate reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
After more than a day’s work amid more than my fair share of sunlight, I was never so happy to see a hotel “shower” which consisted of a cold hose and questionable bucket. After mastering the practice of an Indian shower, I finally got to experience its food for the very first time! Simple buttered naan and Dal Moor – cheese-stuffed potato skins drenched in a delectable tomato gravy, would round out my first of many Indian meals which
never disappointed. The food embodies the spirit of this country, and is some of the best in the world. I enjoyed some more chia tea at a street stall with locals and called it a night.
The next day I slowed my sightseeing and explored on foot for a bit. I tasted fruits from the street stalls and smelled spices of every color. I shopped silk scarves offered in every hue. I rode in an auto rickshaw for my
first heart-stopping ride in the craziness that is India traffic. I enjoyed a tea sampling where I purchased Mango and Masala Chai flavors to bring home, and
observed locals spread flowers in prayer at several of the temples downtown.
Soon enough it was time to head to the train
station, where I purposefully arrived early enough to learn the system and people-watch, snapping photos of typical train life in India while trying to lay low as one of the only white people present. After a while I felt comfortable
enough to stare right back at the train-goers as they stared at me…. In fact, I couldn’t help it. Mothers left toddlers and babies to lay on the repulsive concrete platforms without a care in the world. Families gathered over self-cooked fires roasting meats and eating with their fingers. Train passengers barely fit in the 3rd class compartments so they opted to ride outside the doors and windows, sometimes congregating right on the track. The nonchalance of everyone amazed me. No one cared to wait extra hours for a delayed train, and no one obsessed
over, well, anything. Coming from a nation obsessed with safety, sanitizing, and over protection – where a new baby book on how to raise your infant comes out weekly, it makes me think of necessity. Not that I’d necessarily want to be the one barefoot in the rat-infested train station…
After a couple hours of this meditation, I boarded my first train with ease, and got settled into my top row bunk bed – meticulously strapping my bag to the wall for safety. The cold air conditioning was welcomed as was the
privacy and comfort of my little bed. I had a short ride ahead which would leave the bustling metropolis and bring me to the rural town of Agra –home to none
other than the Taj Mahal…
After my first days in Delhi I felt acclimated and comfortable. Every person I met was as genuinely interested in me as I was them, and while
the constant staring and asking me to pose for photos became a bit of a nuisance, I began to appreciate the warmth and simplicity of these people. Their hospitality and pride for their country was contagious – I continually heard the
phrase “Welcome to my India” upon meeting many families, workers, and colorfully garbed women. Well, I feel incredibly welcome and eager to explore more that this unique place has to offer. Thank you, Delhi. Namaste.
For photos from my time spent in Delhi, visit the Photos Page.