Monday, June 25, 2007

3 Days in Delhi

Arriving in India, I first had a three-day stop in Delhi to meet with the company I’ll be interning with (the company is providing my funding while it is the NGO in Gujarat which I will be developing a project with day-to-day). The first day I spent most of the day in the office reading some material and signing paperwork. In the evening I met up with Maneka and went shopping a little for her bro’s wedding outfits and we had dinner at a hifi juice bar, which I thought was pretty tasty.

The next day was Saturday, but since offices in India work on Saturdays typically, I had to go in for the day (sucks!). This day I took a public bus to the office from where I was staying which was an adventure because buses in Delhi don’t actually come to a complete stop, so because I was slow reacting since I didn’t exactly know where I needed to get off, I literally jumped off a moving bus and nearly fell.

In the evening I met up with Maneka and after a quick meal we went to Noida (a Delhi suburb) with her roommate Aishwarya to a famous dance club called Elevate. It was super trendy, evidenced by its location in a shopping mall (kind of like the weird association with the best restaurants and hotels). The club was expensive (1K for the 3 of us to get in and a drink each) but not excessively so, and it was a lot of fun. They had bouncers who weren’t half bad size-wise for Indians. The music started off as hip hop, but it wasn’t very good and people were slow to get into it. But eventually they did and so did we, peaking for me when the DJ played Wyclef’s Guantanamera which I never would have imagined would be played at a club. But it wasn’t until the filmi/bhangra music came on that the crowd really let loose. At that point the place turned into a real party, and I didn’t feel too weird in a dance club full of brown people dancing excitedly to Bhangra and that “Don’t touch me” song from Dhoom 2. Just like home.

We left around 1am and took our hired car back home. The driver asked to take along a woman whom I thought was a prostitute, but Maneka said later was just some girl that the driver knew that needed a ride back into the city. Yeah, my Hindi needs some more work.

The next day Maneka and I took a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. When we got there we got convinced by the station people to hire a car for the day which would take us to the Taj as well as another site far away which required a car but was worth seeing. In addition to the driver we were accompanied by a sort of guideperson, who would be our liason for our trip and help us with any questions or other needs. Our guide was a Sardar who was super nice, and Maneka and I both were happy to have gotten lucky with our guide. Maneka had said before how she trusts Sardar rickshaw drivers the most when she’s in Delhi, and I added that that makes sense because Sikhs are disciplined people and are of high moral fiber. You can see where this is going to go.

So although we had planned on seeing the Taj right away while it wasn’t all-the-way hot, the guide insisted we see Fateghan Sikri, the second sight, first as it makes the most sense in terms of direction for the car. We agreed, having full faith in our charming and caring guide. He even helped us at a stop off to get bus tickets back home, since our train reservations were only one-way. He took us to an agent that got us on a top luxury bus going straight to Delhi at 5pm… perfect!

Fateghan Sikri was nice, but overall I was expecting a whole lot more based on the descriptions of our guide and recommendations of Maneka’s friends. It was a nice garden area and a interesting Masjid, but nothing too amazing. I think it is just famous for the fact that a city was to be built there by a Mughal ruler but for some reason he bailed. Two other elements contributed to me not enjoying the experience. First, the heat was starting to beat down on me like a ton of bricks, and second, the place was infested with kids trying to scam money from you by offering to be your tourguide or this or that. These kids do not leave you alone, insisting on walking and talking with you, trying to be helpful and telling you where to go so in the end you can pay them for being so "helpful". It's really annoying because they just don't go away and let you enjoy the place in peace. During this visit I was especially frustrated by some salesman who was telling us to buy flowers to offer inside the Masjid, but they wouldn’t let me buy just a small amount for Maneka and I. In the end it became a totally nerve-wracking and unsettling experience, all because we were trying to avoid getting scammed for Rs.50. I was happy to leave that place.

After that we were expecting to drive straight to the Taj, but Uncleji tells us that we have time, and we should stop off at this great little shop selling all kinds of trinkets. We oblige, but don’t find anything. Then he insists on showing us this wonderful jewelery shop, where surely Maneka will find something she will love to take home. We agree, but now we’re getting impatient. After that it is a marble shop, and then another trinket store, and a mall selling Rs.7K little handbags. We begin to see the truth. Uncleji is an agent for all of these shops who want customers and commission guides to take their passengers to see their merchandise. Only we didn’t come to shop, just to see the Taj! This “shopping” trip, where Maneka and I go into a store and come out in 5 minutes since we don’t want to buy anything but Uncleji keeps insisting to stay longer at each shop and look at this and that, started getting annoying. At the end, before Uncleji gave us the final nod that he would take us to see the Taj, Maneka said she no longer trusts Uncleji. So sad.

I think the shopping trip had its role, as it built up a day’s worth of anticipation for the Taj. When we saw it, we immediately knew it was worth the wait. It was simply incredible. We both agreed it was the most impressive, the most majestic, the most awesome thing we had ever seen in person. It was so impressive, if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen it, add it to your todo list. No picture can do it justice. At this point in the day, however, the heat was

downright oppressive and threatened to spoil the enjoyment of this wonder. As we walked towards the structure from the main entrance, we carefully mapped out the next shaded area where we would rest. I was drained of energy, and even in the shade I was uncomfortable. But we managed to walk around and inside the Mahal, and truly did enjoy it.

Now it was time to go home, but not before Uncleji’s final disaster: he had booked us on a completely full tourbus in which we were stuffed in the very back which are the only seats that don’t recline. Worse yet, this bus ended up making 5-6 stops including in Dwarka where everyone got out to visit the birthplace of Krishna. We didn’t want to wait in line so we didn’t go in, but notably Maneka used the hole for the first time.

We reached Maneka’s apartment in Delhi about 5 hours later than we were told, and were exhausted, hungry, and most of all hot. In Maneka’s apartment, it is so hot that all three girls sleep in a single room where there is the sole A/C unit, and 2 other huge bedrooms are left unused. Maneka’s bed is right up next to the vent… but you probably could have guessed that. I was so tired but I had to stay up and finish a presentation I would be giving at the office the next day. That was brutal. But I finished it and gave the talk the next day and it went reasonably well. Then I was sent to the airport and was off to Baroda. But not after a fun but hectic 3 days in Delhi. The day with Maneka in Agra was an all time great, I will keep that memory of that time with her for a long time. One regret: no time for Akhshardham. Hopefully at the tail end of my trip when I have to come back to Delhi for final project presentations.

1 comment: