Friday, 23 May 2014

Incredible India: Incredible Introduction

When I heard this term I had no idea what the word "incredible" would really amount to.

I am amidst some magical things. I always have been, but my senses are awakening in this magical place called India.

I am in India...

It feels like a dream. I have wanted and waited for this to happen for a long time, and here I am.

So many people asked me, “”Why India?” All I could think was because that is what I am mean to do. Something deep inside my soul was pulling me here. So, I listened.

The long flights, the noise, the people, the dirt, the chaotic feeling, the confusion, the stress of Delhi all seem easy compared to the struggle of trying to be actually present. To absolutely feel like I am here: mind, body and soul. It is a lot to digest, and a lot to take in, but I want to take in it all, I just don't know if I'll be capable to.

I felt like I arrived in India as quickly as I boarded the plane in Vancouver. I, all of a sudden, was swallowed up in India.

I do not want this to sound like “Eat, Pray, Love”, but the way Elizabeth Gilbert describes arriving in India is exactly how it felt. The second I got here, it felt like the country just swallowed me up. As if I have always been here, and no one noticed the addition of one more confused, overwhelmed soul. Of course I looked like a tourist, but people seemed to think I was of Punjabi or Kashmir descent, and treated me almost invisible. A gesture I would later greatly appreciate as my time progressed here.

Three quarters of the drive from the Delhi airport were fairly ordinary. Long stretch of highway, warmer air, and a strange smell. Then, we turned a corner and, BAM, welcome to India!

I barely had enough time to digest everything I was seeing before the car stopped abruptly in Paharganj, and the driver told me I was at my hotel.

I could not understand where a hotel could be amongst the chaos of people, particularly men, bright flashing lights, horns honking at record breaking rate, smoke, dust, garbage, rickshaws, tuk-tuks and fighting dogs.

Sure enough, a door on the corner with the hotel name I was expecting was visible. I slipped inside, half wanting to stay longer in the mesmerizing confusion I just got a glimpse of, and half so grateful for my escape

The next morning I took a nice hot shower, as I knew that would not be possible for the next month at the ashram where buckets of cold water awaited me.

I wanted to get some Indian clothes as everything I brought was very western, when in India, blending in as much as possible is a good rule to follow. The front desk clerk suggested a bazaar called Chandni Chowk.

And what a introduction to Delhi it was.

The chaotic mess called Chandni Chowk was amazing but paralyzing. As greatly I wanted to partake in what was happening, I equally wanted to run back to my hotel room, quick. Curiosity won, or rather my dodge of oncoming traffic won, and I found myself walking around aimlessly for hours in the maze of tiny alleyway after alleyway of  bright fabrics, yelling men, cows and the intoxicating smell of incense and other.. things...

As I roamed confusedly, for some reason I was desperately searching for another North American or European looking face. I think it was in part, to convince myself that there were other non-Indians like myself who were crazy enough to be here, and part confirmation that if other people were doing it too, I was not going to get swallowed up and disappear in India just yet.

After two hours of indiscriminately walking around (yes, this girl with an self-proclaimed "excellent sense of direction" was indeed lost), I saw a group of about 20 English tourist cruising down an ally in rickshaws. This gave me a sense of relief, which I don’t entirely understand, as they were just as much strangers to me as everyone else in this city. I suppose it confirmed for me, that as a foreigner I may be safe even if I felt like I could have vanished without a trace at any moment.

Perhaps all my anticipation and being a solo-female traveler was not the best recipe to have a positive first experience in Delhi, but nonetheless, it was an experience, and it was trilling at the same time as I was scared. In fact, after I finally digested everything in my presence, I said "screw it!"and walked into a tent the shop owner lured me in with flashy fabrics. I sat down next to him communicating with head nods and hand-gestures and paid way too much for what I thought was the most beautiful scarf I have ever seen.

Happy with my purchase, and more for my participating in the chowk, I began to plan my exit strategy and walked toward less populated areas. The heights of the buildings started to diminish and I knew I was getting closer to the outskirts of the bazaar. Then, I could just make out the top of the Red Fort, and used it as a landmark to navigate out toward the fort.

The Red Fort was beautiful, but I quickly grew tired as I realized every few steps people were staring at me, and approaching me for photos. After 10 minutes of taking individual photos with a family of twelve, and them denying me to take one group shot of them, I put my "don't mess with me" face on and put a stop to the "white lady photo opps". It would be a long 2 month I let this happen all day.

I then got another tuk-tuk to a richer neighborhood called Connaught Place, where, yes it was not so crazy and the stores were more Americanized looking, but where these “con-artists” lurked. In about 30 minutes I had 5 different men some how leech onto me and steer me to a store that “they didn’t have any association with” and lost about 5 times the amount of money I budgeted for that day. I had enough.  I am sure that Delhi has it’s positives and beauty, but 8 hours and I was exhausted and wanting nothing more but just to lock myself in my hotel room and lay down in my sleeping sack. And so I grabbed the closes tuk-tuk and concluded my Delhi experience.

Day 1 Tally:
Me:0 India:1

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