Tuesday, February 10, 2009

India is nuts.

Oh. Man. This place is so freakin crazy. I think the Delhi Belly refers more to the mad frustration you get whenever you try to do something useful in the city than to the food bugs you get, though we have had experience with both now. We got into Dehli at night on the 7th and luckily, our hotel pick-up had waited around for our flight, which was 2.5 hours late. Unfortunately, he took us to a different hotel which was supposedly affiliated with the one we booked, but we paid the same price anyway. Seems like whenever you get into a cab or autorickshaw here trying to get to a hotel or tourist information place, they take you to their favorite hotel or travel agent and get a hefty cut of your spendings there.

It seems like you have to hassle your way through everything as everyone expects to squeeze something out of our gullible American-looking faces. We have taken to saying that we are Iranian and Chinese, respectively, which is fun. Actually people ask so many ridiculous and nosy questions that I've decided to answer with ridiculous answers. Like where did you stay, how much did you pay, where are you from, what is your dad's name, are you married, what did you eat last night, where are you going, and can I take you to my friend's travel agency.

We had hoped to obtain our bus tickets once we arrived in Delhi, but the bus station was such chaos and only booking for Indian nationals. While trying to get to the Tourist information Bureau, we were led into a travel agency that claimed to be the bureau, then an agency representing the bureau, then an agency certified by the bureau, then a place with a guy certified by the bureau working there, in succession. They guy was really smooth and good at his stuff. We ended up buying a package deal with trains and hotels for the next 2 weeks for a price that we knew was a scam, but were willing to pay to avoid having to go through all the hassle in every city we go to. We got out with about $40 a day. Livable I suppose.

We've seen at least 10 forms of transportation side by side on the roads here: Car, truck, rickshaw, autorickshaw, bike, motorbike, horse-back, pony wagons, camel wagons, oxen wagons, walking, mule-back, and probably some others. In short, the roads are complete chaos. They do have traffic lights (absent in Nepal) but the sheer mass of traffic keeps the chaos intact. It was really stressful being on the streets the first couple of days, and we are very glad to have our own hotel rooms to relax and chill out in. I'm usually all for dorms, but here, I really need some "goodbye, India" time. And the people, oh man. When we got out of our car at the Taj Mahal parking lot, there were at least 6 people pouncing on us to sell cart rides, rickshaw rides, necklaces, snow globes, random pins and all sorts of stuff we didn't want. And they sure are insistent.

Despite sounding miserable, we acutally are having a grand time. The key is to not take anything to seriously and never expect anything to be done in a reasonable time period. Patience is the key. It's fun to play around with the people bugging you and try to get them to crack a smile. Making an effort to learn Hindi really helps and they get excited about that and (for a while) forget about getting money from you. Eman once tried to offer her empty 7UP bottle for something and the guy went away really quickly. Today, there was a cute, smart little 8-yr old kid who spoke really good English and was selling something or another. Eman gave him some gum and later, when another kid asked for gum, he shouted, "She's no having and chewing gum!" We cracked up.

We have had a driver for the past two days, which is really nice. After spending about 5 hours finding/deliberating/finalizing our travel deal, we went to Old Delhi, but Eman had gotten really sick (Delhi belly type 2) and I did a quick run around Chandni chowk and we hurried to the hotel, where they insisted we give them an extra 10 rupees for the fee for photocopying our passports. We politely refused. Prices are more based on what they think a sucker like you would pay than on how much something is worth.

Day 2, we drove to Agra, stopping at a few temples in between. The Taj Mahal was actually really gorgeous. An elegant white marble edifice against a blue sky with a foreground of red stone, green lawn, and silver fountains. It was also huge. The inside has intricate carvings and semiprecious stones inlaid into the marble. It was flanked by two beautiful red and white mosques. We got cool little shoe booties that reminded me of parade of homes.

Today, we went to Fatephur Sikri, which was capital of the Mughals for 15 years and is now a fascinating collection of ruins and old palaces. The mosque there was also huge and lovely. Many things around here are made with a really pretty red sandstone. Now we're in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan for a couple of days.

I love lassis, but my tummy does not.

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