Friday, January 6, 2012

First Impressions

"pay what you want" coffee :)
Although I am quite tired as I still try to adjust to the major time change, I tried to be observant and take in as much as possible of Delhi as I was out and about today. In some respects, Delhi reminds me a lot of Haiti - it is noisy, dusty, crowded. It seems to me that this is what Port-au-Prince would look like if the government of Haiti was stable for a while and able to actually build up it’s capital city. You can’t see very far down any street due to the constant haze that seems to hang over the city. The roads are pretty well maintained but are completely crowded with people, cars, carts pulled behind animals, autorickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, motorbikes, and bicycles. Plus the sellers on the sidewalk seem to encroach on street space as well. I think there are sidewalks on the major roads but it can be hard to tell as not infrequently motor vehicles will drive onto them blaring the horns to try and pass some traffic.  It’s definitely not a walking friendly place like the Scandinavian countries. You can walk, just be wary of the constant stream of traffic around you and the blaring horns may be directed at you. In addition, walking around on the streets you inhale a massive amount of hazy air pollution. I hate to think of the black carbon spots that are forming in my lungs as I breathe this in for the next few months. I may need to return home for a short while just to get a little fresh air before continuing on to Kampala, Uganda. 

In terms of transportation, it is quite cheap but also quite variable in price. I read in a travel guide and have found that advice to be good to agree on a price before getting into any autorickshaw/cycle-rickshaw. I didn’t do that once today and the price difference was 80 rupees (which still is very cheap - about 50 rupees is equivalent to $1). Still, I stand out clearly as a foreigner which I think makes me a target for being charged unfairly high prices compared to the going rate. Delhi has a new metro system that was built in 2002 which is very nice and also very cheap. My ride to the coffee shop today was only 20 rupees (less than $0.50). The metro is clean, efficient, has information in both Hindi and English, air-conditioned, and best of all has designated sections for women only (marked on the train track boarding area with a pink sign saying “Women Only”). Men can actually be charged a fine for riding in the ladies only sections of the train.

Speaking of women, I definitely feel that I am a minority on the streets in terms of my gender as well. There are far more men walking around then women. I read about this in advance and was expecting it so I dressed up in some pretty shape-less clothing and a baggy jacket, put on my dark sunglasses and hit the road with a fairly serious expression on my face. I wasn’t bothered too much and actually for the most part found people to be very friendly and helpful. I was clearly confused when boarding the metro for the first time which direction I was supposed to be heading since the metro map in the Lonely Planet book is in different colors than the actual colors of the metro lines. A very nice gentleman helped me figure it out and I made it to my destination.

Speaking of the coffee shop - it was in a really cool area with neat shops bordering a park. I am looking forward to returning to the area and maybe do a little bit of browsing/shopping. There were a ton of kids out playing games with each other and many of them (noticing how much I stood out) would run up and walk beside me, say “Hi!” and wave. It was pretty darn cute. 

Unfortunately not all the kids come from a good living situation as there are many poor, homeless, and/or begging children on the streets of Delhi as well. I had read that you are not supposed to give money or gifts to begging children, and that is even harder to do than it sounds. There seems to be some sort of set of rules for whom to give money too and who not to. Apparently, it’s considered okay to give money to beggars who are obviously handicapped but it is discouraged to give handouts to children. I’m not quite sure why - I’ll have to do some more reading and see if I can figure it out. 

Hotel Pahwa International
Despite the streets being somewhat drab in their dust-cover, they are still vibrant. There are hotels on some streets that are literally every other building with tall light-up neon signs. I’m sure the quality varies considerably as does the price, but you would not lack for a place to stay here in Delhi. My hotel is fairly clean. The sheets aren’t exactly white but I think that may be more due to the fact that they are probably older and have been exposed to a lot of dust over the years as well as experienced a vigorous beating in their washing. I brought my own sheets that I decided to sleep in just in case. The hotel floor and bathroom is clean and it looks like they try to keep the place updated. My door has a bolted key lock plus two other bolts that can only be opened from the inside. I feel quite safe. Now the big question is whether or not I’ll be brave enough to try the hotel room service food for dinner. I’m still debating that one at this point. I may wait to try new foods until tomorrow. Good thing I brought along a bunch of Luna bars!

I digress. So, back to my last point about the color. Many of the women dress in fabulous arrays of colors. Their outfits look pretty comfortable as well and I think I could really get into the Indian fashion. Sure, there is a fair share of western clothing, but many women wear these colorful loose pants with a long colorful shirt over them and a scarf/wrap. They also wear several jeweled bracelets on their wrists and many of them have a decorative nose ring as well. I’ll forgo this nose ring, but the colorful pants and shirt - count me in! 

Alright, enough for the time being. I’m going to attempt to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour of the city tomorrow and will hopefully start taking some pictures to post on the blog. It may take a while for me to actually post them though since I have a feeling the internet connection will mean that it will take forever to load photos. I’ll do my best! Until next time, namaste!

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