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19 November 2013

Monday, 18 November. Jaipur

I had to get up early, before 6am. My train left at 06:55 and Swag had to drive me all the way to the station.

It was my first time taking and Indian train, and I was all alone. None of the signs were in English, only Hindi. And the electronic signs were turned off, so it was difficult to figure out where my train car was (I had a reserved seat). The information guy just pointed in a general direction so I just guessed. People were just walking across the train tracks to get to the other platform. When the train finally came, about 15 minutes late (just like Germany!), it was honking very loudly (just like the cars on the street!) so that people would get off the tracks.

I had a reserved seat in the equivalent of business class. I didn't realize that I would be fed - tea, cereal, fruits, and an omelette. Not bad! I spent the ride writing down my thoughts and managed to sleep a little bit. The train stopped randomly for 15 minutes and started backing up. Did we make a wrong turn? Is that even possible? I SAW MY FIRST CAMEL. I woke up with my phone vibrating (Swag had just booked my next day ticket and needed my passport no.) and the train arrived in Jaipur.

I walked out of the train station, and was instantly overwhelmed by the masses. A rickshaw driver could easily see that I was a foreigner and insisted that I ride with him - he clung to me like a leech even though I said no. I walked to the hotel, using my phone (carefully) to guide me there, and dodging piles of trash, cow poop, and general filthiness along the way. I checked in; the hotel is actually nice with a peaceful garden, and they upgraded me to a nicer room. Had some food, washed up, and after a few minutes' rest, I went out to explore the city on foot.

Jaipur is crazy and chaotic. The whole day was spent dodging traffic and trying not to get pulled aside by some shady bazaar vendor into a trap.

17 November 2013

Sunday, 17 November: Day 2, Delhi

Slept til 10:30. The sun was bright. The cleaner actually woke me up - she came in and washe dall around. Breakfast was a packet of masala oats that Swag had around, alongside some rusks and processed cheese.

We booked my train to Jaipur, leaving tomorrow morning. After sorting that out and getting ready, we left around 13:00 for the city. We drove to the Rapid Metro again and took the Metro into town. Swag's friend/cowoker Ankit was waiting for us at Sikandarpur station. We got on the train and took the seats that we could get, so we were somewhat separated for the 45+ minute ride.

We arrived at Chandni Chowk, and got off. It was a crowded bazaar that we walked through to get to a crowded and chaotic street. We walked down along the street (Chandni Chowk itself), which was lined with crowded stalls, street vendors, and street food sellers. Of course, this being India, none of this could be described as hygienic. I went shopping, not sure how trustworthy the items I buy would be. But I did. I suggested we try going down one of the narrow lanes, and I inadvertently discovered paratha alley, where there are several food places selling parathas. Amazing! We had to stop at one. So we ordered parathas and shared them right there in the street.

This was my first street food in India. Hope you can handle it, stomach!

First Day in Delhi

My friend Swag, whom I'm staying with, picked me up from the airport. I got through security really quickly and was one of the first to pick up my luggage. It was good timing, as he parked his car (coincidentally) exactly where I was waiting.

Drove to his place, but first we stopped by the mall (Ansal Plaza) for breakfast.  The mall has the same kind of security checkpoints as malls in the Philippines, which are pretty useless. We ate parathas (thin bread filled with spiced meats or vegetables). I saw the cinema and thought "oooh, I must watch an Indian movie while I'm here."

At Swag's apartment, I dropped off my stuff, called home to say hi and that I'm all ok. The cleaner came and cleaned the whole place. Cricket was on the television, they were honoring Sachin Tendulkar who had just played his final test match.

Went to the Ambience Mall; parked underground, again going through security. Shopped for clothes. I bought a shirt at a store called and a suit which I had tailored. Somehow I forgot to fill up my wallet with the money I had exchanged at the airport, so Swag had to spot me for my shopping.

We had to wait for 1 hour for the tailor to make my suit (such quick service) and so we had lunch in the mall. Tried some Maharashtra burgers/sliders. We also tried some Indian Chinese food, which I wasn't very impressed by. Anyway, I'm trying to "take it easy" the first day with my food intake, so that I don't get the infamous "Delhi belly".

After shopping at the mall, we drove to the nearby metro station, which had just opened a few days before. The new "Rapid Metro." It is really nice an modern, and contrasts with the half-built dusty construction scenes outside.

We took the Rapid Metro to the regular Metro, which took maybe 45 minutes to get into the city. We cruised through the suburbs, and more and more people got on. I noticed that the crowd was 90% male. Weird. Apparently there's an all-female car at the very front of each Metro train. By the time we got into the city, it was totally packed.

It's also a bit weird to say, and stupidly obvious, but noticeable to me: Everyone here is Indian. There was maybe one African man amongst 5000 Indian people on the metro. I don't know if I've been in such a homogeneous place.

People were also wearing jackets, sweaters, and vests. Even though it was maybe 24°C outside. This is cold weather in India. (At night, the temperature does drop to around 12°C, which definitely needs a light jacket, but during the day, no way!) The air is dry and filled with dust.

We got off at the station named General Secretariat, and walked around to see some official government/parliament buildings. This was New Delhi. The sun was going down, so Swag and I rushed to see as much as possible before it got dark. The Parliament building and surrounding area were closed off. The Secretariat buildings were nice, and there was a nice view looking out into the hazy smoke, toward the iconic arch in the distance, India Gate.

After taking pictures, Swag and I decided to walk to India Gate, which must have been 3km away, even though we could see it all the way straight down the Rajpath avenue. It was dark. Along the way, two girls, aged maybe 14, must have seen me with my camera because they literally ran at us and said "name? 10 rupees" while shaking their jewelry in my face and hitting my arm to get my attention.

However, other than that, not much hassle. People here must think that I'm also Indian. This explains why I get funny looks when I speak English. "Why is this guy not speaking Hindi?" they must think.

Anyway, we finally got to the India gate, took our pictures, and decided to go further into the city to see more. However, there was no metro station around, so we had to walk another 2km to the nearest station (Mandi House) which was also under construction.

India is not as poor as I expected. There are a lot of seemingly middle-class people, relatively well dressed, all crammed into the metro. Honestly, everyone seems surprisingly (and almost disappointingly) normal. It's a good thing, though, I think. I can see that there is a lot of industry and economic growth here, and it can only get better for everyone. There is poverty and wealth, but the main task is expanding the economic engine to work for the masses.

Anyway, the metro was way too crowded. We got to connaught place (Rajiv Chowk station) and when the doors open, we and about 200 people literally exploded out the doors and we pushed up out of the station.

We walked out of Rajiv Chowk station. There was a bazaar (Palika Bazaar) but I didn't really care to see it. We crossed the crazy roundabout of traffic into "Central Park" which only had one entrance (we discovered this the hard way). Apparenlty it's also not allowed to take photographs in the park. WTF.

I wanted a beer desperately. So we walked around and entered the first place serving alcohol that we could find. And believe it or not, it was a Tex-Mex restaurant called Rodeo. Really, Jason? First day in India and you're having beer and nachos?! I know, I'm a horrible traveler. But the Californian in me was happy to have disappointingly fake nachos, and my German side was happy to have beer, even if it was shitty (Fosters) and small.

Exhausted, we took the metro back to Gurgaon, and Swag drove us home. I was already falling asleep in the car. We stopped by a roadside food stall and got some Tandoori chicken and naan to eat at home. The kid who worked there was fascinated by my camera; I was looking at my earlier pictures on it.

Dinner, a bit of coke and vodka, and a few hours of internetting later, I was spent. Slaap lekker time :)

First Impressions of India/Delhi
  • It smells like dust. Everywhere. And it has a particular "Indian" smell, hard to describe... Kind of like the 
  • People think I'm Indian. They stare at my funny when I speak English instead of Hindi.

Departure: Germany to India

"The plane smells like years of sweat and curry"

My trip started off hectic and stressful. This was partly my fault for deciding to make it both a work day and a travel day: Since my flight left at 9:30pm, I figured I'd have plenty of time to work for at least half a day and still make it (from Düsseldorf) to the airport (in Frankfurt) with time to spare.

Haha, nope!

My first mistake was leaving my final packing to the morning of my flights. But in my defense, there were plenty of activities each night of the week that I couldn't exactly miss - including a work-hosted "academy" about India the night before my flight! So, I left a lot of my preparation to the last minute.

[Travel tip: It's great to be spontaneous and un-planned, but if you do have something set in your schedule, like a flight, prepare for it as far ahead of time as you can!]

So, Friday came around, and I had to (1) finish packing my luggage, (2) deal with a busy day of work tying everything up before my departure, and (3) catch my 3-hour train ride to Frankfurt airport. Well, the train ride was scheduled to be 3 hours long. What actually happened was...

15 November 2013

What Do I Expect from India?

I'm in the train, on my way from Düsseldorf to Frankfurt airport, to catch my flight to India. What better time to gather my thoughts and reflections on what might happen on this trip.

What do I expect from India? Everyone I talk to has been telling me several things: (1) "You're going to have a such great experience!"; (2) "You're going to get so sick!"; and (3) "I'm so jealous! Put me into your luggage!" So, if I was to base my expectations entirely from my friends' suggestions, I would expect to get serious diarrhea but really enjoy it and have such a great time! I never realized that my friends enjoyed getting diarrhea so much :)

But honestly, I have been too preoccupied (with work mostly) to fully wrap my head around what I'm about to experience. Only last night did it really hit me, when we had a work presentation whose topic was (believe it or not) "Discover India"! I have been really excited since then. I'm now frantically reading through my 1200-page Lonely Planet guide to India, at least getting some background on the history and cultures of this ancient and immense land.

India will be the most "foreign" place I have ever visited, especially alone. It's much more difficult to get by there than any European country. And that is exactly the point: I expect to be challenged. I expect to be hassled on the street, standing out as a tourist. I expect to be saddened and disgusted by the level of poverty. I expect to have amazing food and that my digestive tract will pay the price. I expect to be dazzled by the spectacle of an Indian wedding, and the wedding of a great friend of mine at that! I expect to be happy to meet my friends on the other side of the world. I expect to see places and sights whose history I can't even begin to comprehend!

01 November 2013

A Day in India (as told through food)

Wow, it's already November?

That means that in just a couple weeks, I'll in traveling through India! Here's a cool video I found to help me get into the mindset:

A Day in India from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.