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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...