The Next Level #9
Next level. I can’t think of any other way to call it. I arrived in New Dehli from Bangkok at dusk. To instantly acclimatize in hardcore style, I decided not to take a taxi to the hotel but go there by train and subway. It became a ride full of curious eyes. Curious on level “staring”. Staring at level “no limit”. I feel like I’m playing a leading role in my own human curiosities freak show. Yes I look quite Western, but somehow I just expected that a huge city like New Delhi would welcome a lot of Westerners every day. That I would not, so to speak, be unique. Wrong assumption. Even on the street, on my way to the hotel, I do not encounter other tourists – just staring people. Not bad in itself, but it just doesn’t match my expectations.
``Slightly outside of Delhi, the SMOG level doesn't decrease much.``
It’ s getting pretty dark by now and the surroundings near the hotel give me an uncanny feeling. The streets are filled with thick white smog and there is no regularity in the street lighting. Silently staring people keep popping up out of the smog. The only ones who are heavilly communicating with me are beggars. Men, women, young people, children. It takes a while to deal with the open sewers and the rubbish on the roads. Cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and buses are making a hell of a noise and they all keep honking. Each with its own pitch and coming together in a choir that sounds like a calf being taken away from its mother. The hotel reception advises not to go outside in the dark because it is dangerous. But I don’t trust that guy anymore. The first thing he just greeted me with were the words: “Cancel your booking.com reservation”… “Good night to you, too! May I ask why?” “Cancel your booking.com reservation”… “No”. “Okay then I won’t give you a discount”… “Yeah, I didn’t ask for that, did I?” Not exactly the warm welcome I was hoping for. I get that knucklehead has to pay 15% to booking.com, but at least make sure you give me a propper greeting before you force your scam ideas on me. When I enter the hotel room I look for the open window that isn’t there. There’s no window at all. What a blast! It sounds like there’s a tuk-tuk meeting in the bathroom. The honk festival from the street is flawlessly continuing in my hotel room. How thick are these walls, I wonder. How am I going to find peace here is my second internal question. How am I going to throw that irritating prick of a man out of my room is my third burning question. He whispers that an American couple gave him a tip of 500 rupees yesterday. Well, I guess you got enough tip for the whole week then. Maybe if you had made the effort to help me with my luggage, made the effort to greet me with ‘good evening’, didn’t share your scam-practices with me and besides: didn’t ask for TIP… then I wouldn’t have been the worst. But in this case, just sod off!
``Sometimes the smog clears a little and I have a view of the street from the hotel.``
At the start of my story blogs I decided to be straight forward. To express what I think, feel and experience. I shape my story based on the list of daily notes I make. The pure translations of the feeling “in the moment”. Notes I make in the back of a TukTuk, during a Bangladesh detention or just after a beautiful sunrise. I don’t want to put a filter of political correctness over it. If it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful, and if it’s ugly, it’s ugly. As long as you look at things as objectively as possible and express your feelings with respect, they can’t be hurtful or offensive to anyone. My first, pure notes on the India tab:
- Unpleasant creepy atmosphere after sunset, almost a ghost town with that fog, people lying on the ground, dark alleys. Lots of dirt. Grim condition.
- People are hard to read, when do I trust them?
- Chicken + Rice = 370 rupees.
- Metro full of people lying on the ground under a blanket.
- 21-12: Big fight with TukTuk driver. Don’t let him (…) & here it should have said “get to you”. I was probably distracted while writing the note.
``The political protests are also in full swing...``
I find it hard to give this a positive spin. At the hotel there is nobody for me to hang out with. Usually not a problem in itself, I manage fine on my own and even better; sometimes I like to be alone for a while. Delhi is just different. It would have been better to go there together. That gives just a little more “body”. Especially after the 3rd big disagreement. 2nd day Delhi: On Google maps I show the TukTuk driver where I need to be. I ask him for a verification if he knows where it is. “Yes”. Okay, nice. After negotiating the price down from 1100 rupees to a final 200 rupees and after I got in, the circus starts. “Where to go?” “I don’t know, I don’t know Delhi”… “Here left?” .. “Dude, again, I don’t know Delhi and you’re the TukTuk driver here. Besides, you confirmed that you knew where to go.” By the way, you have to imagine that you are in the back of a TukTuk during this conversation while it’s crossing through the idiotic crazy traffic of Delhi. From left, right, front and back there is traffic coming towards you. If it could, it would have also been coming from above. The cows on the road aren’t bothered by anything and stray dogs and people are jumping through the traffic. Nobody, but really nobody gives each other an inch of space. Why should you? If you keep jamming each other and you start honking very loud it is much more effective. Anyway; during the conversation you barely understand the driver and there are 150 other road users honking as if their lives depended on it. The situation gets grimmer and the young man, who has his head wrapped in a scarf, starts swearing to no end. Oh boy. This feels like a party. It’s a bad party though, but leaving the party early is just not one of the options. No way I’m gonna pay that sour mummy any money for an incomplete ride. This is, I guess, exactly the reason why he’s doing this. Scare off foreigners and get money for a few miles driven. Upon arrival and 4 more swearing rants further, I’m done with it. You may have your own manufactured balaclava hat on your head, but that doesn’t scare me very much. In Lesotho, a country next to South Africa, I spent 1 week in between the men in balaclava hats. That’s the fashion there. So: here you have 500 rupees. 300 rupees change please. “No”… “Yes”… “No, bussy traffic”… “That has nothing to do with it, it’s busy 24/7, so 300 rupees back please.” .. “No”… “Yes”… “No, you didn’t know the route”… “give me the 300 rupees!” I notice that my last sentence comes out damn threatening, but I’m really done with that joker. Three more times this goes back and forth and then I grab the 500 rupees out of his hand. “Okay, then this was a free ride, bye”. And suddenly the 300 rupees of change comes out. Jerk!
``On my way to the fort I meet this friendly musician I'm talking to...``
It sucks the life out of me. The argument with the TukTuk driver was just an example of the many things I’m going through in Delhi. If this is a foreshadow for a 6 week India trip, then I don’t think that those 6 weeks will be 6 weeks. At the time I arrived in India the political protests are also in full swing. Everywhere in the city there are police blockades and big protest groups. On the news I occasionally see these groups being beaten apart with brute force. No sightseeing for me. A number of individual people on the street take the effort to talk to me and advise me to go back to my hotel. Too dangerous near the ticking time bombs. After 3 days I take my loss. I’m leaving. Too bad. I think I got to know Delhi the wrong way. Wrong time, wrong place? Probably. But the final score, as far as I’m concerned, is an unsatisfactory one. As I wrote before, if it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful, and if it’s ugly, it’s ugly. This experience, this town was an unpleasant ugly experience. My train rushes to Jaipur. The pink city. Jaipur will hopefully give me a merry Christmas.
``As it turns out, the climb to today's third fort is worth it, arriving at the top...``
2 days before Christmas I arrive in Jaipur and end up in a hostel full of nice people. That was such a relief. Nobody wants to celebrate Christmas on their own, or be stuck with people you don’t like. However; while traveling by train you kept thinking of different scenarios, just in case. So what would you do? Go to a fancy restaurant? No – You’ll sit between families and couples while you sit at your table all by yourself and your invisible friends. Man, that must feel bad at Christmas! Not an option. Go to a bar and fill yourself up? Well, that’s not really my thing … I don’t know. Anyway, there’s no need to figure this out. Nice people. With an Indian and a lady from Italy we go out on the day before Christmas in search of highlights. But what or who is the highlight here actually? In Delhi I only had to deal with staring people, in Jaipur they use a different approach for foreigners. Selfies. Selfies with the foreigner. Strangers who come at you and want to take a picture with you. You don’t know them, they don’t know you; but.. take a picture with each other. Well, fine. Better than staring people and you have hilarious conversations during the selfies. But it sometimes takes time. Especially if your scedule is rather tight and they want to take a picture with the entire family. Dad, mum, son1, daughter 4, son2, grandpa, son5, daughter3 – a completely unpaid photoshoot. Anyway; reasonably exhausted from climbing all kinds of forts we come back on Christmas Eve and decide to have something to eat together. It’s Christmas Eve, so that includes some alcohol. Well; good luck in Jaipur! It is there, somewhere, but you really need to know where. We (meanwhile the Indian has dropped out and there’s only the two of us) dive into a seemingly fancy restaurant and ask for Kingfisher beer. Immediately there’s an emergency meeting taking place between the staff and their dubious eyes look in our direction. To be on the safe side, I ask my partner in crime if I was clear, and if my choice of words didn’t accidentally look like I was asking for drugs, but she confirmed that it was clear. One nerve-racking minute later the head waiter comes up and whispers that it’s actually too late. It’s already been 8:00pm. That’s right. It’s 9:00pm. But we could still make a deal. Okay. Exciting. I have to bite my tongue not to laugh my very serious face off when I whisper back that that’s okay. Just wrap the beers in a newspaper and put them in a paper bag. 20 minutes later we walk away after the waiter, still holding up his very serious face, has handed over the beers, wrapped up in newspapers and in a paper bag. Nice deal.
``At every corner the city's 'keepers' keep a close eye on the streets``
Arriving at the home base our hosts seem relieved. “We thought you guys went somewhere else on Christmas Eve.” .. “No, but what if we did… Oh gosh; that’s right, I completely forgot: I had asked at the reception that morning if the hostel would do ‘something’ about Christmas.” Because celebrating Christmas is not a custom among Hindus and Muslims. But, nice as they are, they took the question very seriously and abruptly hung up Christmas decorations. Dramatic Christmas music is blasting out of the mini speakers and a Christmas cake pops up! To realize that we, the Italian and me, are the only “foreigners” here, I suddenly understand their relief. “Whoopss… Now come on, let’s celebrate Christmas at 9:30pm!” Merry X-Mass!