a long summary of Delhi, Erin, and Noemi

I should begin the story of my vacation sooner rather than later, lest I forget any details. I’m a little reluctant to begin sharing, mainly because I feel like I’ll start crying because I already miss my friends. There is something very special about good friends; especially those who travel half way across the world to pay a visit.
We stuck to our itinerary pretty strictly, which made me happy because I was nervous the entire time that I had messed something up (like I said before, I’m not a planner). To begin with, we had impeccable timing in picking both Noemi and Erin up from the airport. After capoeira, I went out to eat with my friends, killing time, enjoying company. We had a little extra time so my friend Zorro and I went to Priya’s house to waste the last bit of time. Noemi was coming in first. We mistakenly took the exit out of the parking lot once we got to the airport and tried our luck at not paying for parking and just rolling by the exit. Our luck had it that she was walking out at that precise moment. I’m not sure if I could have been any happier at that moment. Noemi was a great “cheerleader” the entire trip, randomly getting excited and saying, “I can’t believe we’re here,” while smiling. It was amazing yet odd that it was not odd to see her. It felt completely natural. We went to waste some time at a bar/restaurant and Noemi ate some dal and roti. Again our timing to the airport was impeccable and we picked up Erin straight away. Zorro said that it was the best mistake he ever made. We drove straight to Priya’s (who let us stay with her while we were in Mumbai). They unpacked a bit, gave me some goodies which included chocolate chips from Trader Joes, a keypad cover for my computer, magazines, clothes from my mom, some papers for work, and other little goodies.
After a short nap – it was already almost 4 by the time we got to sleep – we took a trip to Dharavi where Baba teaches the capoeira classes on Sundays. The normal space we take was occupied for a wedding, so we ended up in a smaller room inside. It was hot. I mean it was really, really hot. The kids enjoyed the class just the same. There were donations from abroad (not from us) for the kids, which consisted of capoeira clothes and shoes. It made the kids very, very happy. Of course afterwards we took them for thali (South Indian food served on a banana leaf) where I showed Noemi the art of eating with your hands. She did really well for her first time. I also discovered her inability to eat spicy food, not even slightly spiced food.
If I rush through some details it’s only because I want to give the idea of the trip. I do plan on reflecting, just later on.
We got back to Priya’s with enough time to shower and pack up for Delhi. It was great to meet Saci on the train as well. He came to visit us right before we took off for Delhi. It was also nice to have one more person meet my friends. It was almost like showing off or like show and tell. The whole trip I felt so happy and lucky to have such great friends, on both sides of the world. Then we were off on a third tier AC car to Delhi for almost 14 hours. There are different classes of AC cars; ours was the cheapest, but still a much needed luxury in comparison with the non AC cars. It was hot! Noemi spent time sleeping on the table close to the window, they both were exposed to an Indian toilet on a moving train, we got train food (it seemed like we were fed almost every hour), we spent quality time talking about random stuff, catching up, girl talk, etc. it was a great way to start the trip. We slept for some time on the train as well. For me it was a great night’s sleep considering that I hadn’t slept much the night before. Plus, I really enjoy sleeping on trains, especially when it has AC, you don’t have to share your seat, and you can lie down. I ended up on the upper bunk, and Noemi and Erin were both on the middle berth. In the morning when we woke up, we ate, and continued our bonding for another 2 hours. We got our first taste of what it’s like to be a tourist (foreigner) in Delhi. The couple who was sleeping on the lower berths pretended to take a picture of each other while really snapping a photo of Erin. They weren’t as slick as they thought they were.
We got a taxi to the hotel. I had to let go of the fact that I live here now and prefer to do everything with public transportation and the cheap way. I was on vacation! Our hotel was perfect. There are stories about booking hotels on line and getting to the hotel only to find that the pictures were fake and the place was a dump. This was not the case at all. Everyone was nice, the room was clean, the location was great. We stayed at RK Ashram Marg stop off of the blue line. We even got free coffee.
Right away, we unpacked and set out to be tourists. Our first stop: RajPath and India Gate. We took the metro, experienced the harassment we heard about – rickshaw drivers (both auto and bike) walked next to us, people asked us where we were from, etc. it was very in your face. We made it to the train, which was clean and calm. The first car of every train is reserved for women only. This made traveling much nicer. In Mumbai there are several cars reserved for women only but they’re interspersed throughout the train. In Mumbai there are also first class cars, cars for people with disabilities, and cancer patients (I just saw that one for the first time yesterday). Raj Path is just full of government buildings. It actually looks like Washington D.C. along the National Mall. We saw the Prime Minister’s building, different government offices and the India Gate. Apparently it’s cool to take pictures with foreigners. At first we were amused and obliged. Then it quickly became a nuisance and annoying. It was a beautiful area and felt nice to be out in the open. Rickshaws in Delhi are also green and yellow. It’s nice that everywhere takes a slightly different approach to traveling colors.
After, we headed towards Chandni Chowk, which it a huge circle of fancy shops. We walked around for quite some time before deciding that we were really hungry and should head back towards the hotel anyway. We walked along a road that was very much under construction for about 40 minutes; we were passed by rickshaws, both bike and auto, motorcycles and cars, each of them honking in order to let us know. Some kids who were amused to see foreigners yelled us at. We made it back to the hotel safe and sound. They recommended restaurants around the corner. As soon as we saw one, we settled down for some good Indian food; we ate at this restaurant, Festa, for the next three days. The food was amazing, the waiters and staff were also very nice. It began a trend of getting, what we thought, was some special treatment because I could speak a few words of Hindi. I don’t speak much, but what I could say got us brownie points during the trip.
Exhausted, we settled into our comfy hotel room for the night.

Day 2 in Delhi
We woke up early so that we could get to the Red Fort. It was an awesome fort created in 1648 by a Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. It was his, as well as his successors home until 1857. It was also super special for me because I attempted to use my Pan Card to get in as an Indian resident. I was successful! The difference between an Indian and Foreigner entrance fee is quite large. At the Red Fort foreigners pay 250Rs and Indians pay 20Rs. I would feel bad if I was getting paid in US$ but I’m not so I didn’t. A lot of the architecture in Delhi is very influenced by Muslim and Arab art. This is in stark contrast with most of Pune and Mumbai that are very Hindu influenced (as to my knowledge, but don’t quote me). We used Erin’s handy dandy guide book to point us to some good food. On the way to the restaurant, while looking at her camera, a woman and her sticks attacked Noemi. Onlookers assured us that it was not Noemi, but the woman who was crazy. Without knowing, Noemi also got a really good shot of her attacker. See below. After a nice brunch consisting of Utapam, Upma, and Chole Bature, we headed towards the market area. There are many markets; basically they are different blocks with one specific item. The items we perused (and sometimes purchased) included spices, textiles, shoes, paper, and car parts. It was an amazing site. The streets were very crowded and we stuck close together while marveling at the sites, smells, and sounds. Sometimes the smells were amazing spices, sometimes garbage. At this point I realized how used to smells and crowds I have become. Noemi and Erin at some points coughed because of the spices, or held their noses at some of the smells. I was not fazed by most of it. Additionally the traffic didn’t really faze me either. Four months is not that long, but I guess it’s long enough to become accustomed to a few things here and there.
The traffic there was also quite bad, although there were no cars, only rickshaws (only bike) and motorcycles. After making a few purchases and feeling like we had enough of the crowd, we headed towards the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid or “Friday Mosque”. We decided to try a bicycle rickshaw. It was interesting because there is really only enough space for two on the main seat, and space for two facing backwards. I took the backwards seat for fun and to get a different perspective. Some people pretended to bump the rickshaw for fun, others stared at us, others paid no attention at all. We had to remove our shoes and put on a quite colorful cloak. It was beautiful inside. We were also subjected to more involuntary photos. People do this to me on the train, but it’s definitely a new experience when men, women, and children ask (or sometimes don’t ask) to take a photo of you.
Our next destination was Dilli Hat. We perused, haggled, bargained, and shopped for the rest of the day. It was worth it. I got presents for my parents and sister for them to take with them, I got a couple items for myself which cost me more than twice as much here in Maharashtra, I got to use my Hindi, they did most of their shopping. It was a great shopping experience. At one point earlier in the day my Hindi got me an extra “gift,” a small bag, with my purchase of a larger bag.
After a long shopping spree we headed back to the hotel, and then again to Festa to enjoy a lovely meal. Right before the hotel we went to the internet café we found the night before. We had to decide how we were going to Agra. Our first instinct was to take the train but after a little thought and a sign that said Agra by car at the internet place, we opted for a car with a driver. It was also nice because the guys at the internet place recognized us and were quite happy to speak to me in Hindi. Two of the guys who ran the tiny shop were hearing impaired (I’m unsure of the severity of the impairment) but he definitely was very happy to see a foreigner who attempted to speak Hindi. For a little bit more than the train (where we would end up taking a cab to and from the train station) we got a cab which would take us to Agra direct and make stops along the way at other sites. We had to get to sleep a little earlier in order to appreciate the beauty of what we would see the next day.

Delhi Day 3
At 6am our car greeted us outside of our hotel and we were on our way. It was a longer journey than we thought filled with traffic, cows, a singing driver, realizing that Noemi’s tongue was black (the only thing we could attribute that to is pollution) and some more talk time. I actually just looked it up and found out that it’s caused by Pepto-Bismol (apparently it has bismuth in it which can cause a black discoloration or staining on your tongue for a couple days). There are no words to describe the remarkable and outstanding beauty of the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as well. He built it to honor one of his wives, his favorite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (aka Mumtaz or Taj) and who he had14 children with before she died in 1631. The Taj Mahal is built out of white marble. It took twenty years and 20,000 workers to build.
After many pictures (with ourselves and others) we left the magnificence to eat and go to other sites such as the Agra Fort, which was built by one of my new Indian heroes, Akbar in the 1500s, and the Jama Masjid of Agra. Please see my many, many pictures (I’m trying to keep this to under 5 pages). After taking turns napping in the car, we reached Delhi just in time to eat and shut down Festa.

Day 4, Final Day in Delhi
How could we leave Delhi without seeing Qutb Minar you might ask? Well we didn’t. This minaret t is one of Delhi’s biggest tourist attractions. When we got off the train we tried to figure out how we could walk there but realized it would be quite a long walk. We gave into a rickshaw driver who took us there safely and quickly. I was able to get in again with my Pan Card. This time they stopped me when they collected the ticket, screaming after me, “Mam.” I proudly showed them my card. This looked like the oldest of the places we visited. I believe it dates back to around 1150-1210 AD. When we exited the same rickshaw driver convinced us to let him take us to our next destination, the Agricultural Garden. Little did either of us know that there was no real route to it. We ended up at some market that sells Muslim art and other items. We were sick of shopping so after being surrounded by folks wanting us to make purchases, the rickshaw driver picked up some guy who was going to help us reach the park. We drove through a shady back road, where the unpaved road made me think that we might topple over. I think the rickshaw driver was nervous as well. We first reached Rajon ki Bain, a very deep step well with four levels. We’re not sure how many tourists actually make it there. Along the way you could tell that the road is under construction. We give it another 3 years before it becomes a well-paved road and the well becomes a regular tourist attraction. We made it to the park. Our rickshaw driver and his guide got out at each stop and walked around with us. It was really nice. In any other country I would feel weird and uncomfortable. But it somehow worked very well. Our time was running short and we had to meet my friend Chapal for lunch. Chapal is from Delhi and went to grad school with me at Wagner. It was short but very lovely and he rushed off back to work right after lunch. We had other plans to see another site, but a trip to a coffee shop turned into 3 hours of chatting. I needed that quite badly. Time was running even shorter and we still had some last minute shopping to do, so we ran back to the hotel area, did some last minute haggling, I met my other friend Ethel who I studied with at Wagner for approximately 15 minutes, and then we had to get to the airport for our flight back to Pune.

With a nap on the plane, a rickshaw ride back to my house, we passed out and I headed to work the next morning. It was nice to have friends at my place. They joined me to visit one of my centers on Friday where the kids in different classes interviewed them in the “special seat.” We headed home for some relaxation time, a trip to my favorite store in my area, and then headed out to dinner with my friend Rajan who I also haven’t seen in quite some time. It was lovely and yummy, Rajan always chooses good places to go, and we headed back home for some more sleep. At this point I think we were all worn out.

I’m reaching my 4 page limit, so I’ll wrap up for now, by saying we went to Mumbai by a shared cab, met my friends, went to capoeira, went to eat, went to Priya’s house for more drinks, had a massive sleepover, passed out, woke up for some more tourism (Taj Hotel, India Gate, High Court) and back to Priya’s so I could grab my stuff and go. I had to say goodbye which was easier because it was rushed, not no less sad. Yes, there were tears involved. And I treated myself to a bus ride which was more than 5 times as much, almost twice as long, but took me close to my house, and of course introduced me to a few new people. I’m saving my reflections, pictures, and more comments for my next post.

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