I had done a lot of traveling before I chose to visit India. Prior travels had taken me to some beautiful places, but this time I wanted to experience a culture totally different from my own. This time I made the decision to try India, partially because I knew I could find English speakers there, to help me if I had any problem.
I packed light, knowing that I would be angry at myself if I had to tote large bags around with me. In fact I took nesting bags, so I had an empty one for the treasures I would find while in India.
Arrival at the Delhi airport was after 1 am so I figured all would be quiet there and I also assumed I might have trouble finding a cab. Was I ever wrong! I stepped out into the Delhi terminal into a massive crowd. It was overwhelming. Cabbies were tugging at my luggage, trying to get me into their cab. As a westerner I was worried that my bags would be whisked away and never seen again. I followed the auto rickshaw driver out into the foggy Delhi night.
It was a December night and the weather was cool. If I had known that I would’ve probably elected to take a proper cab to the hotel, but hey …I wanted to experience a different culture, so why not start now. The air was heavy with fog and the smell of burning wood. I had looked out of the plane window as we were over India and seen scattered bonfires. It was a cold night for the homeless.
I was told by a chat friend, prior to my trip, to be sure to bring a heavy coat. My bag was half full with that coat, which I eventually gave away to someone that needed it. A light jacket was all that I needed and once I had some Indian clothing made, a shawl sufficed. This was their coldest time of the year, yet it felt mild to me.
Back to the tuk tuk, the locals name for the auto rickshaw. I had been in a plane or an airport for over 23 hours and I was anxious to have a cigarette. This was back when I was still a smoker. I asked if it was ok to smoke and the driver seemed thrilled to find out I was carrying American cigarettes. He asked for one as well and we shared a smoke and a harrowing ride in his vehicle to my hotel.
I was tired from my travels and shortly after I was in my room I fell sound asleep. I opened my eyes about 8 am. Lying in bed I heard the sounds of the street below. Indians, I discovered, drive with their horns, to muscle their way through traffic. I walked over and peered out the window. The street was filled with cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes and scooters. Everyone seemed to be going the same way! There was no way to differentiate the lanes in the road, although I did see pale markings there. (Many years later I remembered this and was able to win a bet with an Indian on the plane. He was sure there were no lanes painted on Indian roadways.) I also saw the milk men on their scooters, and the vegetable vendor pushing his cart. I couldn’t wait to get out there! I rushed to get ready and set off for my morning walk.
When an obviously western person walks the streets it isn’t long before there’s a trail of children following along. A group of about six kids decided to walk with me. They were asking for chapatis. At the time I didn’t know what a chapati was, so I asked the ring leader to show me. Shortly we came upon a vendor making chapatis, a flat piece of bread. I bought a platter of them for the kids, hoping that I had also bought my freedom from them. After all of that badgering for chapatis I was surprised when the ring leader took the platter, handed me one off the top, and said “Thank you for the chapatis. We won’t eat until you do.” I almost cried I was so touched.
Those kids, and the rickshaw driver the night before, had been my only human contacts so far and they had both blown me away with their gratitude and respect. I felt guilt about thinking I was buying my freedom. Those kids were the spark that led to my immense love of India. I was so lucky to run into them that day.
Another thing I noticed as I walked were groups of young men lowering their heads as they approached me on the sidewalk. It struck me as so un-western. The innocence in the people was refreshing to see. Like a breath of fresh air!
Those were my first moments in the place I’ve come to call my second home. The people are what make India so incredible. They are warm, friendly, and charming to me. Maybe I’ll tell you later about some of the characters I’ve met, but now I have to go. More next time……..