My first day of my second time in India after 10 years
By larsomat. Created on Sep 15th, 2012. Last updated on Sep 29th, 2012.
…Or “How to stuff so many experiences into one day that your head will explode”. My first day in India was so full of experiences that I had to call it quit at 8pm and go to my room to cope with it all by writing this entry. So all in all it wasn’t a whole day, but only from 7am to 8pm. But Wow! How many things can possibly happen in 13 hours? A lot!
Flight from Hamburg to Munich
Right after I got the last shots against Hepatitis and Rabies I drove to the Airport. I had to wait about 3 hours before I could board the plane. So I ate some, watched the people in the airport… really no one special, mostly business people. I still had no idea.
Flight from Munich to Hamburg
First sign that I was indeed going to India were the passengers on the flight to Delhi. Many Indian faces. But still, they were all in the environment of worldwide standardized plane cabins. Nothing to really grow excited about… The last hours were nice as I could see the sunrise over the Karakorum, and on the other side a full moon setting at the same time.
Airport 7 a.m. Indian Time
The first hint that something was different was right as I stepped out of the airplane. The smell! It’s not what you would expect India to smell like and frankly, I had completely forgotten about that in the past ten years. It’s the smell of machine oil. This smell, by the way, was not only present at the airport, but followed me the whole day through, as it mixed with other smells. More later on!
The second hint was the personnel at the airport, the memory of which I had managed to suppress over the past ten years. They don’t smile. They are, so it seems, incapable of doing so. They also don’t know how to return a greeting, so they don’t bother with even trying.
The airport hall/hell
So I stepped outside. Feeling panic rising… did I mention the smell, and the fact that India obviously was full of Indians? And there it was, the real officially official prepaid taxi stand, a ride to Pahar Ganj was 250 rupees, not cheap but acceptable. Great! But wait… I forgot to exchange my dollars inside the airport. Reentry to the airport would cost 60 rupees. So there I was outside the airport without rupees. Outside the airport, there was no bank. I searched quite a while, carrying my full gear. Did I say that I was bombarded all this time with cheaper prices by even cheaper cheaters: “Pshht. Hello Sir, Taxi to Pahar Ganj, very cheap, only 200 rupees”.
Ok, I’ll admit, I had learned something 10 years ago:
Rule Number One: Ignore people who approach you in Delhi, they don’t want to help you. They just don’t. They want to have your money, no matter how the conversation starts. Another thing, by the way, which followed me the whole day through. It’s kind of a “Delhi Background noise”.
Back to the rupee “Catch 22″. As I was outside the airport, not having any rupees. The only way to exchange a foreign currency (safely) was inside the airport and the only means to get back into the airport was by paying in rupees. I was in full “panic mode”.
Footnote: This danger is also explicitly mentioned in every guide about India I know of, so I should have known better. So there it goes, my “I’m experienced, I’ve been here before, such things won’t happen to me” crap. But, somehow another long forgotten part of me resurfaced. When I’m in “panic mode” I actually get things done… somehow. Maybe because there’s just no other way. It wasn’t possible for me to creep back home and hide under my blanket. That was just no option. Nada.
I somehow managed to convince the guy, that I would pay the fee when I returned, after turning down many offers to exchange money on the “black-market”. This was proposed by many of the Indians (and some of the Indian security guards), who obviously live in India. So I went back in, found a counter to exchange my money, had to wait about half an hour to make it actually happen, went back out, paid the fee, paid the prepaid taxi, found the right taxi with some help, jumped into the taxi, and off you go.
End of Level 1.
Drive from the airport to Pahar Ganj
So I was in the Taxi. The driver didn’t speak English. And I was not alone with the driver. No, there was also an older guy in the other front seat. Also taxi driver, or so it seemed. He spoke a little English, but I could only understand every second word. He was trying to start a conversation. Remember Rule No.1? It started quite nice. He offered me a beedie. A beedie is kind of a very small cigarette, very cheap, smoked by many Indians, and actually kind of tasty. I thankfully accepted. I always liked to smoke beedies back home to remind me of India, so it was a nice “one of the first experience” to smoke a beedie in India. “Where do you come from?” etc. yaddayadda. The typical questions you’d ask a strange person in a strange land.
And then it started:
- He: “You have a Hotel?”
- Me: “Yes”
- He: “Which one is it?”
- Me: “Hotel Namaskar”
- He: “You have pre-booked?”
- Me: “Yes” (Which was a lie.)
- He: “First time India.”
- Me: “No, second time.” (Which was true, but if not, you should lie here.)
- He: “You smoke? Hash? Marijuana? …insert Drug here… Not even drink?”
- Me: “No, no, no, no etc…”
We came into a traffic jam, with lots of “horn blowing” and Indian traffic craziness. I offered the driver a cigarette. We exchanged a few words in English that he knew. We finally, after about 90 minutes, arrived in Pahar Ganj. My driver didn’t know the location of the “Hotel Namaskar”, but he asked his way through. I got out. Gave my driver a nice, more than 10%, tip for not trying to screw me, though not enough for him, reading by his facial expression. And there I was. In Pahar Ganj.
So, that went well. Much better than Level 1.
End of Level 2.
Right from the moment I got out of the taxi, I could hear it. The “Delhi Background noise”:
- “Hello Sir, want cheap room?”
- “Hello Sir, where are you from?”
- “Hello Sir, want to by some Hash? Good! From the mountains.”
- “Hello Sir, where are you going?”
- “Hello Sir, I like your hair.”
Answer any of the questions, or signal that you understood the question, maybe even smile, and you have a friend for life. He won’t leave your side, no matter what, and would bombard you with follow-up questions, eventually culminating in some business proposal: “Very cheap.”
I activated my personal “mute”-button and headed straight for “Hotel Namaskar”. Just a short walk, luckily. They had a free room. No windows, expensive, ugly, but not too dirty and with a fan. So I took it. I really, really didn’t want to go through Pahar Ganj looking for a better room, with my full gear. I would look like easy prey, like an injured gazelle. And I only wanted to stay one night here, so: good decision. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Even more so as the people working here, are quite nice.
End of Level 3.
Mission accomplished. From now on I had a room, and didn’t have to carry all my stuff around.
First stroll through the streets of Pahar Ganj
I really cannot describe Pahar Ganj in words. It maybe possible in general but I just can’t. It would need a genetic hybrid of a Dostojewski and a Henry Miller (the genius of Dostojewski combined with the nastiness of Henri Miller) to accurately describe this “crazy” part of Delhi.
I can throw in some fragments of thoughts, that would have to be part of a description:
- Lots of Indians! In millions of variations. (I did mention that before? Now wait, here are even more… many more.)
- Young Indian boys walking down the street arm in arm, or even holding hands. It’s not that they are gay (ok, some may be) it’s just their way to show affection and friendship.
- Lots of beggars of all sorts: Cripples, small cute children, women with even smaller children, very very old women, people with a “story”… and they are very persistent, even touch or grab you at times, when you refuse to give them or even register their presence (you won’t have another choice, though, because if you give one of them a little money, you will soon be surrounded by dozens of other beggars).
- Touts! (These are those people who generate the “Delhi Background noise”)
- Shops of the touts. Using every single corner of available space for display or one of the millions of signs
- Old Hippies
- Young Hippies
- Sikhs with turbans (yes they are also Indians, but require to be mentioned extra)
- Small “shops” on wheels.
- Bicycle Rickshaws
- Auto Rickshaws
- Motor rollers
- Every vehicle has a loud horn or bell, which has to be used at all times when a hand is free to do so.
- Everyone uses the same small muddy alley. There is no such thing as a trottoir. Don’t even think about traffic rules. It’s survival of the biggest and/or loudest.
- Smell of motor oil
- Smell of urine
- Smell of cowshit
- Smell of Incense (occasionally)
- Smell of fried food (occasionally)
- Noise and smell of small generators.
- and and and…
In other words: complete overkill of your senses. It’s not possible for a normal human being to compute all the input.
After a while it started to come back… How I indeed was able to deal with it ten years ago. It’s nothing you can learn in theory or recall just by activating your memory. It can only be done by doing it.
It’s acceptance. To accept that you’ll never be able to compute all the input. To accept that there are things in the world so weird that you never thought them to be possible. Yes, also to accept that there are very poor and crippled people, and to accept that you can’t do a damn thing about it. At least not by showing compassion to every single one of them by giving them something. Mother Theresa might be, but a mere human being…
With acceptance comes relaxation.
And here’s my theory: This is the single most important reason why people who visited India for a longer period often return changed in so fundamental ways. It’s not the yoga and meditation, though it might help. It’s not the drugs… ok maybe for some people it is. It’s the acceptance of Indian reality.
People I met
That’s another Episode of “How strange can it get?”. I met more interesting people in one day of India than in a year of my normal life. Heck, I even met more people by absolute numbers, forget that they all were kind of interesting as well. Sure, you could say that I’m not a very outgoing person, normally, but why then does it happen here? It’s not only the other people, it’s also me who seems to be a lot different. I had interesting discussions with most of them. So you could say the same about the number of interesting discussions as what I said about the number of people I met compared to my “normal life”.
- The Scotsman who is living in Goa, owns a bar there, and is traveling all the time round Asia. We talked a while about India now as compared to ten years ago. All just because he was the only white person in reach to ask where I could buy an umbrella. We also talked about Ladakh, the Soccer European Championship.
- The Japanese guy, I asked for a nice place in the area to eat something. We ended up going to the same place, talking about traveling in general, traveling India (ok, you get the drift, it’s mostly about traveling, but mainly because I just had arrived and had to tell everybody how strange my experiences have been so far). When we entered the place he met someone he knew from before:
- The Australian guy with grey dreadlocks who’s already been to India in the sixties. The tables in this “Dhaba” were very small, so those two sat together and I had a table alone, next to it, with a vacant place. This place was soon occupied by:
- The guy from London (I really forgot all their names, shame on me, this day was just too much). Who was working in banking, they had partners in Bangalore, where he often was there, but right now he was traveling India as well, and we were exchanging travel stories for quite a while.
- Another chai shop: I sat down opposite a guy who had a Bluetooth headset. I couldn’t help to notice. Turns out, William (yes I remembered his name), is working on Travel guidebooks about Pakistan and India. We spent many hours together in the chai shop talking about all kinds of interesting stuff. He’s from Johannesburg in South Africa. Very interesting to hear accounts about how the real life is happening there… Clubbing in Johannesburg? Possible, so it seems…
- The Indian guy who spent most of his life in the U.S., studying in New York. We had very interesting discussions about horrible U.S. politics, about the ignorance of American people towards environmental or other global subjects, and that it (hopefully) seems to be changing slightly, but also about the one sided perception of American people in other countries, based on incomplete information. He in fact liked a lot about Americans.
- And then last but not least this guy: www.timesfinalrose.org. We had a very lengthy discussion about his theories. Mostly he tried to explain with a set of scribble stones, and I threw in skeptical questions. I can’t reproduce it all here now, but will maybe at a later point of time. But I have to remark for now, this guy didn’t seem at all as crazy as his theories may sound to most people. But what was mind-blowing for me, was another experience I had while we were discussing synchronicity. Which was after all the basis of his theories. Just so much as to my (not yet carefully thought through) point of view as opposed to his: He believes that synchronicity is something that happens as a message from a higher being or intelligence whereas I kind of believe that it’s a message from your own personal mind. If your mind is (maybe unconsciously) in a certain state, you will perceive reality in such a way that certain things you see (maybe some numbers or symbols) just jump at you with such a power that you’re lead to believe these are messages from “who knows what”. But back to what happened: We were sitting there talking when a woman was examining some stuff (clothes, gems?) which were on display the shop next to us. For a moment or two (or even three) I was convinced that this woman was Greta, my long gone ex-girlfriend, who was the single reason for me to go to India for the first time. So she was standing there and my heart was pounding like wild, I wanted to say something to her, but I was stunned, she went on and I couldn’t follow anything this guy was telling me after that anymore. I told him that I didn’t want to be the guy who just sits there nodding and saying yes, while in fact he wasn’t able to reflect on it. He understood, and I soon left, but not without a CD containing a two hour movie explaining his theories (I guess by working with stop motion and the scribble stones, but I haven’t seen it, yet). A weird guy, not by appearance or his way of communicating, not at all, but by the nature of his theories. And funny thing is, I once thought about synchronicity like he does, and the time when that was, was during my first visit to India ten years ago. Double synchronicity. India does this sort of things to you…
What I didn’t tell you about
All this also happened today:
- Walk from Pahar Ganj to Connought Place (2 times), around Connaught Place (1 time) and back.
- Bought a cheapo film camera, as I didn’t want to show off my equipment in Pahar Ganj (to dangerous), walked with it through the main bazaar street, took a shot every few moments and was at the same time recording audio. It’s gonna be a nice multimedia presentation (smells excluded).
- While drinking chai I recognized the guy at the next table as someone I’ve seen very often on Goa-trance parties in Germany… we exchanged a few words.
- Organized my bus trip to Dharamsala for tomorrow.
- Learned the “brother-handshake” used by people from Tanzania from people from Tanzania.
- Still love Rice and Dhal.
- Saw lots of beautiful women. Damn, traveling hippie girls are hot!
- Gave 20 rupees to a beggar from Tibet with “a story”, so much for my “I do not give money” position
That should be enough for a day, shouldn’t it?
Note: This article is also posted on http://www.raum-fuer-notizen.de
Latest comments for My first day of my second time in India after 10 years
A point of critique at IM if you will: He had clearly stated so at the very beginning of his original post, that he would keep updates there, not at IndiaMike. Now that the post has been turned into an article, this information has been edited to be largely missing, except for an oblique notice at bottom that the report has been "also posted" at that address, and not identified there as being his blog.
Whereas this would seem to be vital information for anyone wishing to follow his sojourns or wondering what he may be up to, as evidenced by all the "calls for more" on this thread too. Moreover, I'd say that by his own clearly stated intentions he rather "also posted" it here, not the other way around.
i read that and visited the website, but expected the same to be updated in IM also........... the link to website may change in future, but if we have the whole blog as IM article it will be better
But hey, maybe he'll be back here later and post his stuff. Would be nice, yes, of course.
By the way: my experience of Delhi when I came back after 2 months of travelling was completely different. I enjoyed that place very much then. Actually I kind of fell in love with Delhi. Strange, isn't it?
You can find some photos of my trip here:
and if you want more, then here:
- Join Date:
- Dec 2007
Great photos. I enjoyed looking through them immensely and brought back many fond memories of the kids in Almora district for me. I hope you are making a living from your photography. You have a good eye and the love for your subjects comes through.
Now I'm off to read your post on Varanasi,
- Join Date:
- Aug 2007
- Luton, Bedfordshire. England
Waiting for your next installment.,