A Caldwell India Summer
May 22, 2011
Cup of tea and the Times of India. Half a world away from my usual coffee and Raleigh News and Observer.
It is my third morning in Delhi, and there is now some familiarity to this place. Twelve of us are finally all here, our arrivals spread over several days and with four days in Delhi we have some time to adjust to this very different world before we begin an intense traveling agenda. The safe girl part of me is relishing this little chapter as I write from the air conditioned comfort of my room at the Kingston Park Hotel in New Delhi. Outside it is sunny and it seems that yesterday’s sweet rain and break in the heat will be only a memory today. Day before yesterday it was 114 F.
Step outside our hotel and India broadsides you with a hard kick upside the head. Delhi is a city of 10 million people and half of them are on the road at any given time, zipping about each other in a hodgepodge of red and yellow auto rickshaws, compact cards, bicycle rickshaws, motorcycles, trucks and the occasional horse or brahma bull. We arrived in the midst of a taxi strike and the first day we depended on whatever means we could find to get about. Day one I rode two auto rickshaws, one bicycle rickshaw, and a makeshift taxi/ van. Whatever the means we squeeze as many of our bodies in as we can get, plus one more (student groups travel low on money and high on willingness to sacrifice comfort.) The final rickshaw ride of the day about did me in. We were far from our hotel and finding a driver willing to go the distance with us took multiple attempts. With no taxis working (recall the strike) we finally found a reluctant but willing auto rickshaw driver who allowed four of us to fill his bench fit for two. Fitted onto the engine of a motorcycle, the rickshaw was straining with the four of us
plus driver. Still, that was the least of the drama. It was evening and the heaviest traffic time of the day. I dared not hang on with my hand clenching the side of the rickshaw frame, for fear of losing a hand…. yes, traffic cuts that close. There are traffic lane markers which seem
only to serve as guides for staying straight for the drivers who split lanes by driving on the line. Roundabouts abound in this city (a thank you
to former British occupation, I wager) and they seem to operate like a swarm of fish in a feeding frenzy, drivers charge in and somehow
(miraculous to me) come out in the other side. I, however, will need to up my next birthday count by one year, as I am sure I have lost a
year of life from the stress of it all.
Readers, relax. We aren’t spending all of this trip dependent on such piecemeal mode of transportation. For months we have been working with a travel company on this end who have handled our hotel bookings and our transport from city to city. Yesterday from inside a mini bus that comfortably carried our group, we began an undertaking of the major sites of Delhi. Saved from the distraction of hanging-on-for-dear-life, we could take in the larger view as we moved about the city. What I cannot fathom is the endless amount of broken concrete and crumbling buildings. Combine poor materials and construction with a brutal weather system . . . this is apparently what you get. And amidst the rubble stretched along the roadside are the shanties which are the makeshift homes of countless persons. What bit of green that exists is well
worm by the traffic of those countless people.
So why have we come to this faraway and often wearying place? Because we know there is also so much more to India and so much we have to learn. We have come to open our minds and hearts. Stay tuned.
- Janice Odom