I’m sitting in a monsoon downpour in Chiang Mai, Thailand right now, and I’ve decided it’s time I told you about our trip to India.
Abe enjoyed it, but didn’t love it as much as he’d hoped. He didn’t like how we didn’t feel safe while we traveled through Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Varanasi. How we feared for our lives every time we got in a car or tuk-tuk as they swerved and honked their way around bikes, dogs, cows, cars, potholes, and countless other obstacles (and we did get in a crash, so our fears were well-founded after all). How we got squashed by hundreds of sweaty Indian men in the subway (ok, I’m the one who didn’t like that). And he felt that people were constantly trying to scam us out of tiny amounts of money.
But I loved it. I loved how different India is. How colorful. How spiritual. How it’s so utterly unique from anything else I’ve ever seen or experienced. Yes, it’s smelly, it’s dirty, it’s chaotic and it’s overwhelming. And yep, I spent several days with food poisoning, and even ended up taking antibiotics because of it. But it’s incredible and beautiful, and I’m so glad we went.
I could write an endless post chatting about the blue city of Jodhpur, the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal in Agra, the Swaminarayan Akshardham in Delhi, our cooking adventures in Jaipur or the amazing relationship people have with the Ganges in Varanasi. But I won’t put you through that. Instead, I’ll share a couple fun anecdotes from our travels. Oh, but before I start (that’s right, I’m just getting started), please warm up by watching this video. You’re welcome for that.
#1: We are the monkeys
So, I kinda felt like a movie star in India. You know, the kind you vaguely recognize – you can’t quite put on your finger on where you’ve seen them but you think they’re probably famous so you stare and discreetly take a selfie with them in the background just in case. Abe and Simon (Abe’s brother, who joined us in India) were my dashingly handsome but slightly less famous co-stars.
As we learned, most Indian people rarely see white foreigners and they find us really interesting. Indians have different cultural norms, so they find it perfectly ok to make intense eye contact even when you give them your best stop-staring-at-me-I-can-see-you look.
So the whole time we were in India, people wanted to get their pictures taken with us. At first I thought they were just approaching with their cameras because they wanted us to take their picture in front of the Taj Mahal. But nope. They wanted us in the picture. If the Taj happened to show, that was just a plus. How could I not develop a diva complex with that kind of attention?
Anyways, that brings me to Jaipur. We visited this amazing monkey temple, aptly named for the thousands of monkeys that call it their home. We hired a weird local guide who seemed convinced that he could speak to the monkeys (who knows, maybe he could) and exclaimed “LAH!” and “AWH!” at regular intervals while giving us peanuts to feed to his furry friends. At one point, as we were trying to entice the monkeys to climb on our shoulders, we realized that they were becoming increasingly nervous and reluctant to approach. They guide confirmed it: “They’re getting nervous because of the people.” The people?
And that’s when we noticed. We had a crowd of about 20 Indians behind us. They weren’t watching the baby monkeys like us though. No. We were their spectacle. And that’s when we realized: We were their monkeys.
#2: Why did the one-legged man cross the road?
Our guide in Varanasi summed up the traffic situation perfectly: “You need three things to drive in India: good breaks, good horn, and good luck.”
It’s hard to do justice to the insane Indian traffic. It’s not just that the roads are bad, flood easily, and that goats, cows, and buffalo disturb traffic regularly, but the drivers are also pretty special. There’s no respect for lanes, traffic lights are suggestions, Tuk Tuk drivers stop to take leaks en-route, and the biggest vehicles always have the right of way.
We had a cab driver in Delhi who embodied every aspect of driver oddities: he was a overly friendly yet pushy, drove in a terrifying way and overcharged us for the ride. This guy referred to himself as Doctor Taxi Driver (and printed this honorary title on his business cards). He insisted on waiting for us everywhere we stopped during an afternoon in Delhi, ignoring our adamant refusals by simply repeating: “I am not compelled to you, you are not compelled to me” as if that explained everything. Doctor Taxi Driver drove without windshield wipers in torrential rain, literally swerving between lanes using only other drivers’ honks as guidance. I honestly believe that he dodged cows and dogs out of sheer luck because his windshield was so opaque with the rain that we couldn’t see a thing. To further enhance our experience, he covered the running meter with a cloth despite our complaints because “the light hurt his eyes.” Unsurprisingly, when he removed the cloth with a flourish at the end of our ride, the fare was unusually high.
Now that you have a glimpse of what it’s like to be a passenger on an Indian road, try to imagine something even scarier. Crossing that road on foot.
Road crossings were downright terrifying in Delhi, even more so for Abe than for me. He operates under the belief that cars won’t stop for him (probably due to his Venezuelan roots) whereas I tend to optimistically assume that they will (likely because I’m Swiss), which terrifies Abe even more. It feels like every little road crossing in our lives was just practice for the ultimate challenge we faced in Delhi: crossing the insanely busy road near Chandni Chowk market.
It was kind of like a scene from a terribly boring action movie: There we were, struggling to cross a seemingly impassable road. Suddenly, just when the situation seemed most dire, the most unexpected hero appeared at an unusually slow pace: it was a one-legged man, hopping to our rescue. Seeing us dither helplessly, he put his best and only foot forward and hobbled along, stopping tuk-tuks left and right with angry shouts and gesturing aggressively with his crutches. He yelled something in Hindi at us when it was time to make a run for it, then shouted again when we had to stop. Somehow, miraculously, the unexpected hero granted us safe passage. Once he ensured that he had completed his mission, he welcomed a tip and then self-appointed himself as our guide despite our objections and stalked us somewhat creepily for the next half hour. The End.
Fear not though, there’s plenty of potential for sequels. We were also flashed by a fellow train traveler, scammed by a Brahman in Varanasi and harassed by lonely puppeteers in Jaipur. But those stories for another time, maybe over a glass of wine when we get back in November. Until then, Namaste!