Okay, before I start on the first few days of India let me just say that I know I am already so behind. I haven't been online. I apologize and will try to get on it. Also, thanks for all of the emails and sorry for not being able to respond at all or with very detailed messages. My connection is not very good and it is maddening!
Also, please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. I haven't had much time and thought you would prefer to see something, even if it wasn't perfect.
When I got out of the plane I went through immigration (long line and my backpack was heavy) to go and get my bags. When I finally existed (after changing money and going through some more lines), I went through the receiving circle. Both to my right and left were rows of people behind metal barriers (like the kind at a parade) with signs that read people’s names. Ahh! How would I find mine? I had to try to walk really slowly and look on both sides or I would miss it. Well, despite my best efforts to scan and move like a snail at the same time, I didn’t see my name. Hmm, what to do? I walked around the perimeter of the circle to see if I could read the back of the signs. Somehow, after several rounds, I found it.! What a relief! It was so nice to be picked up at the airport.
On the way to my hostel I saw the Indian traffic for my first time-- and there was lots of it. One time we were stopped in traffic we were next to a truck that had metal sides, but nothing on the back. To make up for this there was a piece of cloth that enclosed the back and kept its cargo inside the confines of the truck. I looked over and saw a wet brown nose and then a big brown eyes staring out of the crack in between the cloth and the truck edge. Then I noticed the tail dangling down from the crack. A cow! My first sacred cow of India.
A few minutes later we stopped again and were sitting alongside a police car. Next to the police car on the other side was a truck with many men in it as well as two sitting on its roof crouching down. The driver (who was on the right side—the side they drive on in India) was talking with the police officer on the passenger side of the police car. He then handed him a wad of bills. Fayez said, “This is India.”
The next day I had an orientation with the USEFI (United States Educational Foundation of India) office and met one other Fulbrighter, Sangeena. We met with the Executive Director, Jane, who is an American and Anishya, who is my primary contact and is Indian.
At the end of the day I took my first “auto.” This is an auto rickshaw and they are everywhere. They are cheaper then taxis, but not as cheap as a cycle rickshaw. I have a picture from this ride, but it doesn’t illustrate how crowded the streets really are.
I went back to the YMCA and got my bags ready because Meg was having a cab come and pick me up to drive me to her house. Meg’s apartment has 3 big bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, den with TV and cable that overlooks a park (although the grass is a bit brown), a washing machine and all marble floors. I think it is about $350/month. Pretty amazing, huh? It was so nice for me to have a place to stay with basically everything taken care of for me when I arrived. The bad thing is that I will not be able to afford the same conditions on my own. It was great to see Meg and she took me out for my first dinner in India. We had…Italian. Hahaha.
I did some sightseeing in Delhi the following day. I borrowed Meg’s Lonely Planet Delhi and hired a taxi for 4 hours for 300 rupees--$6-7 dollars. I first went to Humayan’s tomb. This was a predecessor to the Taj Mahal. It was built by the first wife of Humayan for him and I believe there are 150 people buried there. It was quite spectacular. I had a guide, well, what happens is someone starts talking to you and telling you about the site. It is sort of difficult to get away because they follow you and keep telling you facts. I didn’t mind because I really didn’t know anything about the tomb, but it is something a visitor should be aware of because you have to pay them at the end. I gave him 50 rupees, but he told me it was supposed to be 100. I said sorry. I was actually proud that I didn't let myself get ripped off, but maybe I was really supposed to pay that much.
Besides the main tomb there were also other structures built afterwards, but on the same grounds. Many of the structures in north India have a mix of Moghul (Muslim) and Hindu design. The Muslim’s gave the archways, 8 sided rooms and the star with 8 points, I think the rounded dome rooves, just to name a few. The Hindu characteristics were rectangular rooms, the lotus design and many others (still learning about all this).
After Humayan’s Tomb I went to the Lhodi Gardens. This is sort of a safe haven park in the chaos that is Delhi-- also with some tombs.
Unfortunately, I did not get to enjoy the park as much as I would have liked because of the shoes I was wearing (Mom-the beige mules that I bought). They were new and managed to rub off the skin in the front of my right foot. I really thought I was not going to be able to walk back to the taxi. I wondered if I could go to the next 2 sights I had planned to see because it was so bad. Could you believe this? How ridiculous! Moral is—wear bandaids with new shoes!
After a little while the nerves became numb so I could walk again. I went to another tomb, Sarfdarjang’s Tomb. This one wasn’t as nice at Humayan’s, but everything is relative. In the guidebook, they talked about how this was a popular locale for young couples to go to escape the pressing eyes of their parents. How true! I think the only people there besides me were young Indian couples sitting in the shade under a tree talking. It was funny too b/c they were just talking, no kissing or hand holding or anything.
Next I went to the Qutb Minar Complex. Here I could have used a guide. There are many structures and ruins and I most certainly did not really know what I was looking at. However, it was quite impressive either way. The Qutb Minar is a fluted red sandstone tower that stands among the ruins of the fist monuments of Muslim India. These ruins include India’s first mosque, Quwwat-ul-Islam, which was made from Hindu and Jain temples. All of the faces of the gods carved into the stones were removed in accordance with Islamic law forbidding iconic worship.
As I said, I don’t really know what all the structures are, but there were gateways with lattice work, halls with carved pillars and even green parrots flying through the air and landing safely on one of the edges of a stone carving.
All day, I had felt a bit uncomfortable about walking around. I am not sure how much of it was actual stares I got as a Western woman or how much was from the warnings about how I would get those stares. I know that I was on guard waiting for someone to rip me off, take advantage of a foreigner, or just hassle me and this made me on edge. But at the complex I got a different feeling when this Indian family started to talk to me. The first one who approached me was a woman, which is why it probably felt safe. They spoke a little English, but just kept smiling and wanted to take pictures with me. Some people might have been irritated, but for me, it was the perfect opportunity to get some shots of them. I had been thinking how it was so hard to get shots of Indians and that I was going to have to figure out how to do that. Here, I didn’t have to do anything. They were extremely friendly and kind and it made me feel so much more relaxed. After seeing them approach me another family approached me and I was laughing inside. But how could I mock them really? I was doing the same to them!
Later that night, Meg and I went to her friend’s apt to watch Sex and the City. On our way there (in about an hour of traffic, especially dense due to the Diwali celebration) I realized that on my first night in Brussels I went to my friend Neha’s (who I was staying with) friend’s apartment to watch Sex and the City. Hahahaha. I guess somethings are the same all over—the U.S, Europe, and even India.
I went to the USEFI office the next day because we had a meeting at the US Embassy with the doctor in charge of the region. The point was to find about major medical risks and ask any questions we had. Most of what he said I knew about—Dengue fever, a pretty bad strain, was showing up in Delhi, take your malaria pills, don’t drink the water and eat hot foods, etc, etc. He also told us about some other illness which you get from worms that are in pork (or anything that was fertilized with pig feces), which implant into your muscles, including your brain and form leisions there. Yuck!!! How lovely.
I got to meet two more Fulbrighters, Mitali and Sandhya. They were both really nice and Mitali went to Cornell too. She was going to be going to Bangalore as well, but then on to Dharved about 6 hours away. She had lived in Bangalore as an exchange student so she knew somethings about the city. Sandhya, Mitali and I walked to Connaught Circle from the USEFI office and checked out some of the shops. Well, it was difficult to navigate crossing the street and I don’t suggest it for anyone who is not from an urban area. I just cannot imagine how someone from a rural place in a developed country would deal with the mass confusion, frenetic traffic, hustle and bustle of an Indian city. I felt pretty fine though. I was just examining the people, the life and the craziness on the streets. Everywhere you look and at every moment there is so much activity going on. There is absolutely no peace. I was joking with someone about how people think about the Indian mentality of meditation and yoga and how different that is from daily life. She said, yeah, they had to develop that to have a reprieve from daily freneticism.
After we got back to the USEFI office, we had a celebration for Diwali. Diwali (pronounced Divahlie) is the festival of lights where Indians light 'diyas' (little oil candles), light fireworks, give gifts (especially sweets) to each other and worship to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. It is the beginning of the new fiscal year and people close their accounts and pray for a prosperous year. They light the candles to try and attract Lakshmi into their homes. It is celebrated in much of India, but more in the north then in the south. For the celebration we played musical chairs (surprisingly internationally recognized) and then lit firecrackers and ate sweets.
I then went back to Meg’s. She and I went for a walk through the streets in her neighborhood and then to a store lined street with restaurants and street vendors. I got to see boys doing henna on women’s hands for the first time and took photos of all the vibrantly colored idols of the Hindu gods. They were mostly selling Lakshmi and also Ganesha who is the elephant-headed god of auspiscious beginnings and remover of obstacles. He is the god you pray to first when you begin your prayers to any of the gods.
We then went to eat at this place with southern Indian food and had 'dosas'. This is sort of like a crepe. You can get them plain or stuffed with vegetables and potatoes, etc. Pretty delicious. Then we went home to pack for our trip to Rajasthan to Jaipur!