Leaving India has consistently been one of the hardest tasks in my life.
Every time I leave this second home of mine I am left thoroughly heartbroken. Today was no exception…
After leaving Dharamsala we headed for Agra, to see the most iconic building in India, the Taj Mahal. As David says, even with all the hype it doesn’t disappoint. Because Agra has the most popular tourist attraction in India, it also is home to the thickest swarm of hawkers you can imagine. It was only by a series of miracles that David and I managed to find our hostel, buy a ticket and see the Taj in time (we were the last tickets of the day). Our hostel, being the first true European style hostel we had stayed in since Egypt, was home to a number of Europeans. We shared a room with Cyril (Germany), Danny (England) and Felicity (England). Because they had little prior knowledge of the culture, it was hilariously heartbreaking to hear their tales of India from an outside perspective. It made me extremely grateful for my familial safety net. I know that Felicity and Danny were having trouble reserving trains, and I pray it has worked out for them. Anyways, a day later we were back on a train, which of course took us back to Delhi. Normally with the 6 hours we had between our train and our flight, we would head straight to the airport and wait, because it was the safest thing to do – but I was confident David and I could risk an adventure. A metro ride and short walk later, we found ourselves in a fine Chaat (snack) house outside the Red Fort.
After a 1 hour tour of the Fort we began the monumental task of returning to the airport in time, with all of our luggage. The streetpersons of Delhi managed to provide me with two options: a metro + autoRikshaw, or a Bus which we were unsure of. I ended up using a combination of the two, again by a series of miracles. Because the metro system seemed far more organized than the rush-hour streets of Delhi, we decided to ride it out to the last stop of Dwarka sector (closest to the airport) and see how it went from there. While on the train I struck up a conversation with the gentleman behind me and two guys my age. After a while they discovered my plan to take an autoRikshaw at the last stop and told me there was a better way: to jump off at the current stop and hop on the bus. A good friend of mine Abishek once suggested that India functions purely on faith (something that resonated strongly with me), and I decided to take this approach. Within a minutes notice I jumped off and followed my newfound friends a few streets away from the metro in the dark, only to find the correct bus number driving away in the distance. I sprinted (backpack and all) to catch the driver and banged on the door in local fashion. The driver obliged and asked me my destination, to which I replied ‘domestic airport?’. He said ‘sure’ and we were on our way for only 10 rupees. As it turns out, not only are the international terminal and domestic terminal far apart, they are actually separate airports (something I had also learned from my new friends, which I would not have known otherwise). After about half an hour the bus driver came to an abrupt stop literally in the middle of the highway and said ‘domestic airport!’, to which I said ‘where, I don’t see anything?’. He pointed off some direction in the distant dark, and I assumed he had brought us as close as he could within his route. My heart temporarily sank, thinking perhaps it was too bold of me to attempt something with so little planning. Fortunately we met yet another kind stranger who led us most of the way to the airport via some very strange side alleys and a near suicidal dash across the highway. Sorry for the lengthy dialogue, but the point is India DOES run on faith, it’s strength is derived from a vast population of decent people, we DID make all our trains and flights on time, and I felt I had finally gotten the hang of spending little to no money in India (40 rupees as opposed to 350 for a cab). I am certainly not suggesting this course of action to friends of mine visiting India; if you have money and time to aclimate to India, do so slowly (i.e. with private cars, then taxis then rikshaws). I am also not saying to trust everyone you meet on the street – this open slate philosophy would almost surely lead to trouble. what I am saying is these simple pieces of advice: 1) always allocate more time than you need for something, because you never know where you will end up here. This seems to frustrate many people, but the sooner people ‘go with the flow’ and enjoy the journey, the happier they are in India. 2) Take control of the situation. This doesn’t mean to disregard what I just said in (1), this means don’t be helpless. I have found time and again that if I initiate a conversation, and I immediately show where I am coming from and what I want, things work out for the better. The opposite interaction can be a dangerous thing: the moment you give time to a pushy ‘hello sir where are you from’, you will never hear the end of it (bad drives, bad deals, bad food, etc). I have definitely not perfected this delicate balance of taking control of a situation and simulatneously keeping a let-go attitude, but I will claim that I have made enough progess to be a functional traveller in India without my family.
Okay it’s about time I got off my soap box… returning to Laketown Calcutta was glorious, as always. My Didi always cooks me the best food in India, and never seems to repeat dishes. I only wish my stomach could accommodate more. I shared some lively conversations with my Dadu and his fellow friends (who also are considered my Dadus), and I got to spend quality time with my Mashi. She has recently started a studio with friends Abishek and Sudhir, which I was extremely impressed with (mysticmanagers.com). David found himself to be in cultural bliss in Bengal: you see, in all of India, Bengal is considered the capital of literature and sweets, David’s two greatest loves. Imagine our great timing to be in Kolkata during the annual book fair (one of the largest in the world), and during the winter season where special sweets are prepared! Truly the Gods have smiled down on us… especially in the form of Abishek and Sudhir’s periodic food tours.
At the end of the week we got to celebrate Saraswati Puja, which is the festival dedicated to the knowledge aspect of God. I have not been here during a festival since I was 8 years old: needless to say, it was great. I got to meet some of the local kids again and made some new great friends.
The time here in India completely flew by, somehow 5 weeks did not seem nearly enough. I find myself already planning multiple return trips, not just to see various sites but to spend more quality time with my family. I realize unlike most kids, tragically I can count the number of times I’ve seen my grandparent’s homes (mother’s and father’s) on 1 hand. With a newfound salary I hope to remedy this…