Saturday, February 07, 2009
First impressions of New Delhi, India
Beep Beep! Hooooooooooooonnnnkkkk! Beep Beep!
That's my first impression of New Delhi and one that hesn't changed much in the past 2 1/2 days. I arrived about midnight on Wednesday and the MSF driver took me to my hotel. We dodged traffic (a free flowing carefree thing where you signal moves with your horn and ignore red lights, pedestrians, lane dividers, and giant trucks). Over giant overpasses and through enormous roundabouts we went. Amsterdam and Washington DC are rural villages compared to this place. After coming through a million diversions due to ongoing construction of the new metro line we went until we finally arrived at my hotel, the hotel Vikram, an unassuming little place with a lovely view of the Metro construction and highway.
I then checked into my hotel room. It was pretty quiet... until I went into the bathroom. It's not unlike showering on a major highway. But I'm a heavy sleeper and in the bedroom with the overhead fan on for white noise and the curtains shut, you don't really hear the horns in the background.
After two days in the office getting ready for the workshop, I finally stopped working long enough on Saturday to try to see some of the town. The first thing I did was go to buy some yarn for an exercise for our training. The doorman sent me down to Central Market in a rickshaw (basically bicycle attached to seat for two on the back). I assumed since it was a bicycle, it wasnt'far away and we would be going down residential streets - Nope! Off we went in the little rickshaw onto the major highway that runs in front of my hotel. I often think that the only way I survive on these trips of mine is a very underdeveloped sense of danger. I just held my skirt down around my knees and tried to look unconcerned.
After running aroudn the market and getting some rope (since yarn appears to be a foreign concept), I got back into a rickshaw to go to the hotel. This time, the rickshaw driver found an even more congested route back to the hotel. At one point, trucks, and buses were overpassing us and honking. He pulled into the "left turn lane" near the hotel and we sat in the middle of the largest roundabout you've ever seen in your life as cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and trucks roared around us. Then he made a break for it.
I decided to upgrade for the second portion of my trip and get a tuk-tuk (three wheeler scooter) for my excursion out shopping. Again - back onto the highway and ripping through traffic honking away. All the rickshaw drivers can do is ring their bells to join the din but the three-wheelers have a proper horn. At every intersection, we stop and every inch of space is filled with motorbike drivers with women perched on the back, men on bikes with giant loads of wood, people on foot, policeman on motorbikes with their supervisors behind them, and more three-wheelers. I was so relieved to finally get to the destination.
It was called Hauz Khaz, an urban village that promised to have art galleries, antique shops, and other goodies to explore. After looking in the gorgeous antique shops and realizing that I could afford things I just had no idea how I would get them home. The "urban village" is on the grounds of a beautiful park containing the ruins of the tomb of Firoz Shah which means the "Royal Tank" - which is a reservoir and overlooks a lovely green mandmade lake where people loll about in the grass and chat with each other and young lovers hold hands and gaze at each other soulfully. A bunch of men were playing cricket with some young boys. I sat in the park for a while where I made the acquaintance of every teenage boy in town, I think.
Anyway, it was lovely and warm and breezy and the teenage boys were polite and curious. I didn't feel threatened by them and I heard them discussing the mystery of how I can be American but live in Amsterdam amongst themselves later. After another nervewracking ride back in the three-wheeler, I returned to the hotel.
The meeting participants are arriving tonight and I'm having dinner with one of the facilitators who is Indian and has promised to navigate the restaurant choice for me. Tomorrow, the Taj Mahal!!!