Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mister Guy.

I could use a lozenge.  A liter of Maker's Mark from the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has stepped up instead.  En route to Haridwar last night, on our second seating tier berth, we inhaled fumes and filth from fermented cow patties and incinerating trash heaps.  Little people threw cookie crumbs on our laps and knocked over spent tea bags from our chai cups.  We didn't bat an eyelash.  I began writing this last night but the sleep deprivation we've been feeling, Jordan from a newly minted sleep regiment and myself jet lagged, coupled with transport exhaustion made for two very sleepy backpackers.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  There's a plethora of things I want to tell you about but I'm not sure I can keep half of them up in my head for so long.
Schiphol moving walkway. The ceiling is exposed between those shims.

I'm going to try to narrate through my photography, interspersing with captions or the like.  It's tough to snap photos of everything without gagging on the cheapness I feel when living the day to day here.  You're lucky to get a view, if anything.

I started my journey hungry.  My ma had broiled fish and rice from the night before but I'd neglected to peek inside the fridge.  I shouldn't have stressed; the Dutch airline KLM served me disgusting amounts of meals and booze.  I sneaked off a half liter of wine for meeting Jordan Monday night.  I sat between two middle-aged women on my first leg and two Punjabi grandfathers the second.  The grandpas remarked how I looked Indian later, explaining why the older one spoke solely in Punjabi to me.  He was ancient and quiet and smelled of caramelized onions.  I buckled his seat belt and turned the lights on for him.  He would just grin toothily and rattle off sentences I couldn't parse.  I barely spent any time moving those two days and my tailbone was quite sore.
So anti-paleo, I almost ate there.

747-400, two floors of Indians and Dutch people.
When I left the gate in Delhi, I inquired about coming in again because I felt as if I'd missed the driver.  I'd scanned the nametags held up by the numerous taxi operators but couldn't find my own.  Three security guard requests later, they'd managed to let me back in to search.  India's airport security seems to be run by military grunts who carry rifles and conversation hand in hand.  It reminded me of the IDF presence throughout Israeli public arenas.  I found my driver whom Jordan and the hotel in New Delhi had arranged for my pickup.  I lamented the fact that I was phoneless and hadn't written down Jordan's cell # either.  I wasn't sure of the plan for meeting and assumed Jordan was with the driver but when she hadn't shown up, I'd figured she was waiting for me at the hotel.  Little had I known she'd been on transit all day as well and was intending to catch the taxi with me there.  A phone call came through him and we'd turned around to grab her, waiting at the international arrivals gate.
Our cabbie.
He insisted I hold this.
Delhi seemed quite groomed around the airport.  Gas was filled for us at the gas station where we had to exit the vehicle, presumably so we don't drive off with free petrol.  I saw horse drawn carriages, three-wheeled rickshaws and motorbikes carrying three too many on junky roads.  I experienced the frightful proximity that drivers practice here, stopping uncomfortably close between road bump queues and other traffic stops.  Jordan and I tried our best to restrain affection, having been told by Asha that some unscrupulous Indians will spit or throw water at us, protected in the anonymity of the crowds.  It was intermittent finger petting and exasperated grins that got us through until we arrived at the hotel in Pahar Ganj.  Tipping here is customary with a roughly 10% mean.  Because the driver had to turn around to pick Jordan up, we gave closer to 15%, Rs. 70 on a Rs. 600 fare.  Our driver was downright distraught at such an amount, most likely thinking he had a piggy bank to crack in his midst.  He shared his disapproval with the audience at the hotel downstairs who hadn't seemed to share his sentiments. 
View from our Delhi room.

We walked past what appeared to be a water filter machine and hot plate coils.  Our room came with a large key lock, several deadbolts, a king sized bed clad with sheets and blankets, a sitting toilet and bidet nozzle, supposed hot water shower and buckets for washing.  We wasted no time to crack into the Maker's and cuddle into the wee hours.  It was remarkable to finally be in each others arms after all these weeks of anticipation.
Day Tonight Pose.
Our next day required a top-up of our internet plan, Rs. 999 for achingly slow browsing.  I brought a classic Nokia cell to use here but with us never planning on separating, it's dead weight for me to carry.  I exchanged $100 at a spice dealer at an unofficial rate, losing approximately 2 dollars as commission. 
Our breakfast view.

We had breakfast at a restaurant that Jordan had eaten at before and ended up eating someone's plate as it was served to me.  A masala omelet, some Israeli dish of tomatoes and eggs, a Chinese noodle fry and two teas came out to be roughly $3.75.  We chatted with the server, who told me I was quite lucky that day, eating someone's meal.  He inquired about my flip-flops and tried them on, remarking about their comfort.  I tried his on, hesitantly, as I'm not used to such an exchange.  He spoke Japanese to me after telling me the story of his Japanese ex, and me mine.  We took down his contact information in case we'd see him again. 
Breakfast, complete with a stolen dish.

A companion like none other!

After checking out, we went out to obtain some polarized sunglasses.  I scored a pair after bargaining down from an initial Rs. 1000 to Rs. 250.  I was just as lucky finding a pair for Jordan for Rs. 10 more.  They were 20 cents superior to mine as I'd noticed later I was missing a nose pad.  Jordan enjoys having me beside her because the touts harass her less.  There's a lot of bustle down any street with these shops.  Everyone is pushy about selling some crap and some follow you indefinitely.  I ignore most of these offers; I'm not in India to buy shit.
A main drag in Delhi.
We found another exchange place, this one with a more preferable rate of Rs. 49.50 to a $1.  Someone else invited us for tea, wherever we could meet him, as he was leaving Delhi in a few days.  We took down his information, unlikely to see him again.  I bought some more secure flip-flips as I was on the quest for rafting sandals.  They have several gimmicky branding marks but at Rs. 150, I don't care how they appear or what happens to them.  This line of logic might be appalling to the impoverished denizen without a pair of shoes to their name here.  The destitute individuals don't evoke any special emotions from me; I was prepared for it.  I try not to gawk at the limbless but I feel justified as everyone else stares us down, especially at transit stations.  The unusual, Northern Indian stranger, a persona I'm adopting, seems to be coping well with the culture shock.  Kenya certainly prepared me and I draw many similarities from my experiences there, though never direct comparisons. 

Our server friends at the Everest Restaurant.
Is good, no?
An excellent juxtaposition.
We walked up 3 flights of stairs to have a lassi before our train ride, hoping to overlook what appeared to be a less busy day in New Delhi.  Our Nepalese server quietly mentioned beer after we looked through the menu.  "They probably don't have a liqueur license," Jordan remarked.  Two tall Kingfisher bottles, wrapped in newspaper, came out along with a couple of ceramic mugs.  Jordan ordered a lemon mint water too.  I spotted a hawk amidst the lighting fixtures.  I told another server this but he was unimpressed.  "It's there every day. Pigeons, see?" he pointed.  This led to our introduction.  A lengthy conversation about New Years, prog and classic rock, deejaying, and beaches held us together for nearly an hour.  Alox, as he's known in the bars he plays at, dated a Russian woman for a while.  We conversed in Russian, and I snickered at my thought, a few days earlier, about how I'd probably never use Russian here in India.  I poured a shot of Maker's for him, under the table, but he refused on the grounds of his inability to stop after just one.  So the restaurant owner drank it down and requested another minutes later, wanting to feel a buzz so that he could dance to the music being played. Alox said the owner's always dancing. We headed down and out towards the train station after attaining Alox's number.  The navigation was quite simple to find our train and I even got into a tiff with some cargo porter as I was trying to take a photo of the tracks below.  He mouthed off something about India not being my country so I should move and I told him to promptly fuck off and find his own way around me. First fight in India, check.

The Delhi train yard.
The train ride was quite long but we hadn't taken down the estimated arrival time so we were forced to guess 7 hours.  It cost us Rs. 214 to go all the way to Haridwar.  For those counting, that's about $2 a head.  We drank several cups of chai as the attendants came down the walkway chanting, "Chai, Chai, Chai." They offered Veg Pizza, cookies, chocolate and chips.  I thought this was perverse and refused to even think about trying them.  Still, everything was done in a very Indian way for something completely foreign.  The shit smell wafted throughout the cabin and my throat and eyes itched for quite a while as soot entered  my system.  A virus entered too, as I've been achy and sick for the past few days.  As we exited the train, we made our way down to an alley where a man offered a room for Rs. 300.  Unwilling to argue over the price, we settled.  That's a $3 room, again for those of you with me.  Most of my bargaining is about being fair, not cheap.  The next day someone offered the same quality stay for Rs. 250 but we weren't aghast at the loss of a dollar between the two of us.  We passed out on what felt like butcher paper lined mattresses and slept the whole night until some cacophony of loogie hawking and water splashing woke me up. 

We enjoyed cauliflower paratha, black dal stew with butter and cheese, and teas.  We strolled through some backroads and entered a schoolyard where the principal met with us and told us about primary and secondary schooling.  I mistook a pregnant dog for a goat and found bitter gourd growing in the street.  After checking out, we hopped on a bus to Rishikesh for Rs. 23 a piece.  From there, we found a rickshaw that took us to the commercial part of town and we made our way to our home for the next few days, Krishna Cottage.  Jordan met some of her fellow students from the program and we headed to our very pleasant room and balcony on the second floor.  The hot water works here and the floor is a clean marble plate.  The walls are pink, something we've been seeing a lot of since we got here.  Baby-making shades, I suspect.  You get either baby pink or blue, and no free bowl of condoms as I was led to be deceived.

The bus ride from Haridwar to Rishikesh.
The bridge over the Ganga to Swarg Ashram, Rishikesh.  Limbless beggars every 20m.

We had a tasty breakfast this morning at the nearby Oasis cafe and separated for our morning duties: Jordan went to do yoga and I came to write here.  We're going to inquire about the hiking opportunities nearby with a special emphasis on the possibility of bouldering.

Splooge, like someone did on our wall.
I get strained trying to remember all of the details and day-to-day itinerary regurgitation.  So, I'll most likely post when we get to somewhere new or do something interesting.  My cultural examinations are to come but first impressions lead me to believe that India works without a lot of people complaining.  Business is innovative, interspersed with Western practices, a kind of remodeling of ideas to fit the culture here.  This is consistent with the rest of the world importing foreign ideas, I'm sure.  I'd like to date the buildings or trees here but even that proves difficult.  The idea that a billion plus people make for a crowded living situation hasn't made me claustrophobic yet; everything is demi-urbanized and people are inhabiting space everywhere but not to the degree of stepping on another.  You wont find much quiet space anywhere we've been.  I'll see what the mountains offer.  I'm thrilled to be here and hope to find inner solace with all the tumult going on for me this past year.  I'll post again soon.


mr. shy said...

Thanks for posting, pollo. The best thing is to see both of you smiling (cheesy-cheesy wayeah).

Asha said...

Great to hear an update from you! I wish you both the best of times. You will eat, sleep, and pee chai for the next few months. Love!