The next morning, I packed my things and went to Renuka.
Linda was sitting in front of the hotel. She didn't look so well so I asked if she was OK. She said her stomach was not feeling well. Maybe the dinner last night wasn't good...I thought. Although my stomach was fine but she might have had something bad.
She also said the other three tourists who had applied for the tour cancelled because of health problem. So we were the only ones who were going now.
"But I don't want to cancel this because I really wanted to join this tour."
I was worried about her but we confirmed that we're going as planned.
I deposited my backpack in Renuka. Since I had heard they could keep our lagguage in their storage room while we were on the tour, I had checked out Latan Palace this morning.
After I put my backpack in the storage, I asked a staff to book a bus ticket. I was thinking to go to a town called Jaipur after the Camel Safari. Although Jaisalmer was an interesting place, I thought it's about time to move to the next place considering my planned length of staying in India. The staff booked a bus leaving at 4:30 pm tomorrow.
Linda said she was thinking to go to Rishkesh in the north to learn Yoga so we were taking different roads after Jaisalmer.
Since Camel Safari was to start afternoon, we still had several hours. I went to the nearby pharmacy again and explained about Linda's condition to a guy at the counter.
"My friend is having a stomach trouble and..."
Then the guy said before I finished talking.
"Diarrhea? Then drink this with water."
He gave me a pack of powder. I got an impression that he had done this thousands of times until now. It almost looked like his daily routine or something and because of that, I though this medicine might work.
I went back to Renuka and gave the medicine to Linda. Then I went up to the rooftop restaurant. I ordered a fruit pancake and a cup of chai for breakfast then Linda also came up. She didn't order anything but put the medicine into her bottled water and drunk it.
After the breakfast, I walked around the town alone.
A staff at Renuka told me that I should have some protection against the strong sunshine that I would likely receive during the tour. So I bought a long-sleeve shirt and a scarf at a used cloth shop.
When I came back to the hotel, a staff told me a man had joined the tour. It seemed he was out now. There was still some time to depart, I sat in front of the hotel and watched the streets and people passing through.
Shortly after that, the new member of the tour returned to the hotel. He walked to me and we greeted each other.
He said with a soft smile. He was a tall guy with beard, looked around 40. I had seen him earlier. We met in front of the hotel yesterday and exchanged small greetings. He was also from Germany. I was wondering what kind of person would appear and his smile and soft speaking manner made me feel relieved somehow.
The deperture time came and we got on a car that came to the hotel to pick us up. They said we go to somewhere out of the town first then switch to camel.
After a short drive, all the buildings dissapered and the car drove through an open space. We didn't see any other vehicle or people. The car zipped through an unpaved road at about 80 km per hour.
We stopped at an old ruin called Bara Bagh and looked around it for about 20 minutes. The car drove again for a while and stopped at some place.
Then we saw four camels and two guides waiting for us.
The car drove back to the town and we exchanged simple greetings with our guides. Three camels were for us and one camel was for carrying supplies, it seemed.
"This is your camel. Her name is Mania."
One of the guides introduced my camel. The man who seemed to be the leader looked around 40 and the other man also looked like the same age. They both looked calm and reserved type.
It was my first time to ride on a camel. It looked pretty big when viewed at close range. The man told me how to mount and when I mounted it as instructed, she stood up. The height of standing camel was higher than I expected, I was surprised a bit by the dramatic transition of my sight.
There was a small protruding object which was about 10 centimeter long and that's the only thing I could hold. I was pretty sure I would be thrown away if this camel went on a rampage.
As if reassuring my anxiety, the camel started walking slowly at steady pace. Two camels were connected with a loose rope and our guides walked in front.
As picking up some firewoods along the way, the party moved forward in a open space. My legs and hip started to hurt a little bit after a few hours. Although it was only two days and one night this time, I heard some tours take longer. It must be hard doing this for several days, I thought.
"Two hours is enough for me."
Robert said as smiling when we were side by side.
The scenery around us didn't look like the desert I had imagined. It looked more like savanna or something. Except some small bushes we didn't see much vegetations so the climate must have been similar to desert though.
However after a while the ground started to be covered by sand little by little. Then we arrived at the sand dune where we were supposed to camp.
The ground here were indeed covered by yellow sands and it looked like my image of desert. But it was only around here and if I looked a bit far, I could see the same earthy grounds were spreading.
Still, the sand dune looked mythtical and beautiful.
It was almost sunset.
Our guides were preparing for dinner. The leader-like man called himself "Dina" and the other man was called "Ralu". Since Ralu didn't speak English, Dina did the most of the talking.
"Are those camels yours?"
I asked as pointing at the camels resting a bit far from us.
"No I'm borrowing them."
Calmly looking Dina answered.
"If I buy a camel myself, I need 40 thousand rupees. I don't have such money."
As saying so, he chopped vegetables and threw them into a pot on fire.
(From left: Our guide Ralu and Dina)
We saw a beutiful sunset.
Then it was dinner time.
We had curry, chapati, rice and vegetables cooked with chili-like source. The meal Dina and Ralu cooked for us was a little spicy but very tasty.
After the dinner, Dina used a water tank as a drum and sang songs with Ralu. He said they were songs of a desert tribe. The melodies and the rhythms were somewhat simple but listening to those songs by fire was really something. He asked us to sing some songs so I sang a Japnese song called Shimauta, Robert and Linda sang a fork song in German then we sang some English songs together.
Dina wanted to hear more Japanese song. I thought Japanese pop or rock didn't suit this situation so I wanted to sing some traditional fork song. But then I realised that there was no song that I could remember the whole lyrics. The realisation made me sad and disappointed.
'I should memorise some songs that I can sing in a situation like this...' I thought so althought I didn't know if I would ever have this kind of chance again.
After the singing, we talked. Robert seemed to be an experienced traveler as well. He talked about his past travels, his job, his son and his grandfather. Then we talked about the information era we are living. We talked about Mt. Saint Michel, Paris, Truman Show... the topic switched from one after another.
Robert and Linda found out that they both lives in Berlin and their houses were only few hundred meters away from each other. Of course they hadn't met until they came to Jaisalmer. Or maybe they had since they said they use the same supermarket. In any case it was an amazing coincidence that people who lives so close met in a desert town in the westernmost India.
Linda showed the pictures in her camera to Dina and Ralu. They were watching it curiously for a while. I wondered what they were thiking watching those pictures taken in some other countries they had never been.
"Do you think we are crazy?"
Robert asked Dina.
"We pay money to ride on camels and camp in a desert. Then go home, satisfied. What do you think about tourists like us?"
Dina didn't reply. Maybe Dina didn't understand what Robert really meant and I didn't think Dina could answer the question anyway. But I could somehow understand why Robert wanted to ask that.
Around 10:30 pm, we got into sleeping bags that were laid on the sand. Dina put several blankets on it so it was a bit heavy but I imagined it would become very cold once the fire is gone. It was very warm inside the sleeping bag.
"If it's cold, tell me anytime. One oclock, two oclock, three oclock, four oclock, anytime. I am here." Dina said.
The sky seeing from the sleeping bag was filled with countless stars. It was amazing. Probably the best starry sky I had ever seen in my life.
"I can't believe this. We're camping in a desert!"
Robert said joyfully.
I had dreams that night.
All the dremas were related to my daily life in Japan. Then I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself in the desert. It was a strange feeling.
'I'm in a desert of India and Pakistan is just over there...'
I was thinking as looking up the starry sky. But somehow I still couldn't feel it as reality.
I heard the sound of people waking up down below. So I also got up and climbed down the radder.
Salam was gone. He said he was getting off the train at somewhere between Delhi and Jaisalmer so the train must have stopped at the station while I was sleeping.
It's already bright outside and I could see a desolated landscape through the window .
Linda asked me if I knew any good place to stay in Jaisalmer. I said I had no idea. Then she said a hotel called Renuka seemed to be popular among tourists so she wants to check it.
The train arrived at Jaisalmer Station at 1 pm, an hour behind schedule.
There was a man from Renuka at the station. He seemed to be looking for tourists to invite to the hotel, so we told him that we wanted to stay at Renuka then he let us get on his car.
The car started to move and I obserbed the town through the window.
It indeed looked like a desert town. Almost every building was built with stones in sand-like colour. The sky was very clear and blue so the scenery was basically consist of 2 colours: blue and yellow. The atmosphere looked much more relaxing than Delhi's. The sunshine was pretty strong and the temperature felt much higher than Delhi.
We arrived at Renuka in 5 munutes or so. The hotel was small and didn't look so fancy. But it had some clean atmosphere and the staff was friendly and somewhat sophisticated. I could somehow understand why this hotel is popular.
A staff showed me a room upstairs. It cost 250 rupees (about 5 dollars) and it had no shower and toilet. Since it was cheap I thought it's acceptable so I took the room.
When I went down to the front desk, Linda came out of a room at the ground floor. She said she also took the room.
"Can I see your room?"
I asked and entered the room that she took. It looked kind of similar to mine but it had toilet and shower. The price was not so different from mine. I caught the staff again and asked.
"Do you have a room with toilet?"
"No vacancy of that kind of room right now. But there's another hotel nearby and you can take a room with toilet and shower for 450 rupees."
So he suggested me to go to another hotel. Maybe they own two hotels? I wasn't sure but decided to check it.
The hotel that the staff told me was about 50 meters away from Renuka. It was called Latan Palace. I asked the man at the front desk to show me a room and it looked pretty good so I paid 450 rupees and took it.
After putting down my backpack, I went back to Renuka and had lunch with Linda at the rooftop restaurant.
Jaisalmer seemed to be a small town. The town was surrounded by walls and according to my map, it was only 1 km or so even if you walked from end to end. Renuka was in the northwest part of the town and there was a big fort in the south part of the town. We could see this fort from the rooftop of Renuka.
Since we both didn't have any plan, we decided to walk to the fort. Linda said she sprained her foot yesterday so couldn't walk fast. We walked slowly and seeing around a Jaina temple and souvenir shops in the fort. But still it took only an hour or so to finish seeing.
When we left Renuka, one of the staff told us that there is a hill outside of the town where we can see sunset. So we went through the main gate of the town and headed to the hill.
The outside of the town was even more quiet and there were shacks along the roads and several kids were playing. We arrived at the bottom of the hill in 10 minutes or so.
When we started going up the hill, a lot of kids came out of the shacks that were constructed along the slope. A lot of tourists who want to see the sunset must go up this road everyday. That's probably why there were so many shacks here.
They begged for something from us. Some kid asked 10 rupees. Some kid asked chocolate. Since I had a chocolate in my waist pouch, I tried to give it to a little boy who was walking at my side. Then an older boy who was watching behind snatched the chocolate and ran away. The little boy looked sad. I said sorry to him and kept going up the slope with him. When we reached the top, we were surrounded by nearly 10 kids.
(Seeing the town of Jaisalmer and its fort from the hill)
There was a man who plays an ethnic instrumental at the top. The man spoke English so we talked. He said he lives in a nearby tent. His wife had passed away and he had 4 kids.
"Not many people play this instrument anymore." He said.
"But in some town, a Japanese man tried to learn this and became a very good player."
I asked him if I could take a picture of him. Then he called his 4 kids and let me take a picture. I thought he might ask some money for it but he didn't.
When I looked at Linda, she was surrounded by little girls. It seemed she bought a small accessory from one of them, and probably to show the gratitude, the girl draw a small dot on Linda's forehead with a marking pen.
The sun started to set. The staff at Renuka was right. The sunset was beautiful. And as if to accompany the scene, the man started to play the instrument. We were kind of busy dealing the kids and not exactly in a state to admire the beauty, but still the sun setting beyond the town of Jaisalmer left an eduring image in my head.
When we were about to leave the hill, the man played the instrument talked to me.
"Come to my tent. We can have chai together. I play music for you."
It was an interesting offer. But I wasn't sure if we should accept it. I looked at Linda.
"But it's getting dark..." she said.
She was right. The sun had dissapered and night was beginning. Although the man said his tent was nearby but we didn't know exactly where that was. And if we spent some time at his tent, it would be completely dark when we leave. It was only 10 to 15 minutes walk but we never knew what would happen in foreign land. I didn't think the man was a bad person. But I wasn't sure if following a man at night in a place we still don't know much about was a good idea.
I declined his offer. I gave him 25 rupees for playing music and said goodbye. He seemed to look a little sad when he received the money.
After we came back to the town, we promised to meet up at 8:30 pm and have dinner together. It was still before 7 so after taking a little rest in the room, I went to a nearby pharmacy and bought a sore throat remedy and an ointment for Linda's foot. Then I walked around the town seaching for nice restaurant.
At some point, all the lights gone off and the streets became dark. Looked like a blackout. But people were acting normal as if it happens all the time. The lights came back shortly after that.
When I went to Renuka Linda was talking with a staff at the front desk. I asked her what she was talking about. She said she was joining "Camel Safari".
"Camel Safari? What's that?"
I asked Linda then the staff looked at me and said.
"Oh you should join too."
According to him, the Camel Safari was kind of a tour. You ride a camel and travel to a sand dune then camp there. I thought it's very interesting. I was thinking to visit a small village called Khuhri which was about 2 hours away by bus tomorrow but this Camel Safari sounded more interesting. Especially I liked the idea of camping in the desert.
He said a group of three other tourists had already applied to join the tour. I said I will join too, almost by reflex.
However after applying the tour, I started to feel not so sure about my decision. Since I came to Jaisalmer, I had been moving with Linda all the time so I thought it might be a good idea to move alone tomorrow for a change. It was kind of ironic considering how I was feeling sad not having traveler companion at the rooftop restaurant in Delhi.
And there was another and probably the main reason. It was about my English skill. I was with Linda almost whole day today but I often felt my lack of ability to express my feeling in English. I imagined joining a group of five people and spend 2 days together would put me into that kind of situation even more. I wasn't confident. And I thought it could be a bit stressful.
I was inclining to cancel the tour. But I put my desicion on hold for now and went out to have dinner with Linda.
I took Linda to a restaurant that I found earlier. I ordered a spinach curry, naan and a cup of coffee. The price was 165 rupees.
There were no customers except us. Unlike Delhi that was noisy even at night time, it was quiet. In the still atmosphere, we talked about our lives, travel and India.
"Are you buddhist?"
Linda asked me at some point. I was not sure how to answer it. The majority of Japanese are considered as Buddhist. When we hold a funeral, we do it according to Buddhism ritual. A lot of houses have a Buddhist altar dedicated to deceased family members. But it was more like a custom, not exactly a religious faith. It's not like we chant Buddhism mantra everyday. In fact I had never done such things in my life and that's a typical stance of Japanese. But it was a bit difficult to explain so I just answered "Well, I think I am."
"I thought so. Because you look calm and stable." She said.
I didn't think I was stable at all and I thought my calmness was just my natural character which had nothing to do with Buddhism. But still I didn't know how to explain it correctly.
When conversation went into complicated matter, I felt my lack of English skill again and it was frustrating a little bit. But I tried to talk about myself as best as I could. I said 9 years had passed since my last oversea trip and I want to know what I really want and where my heart is now. I might have felt a bit embarrassed talking about such things in Japan. But when you were on travel, it felt very natural to talk about.
"I tried a lot of things to fullfill my life in Germany." Linda said.
"I tried to learn piano, I tried to learn dance. But... what I always wanted to do since childhood was traveling. So I saved money as working and went on a long journey."
We kept talking. It was a nice talk.
My English still didn't come out smoothly but after the dinner, I found myself thinking positively about Camel Safari.
'Don't think too much. Just let it be...'
My inner voice was saying and I decided to follow it.
I woke up at 9 and stepped out to the veranda.
It was cloudy. Looking at the gray sky and the street of Paharganj, somehow I realised that I haven't encounter any other Japanese tourists since I came to India.
Since I was leaving Delhi today, I checked out the hotel and went to the rooftop restaurant where I refused to go last night. It was a bit cold up there but the atmosphere was pretty good. I ordered a chocolate banana pancake and a cup of chai for breakfast.
There were several groups of Westerners in the restaurant. Seeing them talking and laughing, I felt my aloneness. It's not like I didn't have chance to talk with anybody. On the contrary, so many people had talked to me since I arrived in India. There were plenty of oppotunities to communicate with someone. But I hadn't had a chance to getting know other fellow travelers so far.
Of course Paharganj was filled with tourists. I could see a lot of backpackers were sitting and having chai or coffee at some cafes on the streets. But I was rather avoiding those places. I didn't know exactly why. But maybe I was not so confident to become friends with those backpackers who looked very experienced with traveling.
Since I was young I liked being alone and I liked traveling solo. So I didn't mind. But to be completely honest, I felt a little sad this morning. Because since I came to India, I had encountered so many things that shook my common sence. I wanted to talk about it with not local Indians but people who also came from outside and can share my feelings.
The train for Jaisalmer was supposed to leave at 5:30 pm. I still had some time so I decided to walk around Old Delhi until then. I went to Raj Ghat where Ghandi was cremated then visited Red Fort which was a huge red-walled fort and looked around the inside.
I arrived at Delhi Station an hour before the departure time. The station was very crowded. I got on a line and went through the baggage-screening check. It seemed you need to pass this airport-like check even when you get on a train in India.
After the check was done, I didn't have anything to do. So I just waited.
Around 5:10 pm I heard the announcement about the train for Jaisalmer so I went down to the platform NO.8 that was where my train arrives.
Soon after that, a blue colored train came into the platform and I got in.
The compartment was divided to the left side and the right side by an aisle. The ticket I bought was called "A/C 3 Tier-Sleeper" or simply "3A" and that means a 3 tier bed in a compartment with A/C. There were mattress-like seats that you can use as a bed and similar seats above. And if you bring up the backrest of the bottom seat and locked it with chains, it became the second bed. But since it was still before night, almost all the passengers were still sitting on the bottom seat together.
I found my seat and there were 2 Indian guys sitting in front of it. I said hi to them and talked with one of them for a while. The guy called himself "Salam" and he looked around 30. He said he works at an air-force base and his fiance is collecting foreign coins so I gave him three 1 yen coins that were in my wallet.
I continued talking with Salam then 3 women walked to our seat as talking and laughing. They stopped in front of us and took some pictures each other. Then one of them stayed and the others walked back to where they came from.
A woman who stayed said hi to us. It seemed she also got a seat here. She said those other girls were her friends whom she met in Delhi and since their next destination was different, she just said goodbye to them.
She was from Germany and called herself Linda.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Oh really? I'm going too."
She sat in front of me and we started talking.
It seemed Linda was on a long journey. Although she arrived in India at almost the same time as me, she said she was traveling around Central Ameria, South America and Southeast Asia before coming to this country.
"Did you see Dalai Lama?" She suddenly asked.
I knew there was the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala and Dalai Lama lives there but wasn't sure what she really meant by her question.
"Dalai Lama was doing speech in front of Delhi Station just a while ago. I was watching it so almost missed the train."
I didn't know that. I entered the station an hour before the departure time so probably that's why I couldn't notice it. It was surprising that the highest leader of Tibetan Buddhism was so close to me. I wished I could have seen him. It seemed Linda was interested in Yoga and Buddhism.
At night an Indian guy came to our compartment and asked if we needed a dinner. I said yes and paid money then he delivered an Indian style dinner.
At around 9 pm, the Indians around me started to make the second-tier bed and everyone went into their beds so I also climbed the ladder which was attached to the side and laid myself on the bed.
Laying in the now quiet compartment and listening to the steady clacking sounds that the railway's junction make, I was filled with the feeling that I was traveling. This feeling of movement. The travel stories that I just heard from Linda. All those things seemed to be provoking my love of travel that I had almost forgotten.
Because of the A/C, the air was really dry and that made me feel thirsty. I had already drunk all the water that I brought so I had no way to quench my thirst. Eventually my throat started to hurt. I tried to sleep regretting not brought more water.
I woke up at a little past 9 and checked out the hotel.
It's not like I was dissatisfied with the hotel but I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer for the last day in Delhi. Since I walked around the area for 2 days, I had alreayd found a couple of hotels that looked pretty good.
I walked a few hundred meters and entered a hotel which I had an eye on. I asked the man at the front desk then he said it's 900 rupees for a night. The price was triple of the last hotel but the room was large and had an A/C. I could use hot water as well. And what I really liked was there was a veranda where I could look down the street of Paharganj. I talked the price down to 800 and took a room.
After putting down my backpack in the room, I felt a bit guilty of spending 800 for a night but convinced myself that it was a good idea to rest well in a nice room and prepare for the 18 hours train ride tomorrow.
(My second hotel in Delhi, about 16 dollars for a night)
(I could see Paharganj from the veranda)
I went out again and had a breakfast at a nearby cafe. I ordered a buttered toast and a cup of chai. It cost 35 rupees.
It was pretty cold this morning too. I strolled around Paharganj a little bit then a guy on the street talked to me. He called himself Shaquille and he also said this year's Delhi is colder than usual. He invited me to his shop nearby. I told him "I won't buy anything" and he said "OK" so I followed him.
As I expected, once we arrived at his shop he tried to sell some stuff and urged me to join some tour for the country side in the north. But eventually he seemed to understand that I had no intention of buying anything. Then he bought me a cup of chai at a chai stand in front of the shop. Looking his quick transition, I felt like I was the one who is more cunning.
Then I walked to Connaght Place.
I was thinking to look around the south side of Connaught Place today. It seemed there is a huge gate called "India Gate" in the southeast of Connaught Place. I decided to go there.
The roads to the India Gate were wide and had multipule lanes. The "beep!" horn sounds were prevalent here as well but it wasn't as chaotic as Paharganji. People were walking on the sidewalks and cars were going on the roads so the traffic was somewhat well-organised as a proper city.
I walked along a wide road for a while then turned left. Then I saw a huge gate standing ahead. It was the India Gate. I walked to the gate and looked at it for a while. It was huge but not something I could admire its grandeur for hours so after taking a short rest , I decided to go somewhere else.
According to my map, there seemed to be a museum commemorated Mahatma Gandhi in the southwest of India Gate. Although I had only a basic knowledge about the "Father of India", I thought it's a good opportunity to learn about him.
Unlike Paharganj or Connaght Place, there weren't so many people around here and strangers barely talked to me, but when I started walking toward the museum an auto rickshaw driver called out to me.
"Where are you going? I will take you."
"No, I'm fine."
I turned down the offer by reflex. But as I walked few more hundread meters, I started to think it might be a good idea to take a rickshaw. Since I arrived in India, so many rickshaw drivers had offered their service to me but I had rejected all of them. I did't mind walking and didn't want to spend money needlessly. Also those drivers tended to be persistent so that made me want to say "No".
But rickshaws were essential part in Indian's life so getting used to it early seemed to be a good idea for the rest of my trip. So when I saw another auto rickshaw coming, I raised my hand and stopped it.
"How much to the Gandhi museum?"
I asked the driver and he said it's 50 rupees. I thought it's a bit expensive considering the distance but it's just about a dollar anyway so I said OK and got in the car.
After I sat on the backseat that had no sidewalls and windows, the rickshaw started moving at crisp speed and the sceneries changed rapidly. Riding a vehicle I had never ridden before made me feel excited. I felt like I got more freedom by aquiring a new option. And of course, it was much faster than walking. I arrived at the museum in 5 minutes or so.
The Gandhi Smriti Museum was established based on a house where Gandhi lived before he died. His childhood, the times when he studied in England, the times when he worked as a lawyer in South Africa, his indipendent movement for India and his death were described with texts and pictures in the museum. When I saw a picture of Gandhi wearing a fine suit in South Africa, I felt something like a dramatic wave of the time.
The room he used to sleep was left as it was and it was very austere with only a small bed at the corner of the room. And I also learned that it was the couryard of this house where Gandhi was assassinated. On that day, Gandhi left his room and got shot on his way to the afternoon prayer. The man who shot Gandhi was said to be a Hindu fundamentalist. The political stance of Gandhi who wished coexistence of Hindu and Muslim made the man fired 3 bullets.
(The place where Gandhi got killed)
(The room where Gandhi lived until his death)
I left the museum and bought a Gandhi's autobiography from a man in front of the gate for 150 rupees. Then I walked back to Connaght Place.
I arrived at Connaught Place around 5 pm and had a cup of coffee and a muffin at the Barista. Since I walked straight from the museum, my legs were pretty tired. But resting at the cafe made me regain my energy and decided to walk a bit more.
When I entered Paharganj, a man talked to me.
"Hey, can you help me?"
I casted a glance at where the voice came from. There was an Indian in his 20s walking with me side by side.
"I came from the south and just arrived at New Delhi Station. But someone stole my wallet that I put all my money in."
Then he showed a paper to me. It was a train ticket.
"See? I came to Delhi with this ticket. But I have no money now. Please give me some money for food."
So there is also a method like this... I thought. Of course I didn't know the truth but he seemed to be too calm for a man who just lost all his money. And the ticket he just showed me was so tattered as if he had been carrying it for few years or somerhing and the characters and numbers printed on the paper were barely readable. It was obvious to every clear thinker that the ticket was not bought recently. Probably he had tried to get money again and again with this ticket... I thought. But I decided to keep the conversation a bit more.
"All your money? That's terrible. You should go to the police station. So where is the nearest police station?"
Then he suddenly started stuttering.
"uh... police? Well, uh... no, police is no good. They are... not good. They won't help me. So please help me, OK?"
It was hard to hate this guy. He seemed to be too naive for tricking someone. 'Man why don't you aquire a bit more acting skill?' I wanted to tell him although I knew it was totally unnecessary. I felt like buying him a dinner and listening to his life story or something if I was on my way to restaurant but I was thinking to take a short rest at the hotel.
We talked a bit more and eventually we came in front of my hotel.
"Contact police, OK?"
I told him and entered the hotel.
Back in my room, I took a shower for the first time in India. I couldn't do it at my first hotel since there was no hot water running. Taking hot shower with a cold body felt so good and I thought it was worth paying 800 rupees.
However when I tried to turn the A/C on in the room, it didn't work no matter how many times I pressed the button of the remote. I went to the front desk and asked about it then the man at the desk said I need to pay another 200 rupees to use A/C.
I made a mistake, I thought. When they showed me the room, I thought I can use A/C since there was an A/C in the room. But I should have asked them and confirmed it. 1000 rupees for a night sounds a bit too expensive. I denied to pay extra 200 and went back to my room. Then I opened my guidebook to check if this hotel is on the book. The hotel was indeed on the book and it said 800 rupees with A/C. But since I didn't ask them if A/C was included before taking the room, I had no way to argue it now. I tried to take this as a learning experience.
Although I was thinking to have a dinner at a rooftop restaurant of this hotel, now I didn't feel like spending any more money for the hotel. So I went outside.
A little walk from the hotel, there was a restaurant called "Green Chilli". I found it when I was walking around Paharganj and it looked nice so I decided to go there.
The inside of the restaurant was dimly lit and looked like a Western style bar. And as if affirming the atmosphere, there were beers on the menu. Because of the religious reason, restaurants that serve alcohol were relatively few in India. So I hadn't drunk any alcohol since I came to India.
I ordered a glass of beer, a buttered chicken curry and a naan. The curry was a bit spicy and it made me sweat a lot but it was very tasty. The price was 303 rupees including the beer. A bit expensive for Indian standard, I thought.
"So this is the last night in Delhi..."
I was thinking. The beer made me feel happy.
When I stepped outside, I felt the temperature had dropped down even more. Shivered from cold, I started walking on the road to the hotel. Then I saw several red lights flickering in the dark.
They were bonfires made by homeless Indians. They gathered trashes and burned them on the streets to warm themselves.
At each of those make-shift fires, I could see several Indians. Extending their hands and feeling the fire. At some fires, they were huddling together with cows who were also gravitated by the fire.
I didn't know if it was an ordinary scene or something lead by this winter's unusually coldness in Delhi. In any case those flickering red dots in the dark looked somewhat unreal and made me feel as if I was strayed into another time of era.
I hadn't decided where to go from Delhi.
I booked an airplane which will leave Kolkata on 21 Jan so I had 15 days to look around India. Since Delhi is located in the northwest part of India and Kolkata is located in the easternmost part of India, it's clear that I will eventually need to go east. The point was: what kind of route should I take?
I pulled out a map from my backpack and browsed it for a while in my hotel room. Then some places came to my mind.
If I go east from here, stopping by places such as Agra, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya seemed to be an interesting route. In a way it was a golden route for traveling India. There is Taji Mahal in Agra. Varanasi is a holy place that is located along the Ganges River. And Bodh Gaya is known as the place where Budda reached his enlightenment.
But since I'm in the northewest part of India now, I also felt like seeing some other places around this region. If I go north, there is Rishkesh which is popular for tourists who want to learn Yoga and there is also Dharamsala where Dalai Lama lives. If I go south, there is Munbai that is one of the biggest cities in India and Goa that used to be known as a paradise for hippies.
The north's spiritual atomosphere seemed no bad but I was intrigued by the south. Goa is located along the Arabian Sea and famous as a center of various subcultures. Since it used to be a colony of Portugal, it has a unique culture which is mixture of West and India. They say people from various countries gather at the beach and drink, dance and get high. It might not be a pure Indian experience but still it was attracting.
If you go south from Goa, there is a town called Cochin. A friend of mine who often visits India for work once told me that the best place he had ever been in India was Cochin. Cochin is also located along the sea but there are also a lot of small rivers and canals nearby and it seemed you can travel these rivers by a small boat. It is called "Backwaters Trip" and according to my friend, traveling among the southern vegetation in a leisurely fashion is something worth experiencing. And it is also said that compare to people in the north who relentlessly pester tourists, people in the south are more mild and friendly.
Stopping by Mumbai, Goa, Cochin and the southern tip of the peninsula, then move toward the north along the Bay of Bengal to Kolkata sounded pretty good. But I wasn't sure if I could do such a trip in 15 days. I still hadn't grasped the actual scale of India.
As wondering such things, I flipped over the pages of my guidebook. Then suddenly a town called "Jaisalmer" caught my eye. Jaisalmer is located in the westernmost part of India and almost adjoining Pakistan. I got intrigued because the description said it is a desert town. It said the town used to be thrived for trading with Pakistan but now the trade route was cut down and it became one of the tourist spots, as a forgotten town in the desert.
I thought this Jaisalmer looked very interesting. But if I go to this town, I probably won't have time to go around the south. So what should I do......
I was thinking for a while but couldn't make up my mind. So I stopped thinking for now and went outside.
It was pretty cold in the morning and I could see my own breath. I put on a fleece, a jacket and a nitcap then started walking on the street of Paharganj.
There were a lot of chai stands on the street and Indians were surrounding each stand and drinking chais. I wanted to warm myself up so I also stopped by a stand and ordered a cup of chai. The price was 5 rupees. That means I can drink 10 cups of this with a dollar. I received chai in a cup which seemed to be made of clay and drunk it as standing with other Indians.
As I was smoking and sipping the chai, a middle-aged man who was also drinking chai asked me a cigarette. I gave him one and we talked for a while. He said he is a rickshaw driver and drinking a cup of chai is kind of his morning routine. Looking around, I felt the routine does not belong to him only. A lot of Indians were enjoying chai before the work. In this early hours, the street was still relatively quiet and somewhat peaceful.
I talked about my travel plan. Then the driver said he knows a travel bureau and wanted to take me there. Probably he can receive some money by bringing me, I thought. In any case there was a chance that I could get some useful informations so I decided to follow him.
The travel bureau was about 5 minutes walk from the chai stand. When I entered, a man with a beard greeted me with a confident smile. He looked in his 40s and spoke very fluent English. I told him that I'm planning to travel around the south and mentioned some names of the towns that I want to visit. Then I asked if it's possible to travel this route in 15 days.
"No problem at all."
He said and started explaining as pointing at the map on the table.
"...if you want to go south, you should visit Udaipur first. This is a very beautiful town. You should stay here for 2 nights. There is a very nice hotel so I will book it for you. Other hotels? There is no better hotel than this so you definitely should stay here. Then you go to Mumbai and stay for a night here. Then go to Goa and stayed for 2 nights then..."
If I travel as he suggests, it seemed I could somehow arrive in Kolkata in 15 days. But moving from town to town takes longer than I had expected and I could only stay for a day or 2 at a place.
I told the man that the plan sounds a bit too hectic. Then he suggested to use airplane but I didn't want that. My budget was limited and I wasn't a big fan of airplane so I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. I felt a little bad for the man but the reason I visited this bureau was to know a rough estimate time for traveling the south and I had no intention of booking hotels or joining a tour. I told him so before the conversation starts but the man seemed to be determined to pull me into his plan.
"I have introduced this plan to many Japanese and everyone enjoyed it very much."
He said. But I was not responding much. Then he suddenly said,
"Watashi wa Nihonjin-no Okusan ga Imasu. Namae wa Ohta Akiko desu."
...I have a Japanese wife who lives in Japan and her name is Akiko Ohta... that's what he said. In fluent Japanese. I saw his face. He was grinning, as if expecting my surprised reaction.
Man, again? I thought. It's not like I was remembering the "Ochaya" story by Lucky's friend. When I entered another travel bureau on Paharganj yesterday, the man at the bureau said he has a girlfriend who lives in Japan. At the time, I thought he might be telling the truth. But hearing a similar story again, I started to think that it might be their technique to reassure Japanese tourists.
"She lives in Osaka and will move to India in few months and we will live together..."
The man kept talking. His story was detailed and it sounded somewhat plausible. If I hadn't heard the similar story yesterday, I might have believed him.
We talked for half an hour or so and I kept saying "No" to his suggestions. Then he suddenly stood up and left. As if he realised that trying to convince me was just a waste of time. I waited for a while but he didn't return so I also stood up. At least he gave me some useful informations so I wanted to say thank you before leave. I walked to a table where he moved to and spoke to him. He noticed me but didn't reply. He didn't even look at me and ignored me completely. I guessed he had no reason to be friendly anymore since I failed to become his customer. I understood that and left the building.
Knowing traveling the south is not a realistic choice, the desert town Jaisalmer started to look attracting more and more.
OK, let's go to Jaisalmer and then go east...
I made up my mind. So I needed to book a train for Jaisalmer. It seemed I can buy tickets at New Delhi Station.
(Paharganj aka Main Bazaar)
I went to New Delhi Station and entered the station building. The ticket office was upstairs. There were several benches in front of counters and a lot of tourists who want to move from Delhi were gathering. Westerners, Asians, men, women, there were various kinds of tourists and for some reason the largest group among them was Korean's.
I booked a train for Jaisalmer which leaves day after tomorrow (9 Jan). The price was 873 rupees. The train will depart at 5:30 PM and arrives at Jaisalmer at 11:45 AM on the next day. So it will be more than 18 hours ride. India is large.
It seemed the train will depart from Delhi Station, not New Delhi Station. The station seemed to be in an area called "Old Delhi" and it looked like an interesting area. So I decided to walk around Old Delhi and check the location of the station today.
I headed north from New Delhi Station. A guy on the street talked to me (he said he has a brother in Osaka) so I asked him the direction of Old Delhi. I walked for about 10 minutes and arrived at a place that looked like the entrance of Old Delhi.
In Old Delhi, the number of cycle rickshaws seemed to be much larger than auto rickshaw's. Compare to Connaught Place or Paharganj, it looked like the time was rewinded to the past a little bit. The streets were narrower than Paharganj's and the number of tourists was also smaller. Unlike Paharganj that was totally touristic, Old Delhi seemed to be a place for both tourists and local Indian.
I walked as looking for Delhi Station. But the streets were winding and there were many side roads, eventually I got disoriented. Then suddenly I came to an open space with a huge temple-like structure.
I walked past the structure then entered another narrow street. When I walked 100 meters or so into the street, I heard a voice that seemed to be coming from a loudspeaker. The voice sounded like singing and was coming from behind. Then I realised. The structure I just saw was a Islamic mosque.
I saw a lot of men with a white cap on were walking toward me. Maybe it's time for prayer or something. When I think of religion in India, Hinduism that is symbolized by gods such as Shiva or Ganesha comes to mind first. But I also heard there are a lot of Muslims in India.
I turned around and walked to the mosque with the white capped men. Then I stood in front of the mosque. The entrance was guarded by a couple of men with machin guns. I listened to the voice from the speaker that sounded somewhat sad and beautiful and watched the line of men that was drawn into the mosque for a while.
After some more walking, I could finally locate Delhi Station. Then I took a subway and went to Connaught Place.
I got out of the subway station and entered a stylish cafe called Barista. When I received a cup of cuppuccino and sank myself into a comfy chair, I felt like I just found a safe shelter in a storm. I thought I was getting used to India, but I was still nervous at some level. I was still on alert for people who talk to me on the streets.
I had started to see Indians through some kind of filter. A filter of doubt, I might call it. However I was also feeling a lot of Indians are actually very kind. Once I met a guy on Paharganj and he was apparently trying to get unfair amount of money from me. But as I pointed out the inconsistency in his logic, at some point he smiled as if saying "OK, you caught me" and suddenly became friendly. He started to talk about his family and his life and in the end he bought me a cup of chai.
'Wait, weren't you desperately trying to get money from me a few minutes ago?'
I thought and was almost appalled by his quick transition. But in hindsight it seemed empitomizing a character of Indian.
They are kind. But they want money. It's simple and they didn't seem to be entangled with some cocky logic. They try to get money. Because sometimes a tourist pays, without thinking much, the amount of money which can be equivalent to their day's work. The tourist might think later: 'Maybe I gave him a bit too much?' But after all it's just a several dollars difference. It doesn't hurt him anyway. And if a rickshaw driver experienced something like that, who can blame him for trying to ask the same price again?
If I met a guy who tries to ask unfair price and get some extra money from me in Japan, this guy is automatically categorised as a "bad guy". In that sense, the most of the guys in Connaught Place or Paharganj might become bad guy. But seeing with such perspective might misread me to understand India and its people... although I was still on alert and still telling myself not to drop the guard, but I started to feel that way.
After leaving the Barista, I walked around Connaught Place for a while. It was nice to walk around without backpack today. But I felt myself liking Paharganj much better than Connaught Place.
I bought some postcards at a shop and entered a McDonald to have a dinner. I was hoping to find some original Indian menu and sure there was, the Maharaja Mac Burger. The value meal cost 137 rupees and it tasted pretty good.
It was already dark out when I left the McDonald. I started walking to the hotel then a little girl who was sitting in front of the restaurant started following me. She looked like 4 or 5 years old. I knew she was a begger so I said "No" and kept walking. But she didn't stop following me.
After walked few hundread meters, I started to worry. I worried that if I kept walking she might lose her way home or wherever she was. I stopped and put 4 rupees on her hand.
Then she turned around and disappered into the dark.
The airplane which left Singapore in the morning landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. It was cloudy. Looking through the window of the airplane, I could see the smoggy scenery of India.
"I arrived in India..."
I thought. But somehow it didn't feel real. I stood up from my seat, took my laguage and walked out of the airplane. I wanted to smoke.
India was not the place where I was particularly interested in. I wanted to go to India someday for sure. But priority-wise, it was always my fourth or fifth choice. There were other countries I wanted to go first. However I was also thinking like this: If I go to India, the sooner the better.
When I travel foreign countries, I always wonder if my mind is flexible enough to synchronize myself to the country's culture, people, vive etc. Because I think that is important. As you get older, you establish your own value. You establish your own enviroment. And that tends to make you conservative because it is a bit tough to abandond what you already estalished and accept something totally different.
People say India is unique. Some even say it changes your life. It changes your sense of value. I was a bit skeptical about those "India advertisements" by other tourists. But still, I believed India has something that other countries don't have.
So if I go to India, I thought I should go while my mind is still flexible. If I became too conservative, I might reject everything that is different from the things I'm accustomed to. If that happens, the experience becomes facial. I might enjoy the travel, but it can never reach my spirit.
So when I decided to go overseas for the first time in 9 years, I thought of going to India. Yes, 9 years had passed since my last overseas trip.
Scale-wise, Indira Gandhi International Airport looked no different from some regional airport in Japan.
I retrieved my backpack and changed 50 dollars for rupees. Then decided to go out, to see India. I haven't booked any hotel but I knew there is a place called Connaught Place and that is the center of the city. I didn't know how far this Connaught Place is, but it didn't look like I can walk from here. So I needed to find bus or taxi first. I was a bit nervous. I hadn't been to foreign country for 9 years. But I said to myself.
"No worries. Just like the old days."
Until 9 years ago, I was traveling a lot. Yup, just like the old days.
I stepped outside.
Then what I saw was 30 to 40 Indians who were shouting at me. Although I soon understood that they were runners for hotels or taxis, I felt like I was seeing something unreal. The outside air was hazy and dusty. It looked a bit whitish. In this hazy-dusty-white air, they were shouting. Some guys were holding placards, some guys were trying to grab tourists and stop them. They looked desperate. They looked aggressive.
"So this is India..."
I said to myself. I walked through these guys and reached a bus terminal. But I found myself a bit shaken. It seemed I was a bit overwhelmed by what I just saw. I looked around but didn't know where I can ride a taxi or which bus is going to Connaught Place.
I could ask someone. Usually I do that. But if I do it, maybe those guys come to me and surround me again. I didn't want that. I tried to act normal and glanced around for a while but still I had no idea where I should go.
I entered the airport building again and ordered a cup of coffee at a cafe near the entrance. As drinking the coffee, I tried to calm myself and opened a guidebook. According to the book, there is a service called "pre-paid taxi" at the airport. You go to a counter and tell the stuff your destination then pay the price. Then they give you a paper. If you show the papter to taxi driver, they will take you to the destination. That's how pre-paid taxi works, it seemed. So you don't need to worry about being asked outrageous price when you arrived at the destination. I decided to use this service.
I stepped outside again and looked around again. Then I could find a ticket box for pre-paid taxi. I got into the line and told a man in the box that I want to go to Connaught Place.
The man said. 1 dollar was about 50 rupees so 320 rupees means a little more than 6 dollars. I had no idea this was cheap or expensive but at least this service was official so I couldn't complain. I received a pink paper. "320" was written on the paper in handwriting. I walked to a taxi that was parking nearby and showed the paper to the driver, then got into the car.
The black-colored taxi soon started to drive on a single straight road. As the noises of the airport fades away, I started to feel a bit relaxed. The windows of the taxi were opened and cold air was coming in. But I felt like my mind was calming down by the coldness. I had an image that India is a hot place but this January's temperature of Delhi seemed not so different from Tokyo's.
"It's pretty cold, isn't it?"
I asked the driver.
"Yes, very cold. But this few days are unusual. Usualy it's not cold like this."
The driver said. He was 27 years old and from Kolkata. He asked me if I already booked a hotel. I told him I haven't booked a hotel but I know where to go. Then he just said "OK" and didn't say anymore. Instead he grabed his cellphone and started to call somewhere.
OK, now he's calling some hotel...
I thought so. But since he didn't say anything, I kept silence. It seemed no one pick up his call so he started to press different numbers. He repeated this several times. Everytime the car stopped at traffic signals, he changed the numbers. But no one picked up.
After an hour or so, the car stopped and the driver said this is Connaught Place. He asked me about hotel again. I said "I'm fine" and gave him some tip. I was expecting him to be more persistent but after receiving the tip, he just left. Then I realized.
"Wait... didn't I just give him 100 rupees?"
Since I just arrived in India, the value of each bill was still vague to me. I gave him 100 without thinking much but come to think of it, the taxi price was 320. So I gave him about one-third of the whole price as a tip. I felt like I'm an ignorant, naive, newbie tourist. But there was nothing I could do now.
Connaught Place was a busy place. There was a roundabout at the center and the roads coming from several directions were connected to the circle. There was a park inside of the circle and I could see several restaurants and shops outside of the circle. Some buildings were half destroyed and abandoned, creating a dilapidated atmosphere. Constructions were being done at several places . Probably because of the constructions, the air was dusty and hazy.
'Where are the cheap hotels...' I murmured.
There must be an area where I can find cheap hotels but I didn't know where that is. I started to walk along the roundabout. Then an Indian guy who looked like 20s talked to me with a smile.
"Hello. You just arrived in Delhi? Where are you going?"
He started walking with me side by side. 'Man who's this guy?' I thought and kept walking, a bit faster. But he kept following me and kept talking. He said his name is "Lucky". He is now on holidays and has a lot of free time so he's guiding tourists as a volunteer...or at least that's what he said.
"Oh yeah? That's nice."
I answered as thinking how to get rid of this guy. Then another guy appeared and said something to Lucky. It seemed they were friends and they said they "just met" here by chance. 'Yeah, of course.' I thought.
"Where do you want to go?"
Another guy asked me. I told him I am looking for a cheap hotel.
"Then you should go to the Tourist Office."
He said. His suggestion sounds reasonable but I was pretty sure that these guys were framing me in some way. So I didn't feel like following his direction. He kept explaining about the Tourist Office for a while but eventually noticed I wasn't responding much. Then he suddenly said,
"Watashi wa Ochaya de hataraite imasu (I work at a tea-shop)"
It was Japanese. For a second, I thought of answering in Japanese but I decided not to do it. Beucase I thought that's what he wanted. I kept speaking in English. Then he said.
"Why don't we have chai together? There is a shop nearby."
When I heard that, I thought it might be interesting. I didn't trust these guys at all. But drinking chai with local Indians sounded not bad. I was curious. So I asked them where the shop is.
They said and started to walk. I followed. Then they entered an alley. There were only a few people in the alley and all of them were Indian. I walked a bit and asked again where the shop is.
"Over there. You can see it from here."
I looked at where they pointed at. There was a shop indeed. I walked a bit more and peeked at the inside of the shop. I could see 5 or 6 Indians inside. There was also a group of Indians in front of the shop. They were just standing as if they had nothing else to do. I was the only tourist in the alley.
OK, this is as far as I can go... I thought and told them that I changed my mind. Then I said goodbye and left.
Maybe that was just a normal cafe. Whatever they were thinking, maybe it wasn't so malicious. But I just arrived in India and I wasn't sure. I still couldn't determine the borderline that divides danger and safety. I kept walking.
Then another guy started walking with me. He was also a young guy and called himself "Anel". He said he is a student and looked less shady than Lucky and his friend. He also suggested me to go to the Tourist Office. Then he said:
"Watashi wa Ochaya de hataraite imasu (I work at a tea-shop)."
...What is this? I wondered. Maybe these guys were hired by this Ochaya(tea shop)? Or there is something like a manual for Japanese tourists and these guys are just following what was written in the manual? I had no idea. My head started to spin a little bit.
I walked some more but still couldn't find any cheap hotel. I asked several people but everyone tried to take me to different places. I was getting tired. I went back to the roundabout and smoked a cigarette. Then I noticed an old man was also smoking next to me. He looked like a construction worker. Unlike other Indians, he didn't talk to me and wasn't interested in me at all. Maybe this old man could tell me where the cheap hotels are...I thought. I asked him then as I expected, he told me where I should go. According to him, if I walked a bit from here there is a place called "Paharganj" where I can find a lot of cheap hotels.
I walked for a while as following the old man's direction. Then there was indeed a street with a lot of hotels and shops. Thus I could escape from the stormy Connaught Place.
Paharganj, aka "Main Bazaar" was a single street that starts in front of New Delhi station. There were a lot of hotels, restaurants and sourvenir shops along the road, the atomosphere was a bit different from Connaught Place's. With all that happened at Connaught Place, I was still on alert. But seeing a lot of cheap hotels and backpackers walking on the street, I felt like I came to a place where I am somehow accustomed to.
I wanted to put down my backpack first so I entered several hotels near the entrance and asked the price, then took a room in a hotel where two kindly looking middle-aged men were at the counter. They said 350 rupees (about 7 dollars) for a night but I talked the price down to 300 and paid for 2 nights. I entered a room on the second floor and put down my backpack.
(My first hotel in India: About 6 dollars for a night)
The room looked like a typical cheap hotel's room. It was small and there was a bed and a small table. There was also a small tube television but the reception was very poor. No hot shower. They said they will bring a bucket of hot water if I needed. I've heard that not having hot water is pretty common in India's cheap hotels so I didn't mind. More than anything, I was happy that I could finally be completely alone.
I rested for a bit in the room but there was still some time until night. I decided to walk around Paharganj.
I stepped outside, walked to the opposite direction of the entrance. Compare to Connaught Place, the road of Paharganj was thinner and seemed to be made for pedestrians, not cars. Some restaurants put some chairs and tables on the road and a lot of make-shift stalls were set up and selling various commodities.
However it's not like you don't see any vehicle on the street. On the contrary, a lot of motorcycles, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and cars were coming into the street and driving through people. The way they drive was pretty impressive and the concept of trafic lane didn't exist at all here. They were driving through the spots between people or stalls. A motorcycle drives into a narrow alley that was only about 1 meter-width, a car coming out of a narrow side road that looked almost impossible to pass through by cars. And since they kept beeping the horn, the main street of Paharganj which was full of men and vehicles was being wrapped with ceaseless sound of horns.
And men and vehicles were not the only thing that were moving on the street.
There were...cows. Some cows were gathered at an open space. Some cows were aimlessly walking around the street. Indians, tourists, motorcycles and rickshaws were passing through among those cows, kicking up a cloud of dirt, making the beep sounds.
"Beep! ...Beep! ...Beeeep!"
Chaotic, was the only word that I could think of to describe the scene.
I kind of expected to see something like this. Because it was India. I kind of expected this. But seeing something exactly what I expected or something beyond my expectation, I was surprised and moved. The impact even made me wonder if I'm really on the Earth in 2011.
I knew India "used to be" a place like this. Once I read a travel report by a Japanese writer. He wrote about India. He wrote about the chaos that was created by rickshaws, cows and people. The book became my favorite and the most part of my image of India was created by reading this book. But this writer traveled India in 1974. It was almost 40 years ago. So I thought India must have changed a lot since then. After all, it's 21st century now.
But India hasn't changed. Of course they also use internet. Can't say modern technologies hasn't affected their lives at all. But on a primal level, India looked surprisingly the same as the description in the book I read. If the writer see the current India, maybe he would say it has changed. But at least the gap between what I'm seeing now and the image I had was very small.
I never had this feeling when I went to Hong Kong. I never had this feeling when I went to Iceland. The feeling, that I'm truly in a "foreign" country made me feel excited. And I felt Indian culture's toughness and stubbornness.
I walked around Paharganj until it gets dark. I entered a restaurant to have a dinner. I ordered something called panner butter masala curry, nan and chai. It cost 147 rupees. I had an image that the curries in India are very spicy but what I ordered was not so spicy and tasted good. Probably they adjusted the spices for tourists, I thought.
After the dinner, I bought some snack and juice, then went back to the hotel.
It was pretty cold in the room. I felt like drinking coffee so I asked a young guy at the counter. He said it's 20 rupees so I gave him money. Then he went out of the hotel. Maybe he went to a nearby shop or something...I thought and waited him as smoking a cigarette in front of the hotel. After a while, he came back as holding a small paper cup of coffee. The cup was wrapped with a foil. I gave him 10 rupees as a tip. He smiled and haggued me.
He said and left.
I drunk the coffee in the room. A lot of sugar and milk were in and it tasted a bit too sweet. But the warmness made me feel happy.
When I arrived at Connaught Place, I wasn't sure if I could adjust myself to a place like this. But somehow I felt more relaxed now. A lot of people talked to me when I was walking on Paharganj, but I started to feel that I don't need to be alarmed too much. It's not like all the Indians were trying to frame me, of course. Some people tried to sell me some drugs. Some people told me a direction and just left without demanding anything. The guy at a travel bureau on Paharganj tried hard to persuade me to join some tour but when he realized I have no intention of joining it, he suddenly became friendly and we could say good-bye in a friendly manner. I checked my guidebook and found the Tourist Office that Lucky and Anel were talking about. It was really a Tourist Office. Maybe they were also trying to help me without any malicious intention...but the way they acted was... I felt like the sense of right and wrong is becoming vague here.
A grate-like thing was placed above the door of my room. Through the grate, I could directly hear the voices from downstairs and the horn beeping outside.
There were only 2 not-so-clean blankets on the bed so I felt cold in the bed. I put on my jacket and knit cap in the blankets then somehow it became bearable.
My days in India started.