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.