We made it to India on Wednesday night (Delhi time) after a quick flight to Newark and then a loooong 13-hour flight to Delhi. Our first few days we've stayed pretty busy while trying to adjust to the time difference, which is happening somewhat slowly, but is happening nonetheless.
We are staying in Paharganj, a neighborhood in Central Delhi that has a main street running through it called Main Bazaar. The neighborhood is popular with backpackers, but it's definitely retained its Indian culture. Main Bazaar is chaotic, with lots of shops and street vendors and lots of traffic. We haven't explored too much right around here yet except for the alley our hotel is on, where we buy water and toilet paper, and a little restaurant down Main Bazaar called Sam's where we've eaten breakfast every morning and where, on Friday morning, we were able to watch the NBA championship!
On Thursday we woke up early and set out to find Sam's, which Ian had read about in a guide book. While I was getting ready, Ian went into the street to buy some water and came back and said he'd met a young man named Raj who was studying English and wanted to come to breakfast with us. We met Raj back outside and began to walk down the street to find Sam's when Raj told us that Sam's was closed and tried to direct us into another restaurant. Ian insisted that we were going to check if Sam's was open (which it was), and Raj eventually gave in. To his credit, he still came to breakfast with us and kept us company, but this was our first experience with Indian touts--people who take tourists around to different shops and restaurants and make commission from the business when the tourists spend money there. We'd read about this in the guide books, but because we'd mostly had locals with us the last time I was here with my Dad, we hadn't experienced the touts as frequently and I didn't realize just how prevalent it was until Thursday. After breakfast we headed for Connaught place, a main circle in Delhi that has shopping, including an underground bazaar. Around Connaught Place we ran into many more people wanting to lead us around to specific shops. For a while we tried to be polite and followed along (and I did buy a pair of beautiful earrings from the guy who's putting the necklace on me in the picture, which was in one of these shops), but eventually we learned that if we wanted to find the underground bazaar, we were on our own. One guy tried to convince us that one of the shops he took us to, which did happen to have a finished basement where they sold handcrafts, was the underground bazaar, and I might have actually believed him had we not visited the underground bazaar the last time I'd been here. Eventually we found it, and it was crazy down there, but very fun to wander through. We each bought some Indian shirts to wear for about $2 or $3 and there was lots of costume jewelry, purses, belts, tattoo shops, and about anything else you can imagine. Each shoe store we passed had a man outside promising he had Ian's size so we stopped to see what one guy had to offer, but, alas, no luck. Eventually we headed back to the hotel to cool off for a while and then back to Connaught Place for a very good Indian dinner.
On Friday, after breakfast at Sam's, we set out for India Gate to find a tourist bus called Hop On Hop Off, or HoHo, that has a fleet of buses that go around the city to different sites. You can get off at whichever sites you want to see and then catch the next bus in an hour to go to the next site. It sounded like an easy, straightforward way to see the city, but after quite a bit of time searching two different stops for the HoHo bus and no luck, we gave up and took the metro into Old Delhi. In Old Delhi, we went to the Red Fort, a 17th-century palace. It's a pretty large complex and was interesting to wander around, but for some reason there were so many people at the Red Fort who wanted to take photos with Ian (and some even wanted to take photos with me!) By the time we left, we were ready to get out of there. Afterward we headed into another part of Old Delhi to the spice market, where they sell bulk spices and teas. This was amazing to see. There was stall after stall with beautiful spices laid out and a street packed with carts of huge bags of spices that men were unloading into the shops. And did I mention it was 104 degrees outside? And that's not including the humidity, the masses of people, or the heat radiating off the streets and sidewalks. We walked around some in the market and eventually wandered into a shop where the owner had us smell some tea mixes and spice mixes. The shop has been open for eighty-odd years and he showed us his guest book with autographed photos of master chefs from around the world and the VP of something or other from McCormack Spices. Of course this all could have been a ruse, but I like to think it wasn't! Soon after that, we headed back to the hotel and had dinner in another neighborhood restaurant.
Yesterday, after Ian contacted the HoHo people and received an interesting reply that basically said that the info on their website was wrong, we finally found the correct stop at the correct time in the morning and spent the day seeing sites all around the city. We stopped at Humayun's Tomb, the Lotus Temple--a Baha'i temple, Saket Mall--a huge mall in South Delhi where we had a fabulous Italian lunch and found a Starbucks, and Haus Khas village--a village dating to the 13th century. It was a very long day (and 104+ degrees again), but fun to see all the sites.
Today we are laying low in preparation for tomorrow, when we will meet up with Dave from Wahoe Education to tour their main school and their slum schools. I'm not sure how much (if any) press this has gotten in the US, but about a week ago there was major flooding in northern India that might put our volunteer plans into jeopardy. Dave has told us that we'll need to play it by ear whether or not we'll still be able to go north to Siri Village, so maybe we will find that out tomorrow. In any case, we'll definitely get to meet some of the kids here in Delhi and see some of the organization's work, whether we wind up volunteering up north or staying here in the city.
There are, of course, a lot of stories that I'm missing, but it's hard to put into words all the richness and complexity of our experience so far. And we've only been here a few days! We are looking forward to spending more time here, seeing more of the country, and getting to our volunteer work, whatever that ends up being.