When I signed up for India’s Golden Triangle tour online, the website provided a few details about the other guests that would be traveling along with the guide and me. From what was shown online, I believed that I would be taking a tour with two others: the tour guide and a 50-something woman from Holland. After a glorious night spent in Oman’s airport, I arrived in Dehli Saturday afternoon. The fog had lifted and I got my first taste of the busy streets of India at dusk. Vendors filled the shops, the sidewalks, the streets. Children fearlessly approached cars with offerings of roses, necklaces, and entertainment. Yes, many children were more than happy to dance in the streets, sometimes accompanied by a small drum, other times to the beat that lives on in their minds. Always with a smile on their faces. And always ending with a rap-tap-tap on the taxi’s window and an outstretched hand. “Money? Chapati? Money?”
The taxi driver that one of the airport’s helpers lined me up with knew the approximate area of the hotel I was staying in, and was confident that once we got close he would be able to find it. Half truth.
We drove around the zigzag patterns of the Chandni Chowk area. Finally he slipped the truth. The hotel was lost in the huge conglomeration of buildings and rickshaws and people and dogs and foodstands. Not so surprising given the density of the area we were in. The streets were so filled that the driver ended up turning in the car’s side mirrors to make us more slim, able to squeeze into spaces that would send an American calling to his insurance company over the fear of a cosmetic mishap. With the doors still locked to keep anxious bodies from entering, the driver rolled down his window and started calling out the name of my hotel, as if magically it would come running up saying, “Here I am!” Either that or he was hoping someone on the street would point out the correct direction. When neither scenario took form, we stopped mid-street, turned on the hazard lights, and ran inside a tourist bureau. The guide inside immediately offered us tea, told me to strap on my backpack, and led us through the side streets on foot to the grand hotel where I was to spend my first two nights in India. The driver and our 2-minute guide both made sure I was inside safely before returning to their prospective jobs, one at the tourism office and the other still flashing its lights and blocking traffic a couple hundred meters away.
Meanwhile, the hotel concierge called for the trip’s tour guide to meet me in the lobby to get the scoop on what was to come. He came down and explained that the night was all mine to take advantage of, and the next day’s schedule would be determined by arrival times of our fellow travelers, as fog delays are common in the winter months. The fog was an understandable circumstance. The other travelers? “You mean my new Dutch friend?” “No, many are still arriving. You’ll have many new friends on this trip!”
So what happened to the whole -one woman in her 50’s thing?
It turns out that her and I were the only two travelers touring for a week, but we were joining another group who was to continue exploring Rajasthan for the week after we left. Instead of 2 of us, there would be 18! What a surprise, and a total game-changer. Immediately, I imagined a mass mob of people shuffling their feet along the sidewalks and tourist attractions, everyone trying to be in the exact same place at the exact same time. Previously, I had been opposed to tourist groups for this exact reason, but it turns out that although it means a less intimate experience, it also means a new world of friends, and an experience increased tenfold.
With a ton of people to meet the next day, I decided to do a first and last lone adventure for the week, and went for a walk inside the jam-packed streets of Delhi’s hotel district. Clothes and bags and shoes tempted me from every angle, shining their “150 rupee” signs and “No haggle” “Firm Price” “Tourist Special” signs posted on neon colored paper. 150 Indian Rupees… that’s less than two American dollars. For a shirt! For pants! For purses! Alas, I stayed strong, reminding myself of the trekking backpack and the weight of its contents blessing my shoulders for the next two weeks. I mean, I stayed semi-strong… besides the champagne colored tunic with embroidered lacings around the neck and sleeves I managed to nab for 100 rupees. Trust, had I an extra suitcase or two and a place to call a more permanent home, those darlings would’ve been packed with textiles galore.
Despite the taxi driver having told me that these streets were primarily tourist areas, the majority of the people out and about were Indian and were having a grand time finding the best steals and deals hidden within the racks.
Feeling the buzz of the family-oriented nightlife, I returned to the hotel for s cup of coffee before bedtime. It’s a common tendency that proves to me the effects of caffeine can be mitigated by mindset. A morning caffeine injection gets my motors buzzing, while an evening sip has become my post-dinner nightcap. In the hotel’s cafe, the concierge introduced me to a fellow traveler. Not the 50-something Dutch woman originally anticipated, but instead an 18 year old adventurer from the same country. Here I was thinking a two week trip on my own was a feat, only to meet the first night a young woman fresh out of high school, beginning her own two months of travel.
After exchanging a few surface- stories, we retreated to our rooms for a good night’s rest. The hotel had placed me on the top floor, in a room with its own garden terrace. The toilet didn’t flush and the water didn’t heat, but the view was great, allowing me to see over the rooftop patios of neighbors and look directly down to the fast paced travelers below. I spent a great deal of time out there before bed, feeling pleasantly unnoticed and unannounced. The next morning I returned to the terrace to watch the sun rise from behind Delhi’s dynamic haze, after which I grabbed my camera, swallowed up an Indian breakfast of chapati and dal, and went downstairs for our group orientation.
Our guide was young, knowledgable, and a native of Rajasthan. He seemed honest and sincere- telling us the goods and the bads to help us prepare for all aspects of our upcoming trip. We were all quiet and shy, and the meet and greet time was filled with timid ‘Hello, my name is…’ hip-height waves, and goony smiles. You know, the kind that say “I’m really happy to meet you, but am a bit overwhelmed by all the faces and am going to have to ask your name five more times before I actually remember it. So let’s get this party started!”
And then we boarded the bus and got the party started, Delhi style.