The moment we walked through the airport exit into the sun soaking humidity, the pace of our surroundings jumped to a Fast Forward. Men, shades of every brown, approached us wearing thin button downs spotted with sweat patches. The men swarmed towards us, like a school of hungry fish to bread dropped into the sea.
Every one of the men wanted to “help” us. They were insistent, to the point of being imposing, as they asked for our business. We politely rejected and an uncomfortable silence followed with a dumb loiter.
Soon enough, we chose a taxi + driver. We were riding with Raj.
We rode in the back of a compact car, our nostrils ambushed by an acrid combination of what I best assume to be animal BO, sun-rotting bacterias and pinch of our own fear. Annie and I watched for the first time a 3rd world country pass by. While driving, Raj showed us phone-photos of his white friends. This was supposed to be comforting, and it was.
These first sites of the city were bleak. Visiting India, we expected poverty, yet it was still utterly shocking.
The Indian people flash flooded Delhi’s dirt streets, bopping and bumbling in every direction like thousands of worker bees all on the same honeycomb. The day was muggy and the air had a thickness you might expect to swelter a tropical jungle. As the afternoon faded New Delhi proved to be its own jungle, over grown with a chao, people and pollution. Vibrant colors tangled with the shuffling mess of the un-educated masses. It was a jungle there is no Disney or Pixar movie about. A Jungle with strong stenches and frail futures. A jungle…..
When it rained, it down-poured a furious drenching. However, the sun would quickly break open the clouds, dry up all the rain and rats ran about again.
Seemingly, there were no rules to govern the people. Animals lived everywhere and their piles of shit were more common then children wearing a pair of shoes. There were men with large guns by the subway. I wondered if they knew how to use it properly or if it even mattered.
We, in our white skin and our meaty bodies, were obvious outsiders. The Indian people all wanted to bargain with us foreigners, even when they had nothing to offer. They begged, deceived and stole from the tourists because it was what they knew, so I assume. Young children, maybe of 2 years in age, asked for money, often provoking guilt with their pleas. They had nothing to lose, only to gain as they approached us white and relatively wealthy again and again.
Imagine the 70-man frat house bathroom after a long weekend of Grand Prix parties, no pledges to clean. That is what every city we visited looked and smelled like in our 1,021 mile excursion across Rajasthan, Northwestern India. (Further than Chicago – New York.)
We saw monkeys, goats, cows, and children layed asleep along the highway. Preteens were picked through trash piles in alleys for food. We were in disbeief when we saw a family of 4, including a toddler, riding on a mo-ped through the congested roads. This was common, and they were the fortunate families for their father was providing a ride. There were piles of cow crap the girth of a keg on every street. You can bet your bottom rupee on it. (worth 2 US cents)
We were dumbfounded by what we were finding. The locals however were accustomed to the destitution. Flies buzzed everywhere. Repulsive is rude, but accurate in describing the hygiene. It stunk a combination of corrosion and death, poverty and viol pity which reeked around every filth covered corner.
Shopkeepers were extremely kind and interested in getting to know us. For the first time, we felt genuinely welcomed, like we were unique individuals that inspired them. It was nice, but we knew the act was to make a sale, and that was perfectly fine; every man has to eat. However, their last ditch effort to sell was usually anger. I don’t know if it was feigned or for real, but I didn’t like it either way.
The street traffic was more bedlam than anywhere else I’ve been before. They didn’t use blinkers, painted lines or road signs. The cars had mirrors, but were flipped-in for leaner maneuvering. Horns constantly sounded as an indication of lateral movement, frustration or salutation. I never did decipher the difference. It as a never-ending symphony of rhythmless clamor. Throughout the day, the shotty vehicles funneled through the streets spewing grey coughs of exhaust into the air and continually blared sharp, high pitched horns that made your blood cringe.
We were vulnerable everywhere we went. There was no real safety net to fall back on in disaster or confusion. The comfort of knowing you can go to a hospital or a police station, maybe phone a friend for advice or just to have a chat simply wasn’t going to happen. If something bad happened, there was no way to even know, nothing could be done and no one near would have even cared. They already had too many of their own half dead with hunger and disease- why would we e of concern?
The haggling was intense. Each day we got better at being less and less ripped off.
Our driver’s name was Raj. It was a common name. He looked like a big dirty gummy bear. He was always appearing out of nowhere anytime we needed him or even more strangely, merely thought of him. Often Raj, and others similar to him, were overzealous when trying to be helpful. This caused them to hover, severly violating our western social norms. It made for many awkward moments.
Everyday we choked on air pollution that made me resent industrialization as it festered each of the cities. I wish I had packed a gas mask. I don’t care how ridiculous I’d have looked, I would have wore it everywhere and it’d definitely not more ridiculous than homelessness as a majority .
The stellar beauty of what was once a gorgeous nation of temples and royalty has been degraded to a trash dump of packaged plastics that mar and stain the landscape the way businesses have social media.
The place was very cheap but you get what you pay for. The best reason to go to India is to gain appreciation for all the simple amenities in life that you don’t realize you have. Clean water? Nope. Drainage? Nah. Toilet seat? Toilet paper? Don’t count on it. I’m suddenly not so upset by taxes being removed from my pay. I truly respect their value now.
There is a lot of love among the people to be able to live with such little personal space. The temples and monuments were beautiful and stirred my imagination as we spent the better part of the days touring their magnificence and history.
We rode elephants, hung out with snake charmers, and took tens of pictures with random Indians astonished by Annie’s arian features. We crashed a Hindu wedding with some German boys, their western world experience and Euro-traveller attitude was refreshing. For the first two days we ate but were too repulsed to have an appetite the following as we satiated our stomachs with bottled water and the occasional packet of biscuits. I lost 11 pounds. I was still nauseous 7 days after my return to the US.
India was life changing. I was ready to see poor people and homeless desperation, but I was not prepared for the amount of filth that literally casted over every city seen. Knowing about such a place is completely different from spending time in the poverty. Talk about not being able to save the world, we could hardly save ourselves from that vacuum of humanitarian justice.