India: From Beijing to New Delhi

After my wonderful trip to India in Feb 2015, I hit rock bottom. I had a work accident which broke my right hand and I was hospitalized. Then, my favorite colleague left and I nearly died in a car crash during work. Office politics+ bitchery + unfairness made me realize the dark attention seeking and childish side of journalism. I was sleep-deprived. I went to work hating the atmosphere and I cried as I ate lunch outside the Second Ring Road in Beijing. I was like a zombie- soul-less.I lost my passion for traveling and I gave up on writing but since I’m alive and that bullshit is a thing in the past now, it is definitely time to catch up and re-live the good moments so that I know just how easy it is to feel sad and how hard it is to be happy.  So, this is a very late post.

5 to 6 February, 2015

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 I always wanted to see India with my own eyes and never thought that I’ll get to see her due to a special wedding invitation. Life should be filled with happiness and when someone invites you to attend one, then this kind gesture deserves a quick reply. Since it was held in India, I jumped at the opportunity. The visa process was an ordeal. I received my passport in the very last minute…exactly 12 hours before the flight and 1 hour before the closing time of the Indian Embassy in Beijing. With the visa in my hand, I couldn’t contain my joy since I was on my way to my final destination. In a few days, I’ll lay my eyes on the Taj Mahal and be wooed by the colors of India. After a chat with the friendly China Eastern Flight Crew, there I was: 9pm, New Delhi (Hindi: दिल्ली, Urdu: دلّی, Punjabi: ਦਿੱਲੀ).

“Be careful! You are a girl traveling alone in the ‘City of Rape’, you need to be careful”

My friend’s warning echoed at the back of my head as I made my way towards the metro station- much easier than I’ve imagined it to be. Quick and efficient. I was re-directed by the confused policemen to the female lane where a police woman went through my backpack and checked me. Hmm…tight security.20150205_195522 One minute I was telling a staff at the Indian Embassy to quit yelling at me, the next I was on the flight to India and now, I’m inside the Metro staring out into the pitch dark city they call New Delhi- the capital of India and yes… unfortunately the City of Rape or the Rape Capital due to the countless and continuous media reports of local girls and foreigners being raped and sexually harassed. The chattering and noise hit me hard. I am now a part of this huge metropolis of some 15 million people. The metro came to a halt and I got off along with the locals. An up-and-coming Zostel Hostel (guesthouse chain) in Delhi came to pick me up after finding out that I was traveling alone. The manager stayed in touch with me along the way and asked me to “stay inside the Metro station and stand next to the guards.”  I didn’t feel unsafe since as soon as I got off, the Metro guards asked who is coming to pick me up and wanted me to stay inside with them. That was very nice of them indeed.

Before long, Zostel Hostel came and we took the tuktuk to the guesthouse. It was a long and dark ride and the fist sights and sounds: cows, cargo, garbage on the streets, treat vendors, roads not exactly in the best conditions and chaos. It was not a good night of sleep since noise was constant throughout the night but oh well- this is India.

Work starts for some people at 5am so lots of chattering woke me up. I had a taste of the inefficiency of Indian bureacracy when the cab that I called for failed to show up on time. I know I would save money and time if I went alone but I was willing to give this new social initiative a try: Sakha Cabs.   First reported in local news, the goal is to provide safe transportation for women. Female drivers for female passengers. There are taxi services as well as female chauffeurs. These women on wheels provide an alternative for a lone female traveller like myself and it was great.Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.51.11 PM

Omkari, a mother of two and a driver for 2 years took me around the huge city. We took a stroll around Connaught Place (CP).  British-designed and very colonial, it is two concentric rings divided into blocks of shops, cafe and lots of pigeons and scammers.

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Then, we headed to Parliament and the Ministry area before stopping at India Gate. Built as a memorial for fallen soldiers who perished in WW1, the eternal flame reminds people of the past. Yet  history repeats itself and wars are easier to create than peace.

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With Omkari at the India Gate

There were lots of people there- mostly locals along with groups of school children. Omari acted as my guide and insisted that I try some local snacks. We bought a few and I was about to eat it when Omkari bursted into rage and started pointing and yelling at the guy by the food stand. She was very angry.

“What happened Omkari?” I asked

“Sorry dear, don’t get angry  but he said something very rude about Chinese. Sorry,” she replied.

Well….this is not the first time that I ran into some racist attack and it won’t be the last. I appreciate Omkari’s help and know that NOT every Indian think like that. I would have totally kicked his skinny ass but whatever, I was too busy eating the yummy snack.  (NOTE: For those with a weak and sensitive belly, keep in mind:Delhi Belly = diarrhoea )

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The nicer food stand owners

Although Delhi deserves much exploration, my attention was placed on the Taj Mahal, the wedding and Rajasthan- by far the BEST region in India! The train station is small and less intimidating however it is not very traveller friendly since nothing was in English and there was no public timetable.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.49.23 PMI had no idea which platform my train is at so I walked inside the office and was eventually guided by a group of officers who asked: ” Just by yourself?” Trains are a great way to see the country and I am certainly glad that railway exists in India. Although labour cost is low in India, infrastructure still needs to be improved.

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Old platform but just the way I like it

I sat next to a very generous man from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Mr Bali is a consultant with two married daughters and a son working as a Doctor in Germany. He saw me taking photos and watching the illegal colonies with fascination.

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The illegal colonies and the people who call it home

I saw him reading a newspaper and then a great conversation about life to travel to India and China commenced over biscuits and popcorn. Some stuff that were discussed – Chinese food especially chow-mien is very popular in India – Educated people don’t have a lot of kids while those in rural areas do – Boys are still preferred and girls provide dowry which leads to female foeticide/infanticide – Public schools teach local language while private schools teach English – There are more young people in India than China hence a challenge that is faced by China is a shrinking labour force – You only get pension if you work and put money into it – Lots of protests and demonstrations due to tomorrow being the election day for Delhi Assembly.

When Mr Bali found out that I was invited to attend a wedding, he asked me to pay careful attention to the rituals and of course gave me a piece of advice about relationships and marriage: ” Sometimes people make promises when they have no intention of keeping it so don’t even start then.  If you ever find someone, cherish it and always be truthful.” A couple of hours into the train ride, Mr Bali drifted off to sleep and I found myself thinking about the country and writing down everything that I’ve observed and read from the newspaper into my diary. Such a wonderful feeling really- when you a)  have the courage to venture into the heart of that unchartered land  b) willing to get down with the people and c) put whatever pre-conceived thoughts aside and learn to see things from multiple perspectives. This is however, easier said than done and no doubt, it requires an open mind.

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Love the color and satellite dishes at these ‘illegal’ colonies

The Express Train arrived in Jaipur at around 10:40pm- Ab ki baar? (This time?) The owner of the Sharhar Palace, situated opposite of the 5 Star Hotel and venue of Wendy and Saurabh’s wedding, came to pick me up.

“Welcome to our ‘express’ train. Quick journey huh?” said the owner sarcastically. In India, express trains and normal ones are no different. It was late and as I waited in the little registration room, I couldn’t help but walk around to admire the statues , certificates and military photos. A cough and a deep “Sit!” broke my train of thoughts.

I looked up and saw a middle-aged man in an army uniform with a huge notebook and pen under his arms. Mr Grey Beard didn’t smile at all. “What is your name? How old are you? Nationality? Purpose of trip?”

I felt like I was being scrutinized. Then, I remembered the photo and the year which coincides with the time when India and Pakistan went to war with each other so I cheekily grinned at the stern colonel and replied:

” All information sent to you by email Sir. Purpose: attend wedding and mission: dance well at my friend’s wedding Sir! Bollywood style Sir YES Sir!”

There was a moment of awkward silence then he bursted out laughing.

“Sorry dear, old habits die hard. Very good observation ! Ha ha…Now,  enjoy your time”

Random Observations and Odd Facts

  • Delhi is said to be one of the oldest existing cities in the world. There are two more- Jerusalem and Varanasi.
  • Delhi have been built and destroyed 11 times.
  • Population will only increase due to waves of urbanization. Population density in 2011 is 9340/km2 then after a year, that figure is up to 11320/km2. Such changes will no doubt affect public spending on water, electricity, medial services, healthcare and education and more.  
  • One cannot ignore India’s awareness and the importance attached to reducing poverty but inequality still exists.
  • Rape cases, assaults, dowry and honor killings are common so women’s right is still a working progress. 
  • There are a total of 1639 unauthorised illegal colonies (slums) due to housing shortages and many form along the railway tracks. These slums and mini-communities pops up like hives dangling from the branches of Delhi’s moving train tracks.  
  • The newspaper said that the Central Government has made great achievements int he past 8 months by dropping petrol and diesel prices. They also distributed 80 lakh led bulbs, increased employee salary, gave cheques to families of the 1984 Riot victims, construct homes for the homeless, boost security and safety for women  and improve social services

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