It’s hard to believe we’ve only been in India for 10 days, as in fact we left Austin six weeks ago and have been on the road ever since, to Cleveland, Philly, New York, Cape Cod (beautiful wedding, Jonathan and Tyler!), New Jersey, and London.
We flew into Delhi last Tuesday, and spent the first day walking around a soggy city in a jet-lagged daze. Delhi was like a high school student who waited until the last minute to write his term paper and was pulling an all-nighter. It seemed that everywhere all over the city people were frantically getting ready for the Commonwealth Games–painting curbs, putting in sidewalks where there was mud and dirt, and generally trying to tidy up. Connaught Place was a mess of construction. It seemed a little shabby, truth be told. But I also feel for them, as they had an unprecedented amount of rain for the past few months, and even the skyscrapers somehow looked mossy and waterlogged. (Read about the corruption and incompetence behind the games here and here.)
The next few days, we walked as much as we could possibly manage, all the while being hassled by rickshaw wallahs. One thing that saddened my textile-loving heart was seeing the Craft Museum in a flooded and muddy state. All those beautiful textiles, without any climate control to preserve them and water dripping here and there, with guards nodding off and not a single other tourist in the place. I know that India is in an economic growth spurt (8% a year), but can’t they spare a little cash for cultural heritage?
Embarrassingly, in Delhi I also had my first tourist breakdown. I needed some rupees, so thinking myself prudent, went to the 24-hour Citibank ATM. What could be suspect about a Citibank ATM? 24-hour international banking at its finest. I requested 10,000 rupees (about 220 dollars) and the machine started chugging and grinding like it was going to deliver the goods, when suddenly the screen went blank, and the whole thing went kaput. Oh, shit! Several painstaking minutes later, it rebooted itself and came back on, innocently forgetting the whole transaction. I tried again, this time checking my balance to make sure it would stay on, and it did. Then I suggested a mere 5000 rupees, and once again the machine made noises like it was going to relent, and then–digitus interruptus–went blank again. NO!!!!!!!
I was in full-on panic and paranoia at this point, and before even being able to think, starting wrestling with the machine, sticking my hand in the little slot before it had a chance to close, feeling some bills in there, but they weren’t coming out. Then I lost it. Thinking the whole thing a scam, I started yelling, Jeff was holding the little slot door open, the guard came running in yelling at me to stop and desist, and I was screaming, “THAT’S MY MONEY!!! IT’S GOT MY MONEY!!!” Bill by excruciating bill, I pulled the money out, ripping some in the process, bills falling on the ground, me continuing to act like a madwoman, the guard having given up and now regarding me with a mix of fear and amusement. I finally heard laughter behind me, and turned around to see a group of Indians gathered and watching through the glass partition, howling at the crazy American woman, who seemed to be obsessed with getting her damned money out. At first I was incensed, then just started laughing myself.
After several trips to the Citibank office, and some emails to my bank in Austin, the whole thing got sorted out. They did charge me for the first withdrawal, but then credited me back. Somewhere, I hope to god there isn’t a surveillance camera video of the crazy American that has been posted on the Indian internet and gone viral. Not my most dignified moment.
After an action-packed drive to Jaipur (I swear it’s like being inside a video game, what with all the swerving and honking and general disregard for lanes), we took our first dusty walk to find food, and got promptly overwhelmed by the madness ensuing all around us. The city seems dirtier than I remember it, and more congested, though still essentially a small town. It seems as if there is more poverty here than when I was here 5 years ago, but all around is evidence of apparent “growth”–though for whom, I’m not sure. New, weirdly designed buildings are sprouting up, concrete foundations with sticks for scaffolding and barefoot workers up high attached to absolutely nothing. (Also – welders all over the place without any eye protection. OSHA would have a field day!)
Even with the chaos, I am so happy to be here. The smell of India is a constantly shifting aroma, pleasing one minute and foul the next. The hotel we are in is a lovely solace from the city, with a lawn and a patio and veg restaurant. Even though we are in a budget hotel, I appreciate the smallest amenity and feel grateful (though a little guilty) to be in a sparkling clean place with comfortable chairs and a real shower.
The City Palace in the old, pink part of the city is a case study in beauty, pattern, and proportion. I will defer to the photos of them rather than try to describe them in writing, as I’m currently running out of steam and must sleep soon.
More to come…