Dan has been waiting twenty years to step foot in infamous India, and to finally experience firsthand the culture, music, color, food, spirituality, utter chaos, and pure magic. We both feel that one cannot wear the true badge of “world traveler” until this country has become a part of your history and understanding. We did however question if it was the right place to bring young children, for all of our fears about sickness and health. We knew that the sights of poverty and poor sanitation would be shocking to us all, but strongly felt that this might be the best lesson for empathy, and gratitude for what we have.
As I write this almost three weeks into our expedition, there are NO REGRETS. Although traveling with children has changed our typical backpacker style to that of “flashpacker” (def. older, slightly higher budget, lots of technology), in order to ease some of the transport hassles and ensure cleaner, more comfortable accommodation, we still cannot (nor want to) shelter our kids from some of the harsher realities of Indian street life.
As we had our first taxi ride to our Delhi hotel in the backpacker’s ghetto of Paharganj, it was quite apparent that we were in for a new and eye-opening experience. Immediately assaulted by honking horns, dense traffic, beggars at the windows, cows and pigs roaming freely, foul smells of burning trash and sewage , under sweet incense and exotic spices. I kept trying to gauge Stella and Gabriel’s responses. I expected more shock, and possibly fear, but they took the new, all in stride, proving their better adaptability to challenging environments.
On our first morning, Dan had to brave the streets in search of a sim card for our phone, and Gabriel was eager to join him. They came back with tales of playing Frogger in streets full of cows, autos, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and fellow pedestrians. My courage and enthusiasm to venture into the streets had to grow gradually, as each excursion into the smoky mayhem would leave me exhausted and desiring a quick return to the solitude and quiet of our room. Now I look at Delhi as the training ground. The kind of city that makes me think of Frank Sinatra’s tune, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere”. By our fourth day exploring the many sites, spread out in opposite directions of this large and sprawling city, I had finally begun to understand how to master the stress. You have to pace yourself, slow down, and counter each drama-filled journey with a locale of peace and beauty. As you will see from many of the photos below, the amazing architecture of India’s proud forts, monuments, and temples are irresistible. These are places of refuge from the chaos of the streets, and are well-attended, with manicured lawns, constant sweeping, and an absence of excessive trash.
Jama Masjid (Mosque):
One of the highlights of our Delhi stay, was meeting up with Rishi and Karan (Shishir), two tech guys who handled all of our computer woes at Airtreks. They took us to several different bars and eateries, giving us insight into Delhi culture and food. Under their guidance, we sampled street vendor sweets and savories, ate lots of tandoori chicken, and drank copious amounts of beer and whiskey (all with the kids in tow). They helped convince us to stay in a calmer neighborhood of India (Green Park) with better access to the impressive metro. They checked in with us through our short visit to make sure we were doing well, and also suggested that we visit Akshardham Temple, a Disney-like, Hindu complex of elaborate temples, fountains, and exhibitions about the life of Swaminarayan. This showpiece included animatronic storytelling, boat rides akin to the “Pirates of the Caribbean”, a movie, and THE BEST outdoor water/light show after sunset about Hindu Gods. Unfortunately, as a strictly “spiritual” destination, no cameras/photos are allowed. We had to go through a strict Fort-Knox security check to even enter.
I had one rough point, which nearly broke me. We had just visited Humayun’s Tomb, and were in search of a shrine, famous for the Sufis that sing mystical Islamic devotions at sunset. This took us into a slum-like, labyrinth bazaar of crumbling and poorly built concrete buildings, and down a narrow lane of butcher shops. Chopped chicken parts were scattered over dirty tables and wood blocks, swarming with flies, with open sewers running directly below. The smell of excrement and filth, coupled with the deep socket, dark stares of the destitute people, were haunting and frightening. It was dusk, and I could see clouds of mosquitoes rising before us. We had obviously gotten lost in the wrong part of this neighborhood, and it was time to flee. I clutched Stella and Gabriel and implored that we leave as soon as possible, ditching any search for ascetic music. So far that has been my darkest moment in India, and the beginning of deeper lessons to be learned about the “haves”and the “have-nots”. It also helped to concrete our decision to become vegetarians for the rest of our travels in India!