The first lesson that India taught me was one that lasted 56 hours and culminated in food poisoning, getting lost, losing money, and almost getting married (more on that later).
Inconsistency Creates Independence.
After travelling for 37 hours I was just 30 minutes away from landing in Delhi when “unusual” weather patterns diverted us to a city call Ahmedabad, a few hours flight away. Then, approximately 3,00ft in altitude above Ahmedabad my plane was reassigned to Mumbai (Bombay) another hour away in air time. Upon finally landing we were held aboard the plane for 8 hours on the runway as the disorganized Indian government decided what to do with us. After disembarking, we were given a choice by United Airlines, surrender our passports to Indian officials and wait in a hotel until a free flight 36 hours later, or keep our passports and buy our own tickets to our destination. For those of you who don’t know, letting go of you passport is possibly the most dangerous thing to do when travelling abroad. In addition, I had to make a train from Delhi to Agra in order to meet my friends and see the Taj Mahal the next morning. So, I contributed to the racketeering and extortion ring that is United Airlines and with the help of a woman named Deeksha, bought a ticket to Delhi. Deeksha is a 25-year-old woman from Delhi who recently completed her Masters in Business analytics at ASU in the united states. Like a guardian angel she helped me book a flight with almost no money. You see, all three credit/debit cards I had brought to India somehow wouldn’t work even though I had taken all necessary steps with my bank before I left. With about $150 in cash on my body I forked over 2/3 of it to secure my trip to Delhi. I then set about exploring Mumbai to find a phone only to discover that most of the phone stores near the airport only sold international SIM cards, not ones that would work in India. After borrowing a stranger’s phone, I called my bank only to realize that it was memorial weekend and I wouldn’t be able to access any money for 3 days. Refusing to give in to pessimism I waited the remaining 6 hours until my flight and boarded my plane with $50, no credit card, one pair of clothes, no phone, and a passport to a city where I had been unable to contact my friends.
With my incredible luck, I landed in Delhi too late to catch a train to Agra. However, Deeksha and I had grown close through our 56 hour ordeal and she invited me to her family’s home. After a harrowing drive through the streets of Delhi where traffic laws and sides of the road are all but nonexistent, I arrived. Deeksha’s father worked for the government and thanks to the benefits owned a small apartment outside of the city where his mother, wife, three children, daughter in law, and 4 grand children lived. If your counting, that’s 11 people plus one lanky white American for a grand total of 12 people in an apartment barely bigger than a dorm room in UofM’s Mary Markley hall. (Which are only several feet bigger than a standard American prison cell). Still, the Yadav’s were considered a well off family and welcomed me into their home with great excitement as I greeted them with a Namaste and bow. Deeksha translated some of what was said and was able to get me a SIM card and a taxi to drive the four hours to Agra that night.
The conversation took an interesting turn as Deeksha and I were blessed, prayed over, sprinkled with flowers, covered in incense, and each given a Bindi (the dot that represents marriage that is dyed onto the forehead). Suddenly, I began recalling snippets of my time with Deeksha that drastically changed the nature of our relationship. She had asked me “would you ever marry an Indian girl?”, “are you single?”, as well as proclaiming “I could not be happier” as the Bindi’s were placed on our heads. Taking social cues that I had failed to notice earlier it became immediately obvious as we had photos taken of the two of us that the cake I was being served was much more of a wedding cake than a friendship cake. If you are as oblivious as I am: Deeksha was being very obvious about her romantic interest in me while I was losing the signals in translation.
Suddenly realizing what was happening, I attempted to leave for my taxi, the Yadav family adamantly refused and insisted I eat with them. They offered me Chicken Vindaloo and naan and assured me that the meat was safe to eat. Let me clarify what Vindaloo is. If molten magma is rock that is super heated until it is no longer a solid, Vindaloo is the edible equivalent. As one of the hottest types of Indian food, I was less than pleased to consume such a dish on a day that had hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit. With sweat originating from every part of me, a woman who wished to be my significant other, and a family that seemed ready to adopt me I graciously thanked the Yadav’s for their help, hospitality, and not so subtle offer of marriage before embarking on my ride to Agra.
Within one hour I was sick. The conspiracy theorist in me was certain the Yadav’s had poisoned my chicken for not marrying Deeksha, but the reality was that the chicken was likely not safe for a westerner to eat anyway. After arriving in Agra and finding my hostel I finally made contact with my friends via cellphone and discovered they were still in Delhi. Hearing about my predicament the kindly hostel owner offered me a beer which he said would cure the infamous “Delhi Belly” that foreigners often get. It didn’t. While I am tempted to share the details of the incredible liquid weight loss I underwent that night I am sure that many of you could never look at me the same again so I will leave you with this. Combine the worst food poisoning you can imagine with and Indian toilet; a hole in the floor with no toilet paper. Yeah, let your imagination tackle that one for a while.
Early the next morning my friends arrived and I was on the verge of tears as they handed me cold water. I hydrated, and immediately dehydrated myself on the side of the road as I realized my symptoms had not yet subsided. So, no food, no water, and a temperate 108-degree day we experienced one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.
For those of you reading this blog with an interest in what India is like I will disappoint you in this instance. For one of the few times in my life I failed to come up with any words to describe the beauty I saw as I struggled not to pass out or vomit on one of the greatest creations in human history. Composed of all marble that was delivered by elephant with Gold toppings and billions of pounds of jewels imbedded into its surface, the Taj mahal appears translucent and seems to glow different colors with the light of the sun. While the love story associated with the Taj is one that Nicolas Sparks wishes he patented, the beauty of the Taj lies in its size, symmetry, quality, and sheer dominance over every other structure I have seen in my entire life. I wont write anymore on this topic, but I will say, of all of my travels Taj Mahal is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and almost brought tears to my eyes.
With sweat on our brows, water in our hands, and backpacks on our backs Madi, Aaruran, and I made our way to Mathura, a town with iconic religious temples. Having been accustomed to cows, monkeys, cripples, and various animals wandering the streets we scoured the city on foot and toured beautiful temples taking pictures that I hope to include in this or a future post. Able to finally stomach some Naan bread we arrived at the Air BNB we had rented for 19$.
If you’ve ever seen the movie the Evil Dead, our room was worse than that infamous cabin of doom. Trash and ashes littered the floor, most of the lights were out except for a mysterious pink mood light attached over the shared bed, and the bathrooms had raw sewage in the “fecal buckets” as I’ll call them. We never even entered the kitchen because the mold, rust, and possibility of dangerous animals was so high. With power frequently going out in India we spent a night trying not to drown in our own sweat or hallucinate on our malaria medication. Both endeavors failed.
Today we journey to Jaipur, the “pink city” of jewels known for its Ivory and source of marble that was used to complete the Taj Mahal.
Surprisingly, I have not cried, not broken down, not even panicked. Everyone cannot believe that I was able to go through such an ordeal so calmly but I’ll let you in on a little secret, I was in a cold sweat about 50% of the time. What got me through it was the fact that I discovered my own strength, perseverance, and character in a way I had never though possible. India is many things, beautiful, dirty, impoverished, socialist, corrupt and many others. But it is not consistent. While that has the potential to be frustrating, the inconsistency and its hardships are some of most formative challenges I have ever encountered and trace back to the self-discovery I talked about in my last post.
Please do not think me pretentious, my travel is still easy compared to the daily lives of many Indians, yet I do not wish the last 3 days of travel, no food, marriage propositions, and sickness on anyone.
I can know say (now that I can keep down bland foods and water) that the Yadav’s, Taj Mahal, my illness, the country of India, and the sick tyranny of United Airlines (my yelp review is going to be scathing) are all a part of my life that I am incredibly thankful for and will never forget.
I hope to post again soon, for now keep chasing the frontier in your own lives and remember that the challenges you face will show you how strong and capable you are.
With misspellings, grammatical errors, an attempted engagement, and a nauseous urge for a bathroom yet again,