Down in Delhi (but NOT out)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Well that makes FOUR. Four big, important, hard to replace items that are no longer with me. First was the computer – you may recall that I unintentionally stabbed it with a fork in Copenhagen. Then I left my wallet in the Barcelona metro. Smart. Very recently, my camera spontaneously stopped working. Now, it’s my beloved Palm Centro cell phone. I’ve said it before, but it was a really important bit of kit. It wasn’t just a phone, it was my calendar, address book, notepad, packing list, currency converter, alarm clock and backup camera. There’s a bit of a story about its demise, but let’s start at the beginning.

It was another night of overnight travel. I know all these nights on trains, buses, ferries and planes take their toll, but often it’s the only way, and I flew again with Emirates, so things were generally as comfortable as can be expected. I had a reasonable layover in Dubai and bought a new camera, a Panasonic DMC-TZ7, which I’m growing quite fond of. And my arrival in Delhi and cab ride out of the airport was relatively smooth and easy. I stayed the first night with my friend Patti, who’s joining me for the India-Nepal leg of the trip. She was staying with the father of a friend of hers, and he’d generously offered the room to me as well. I fetched up at the door around 11:00 am, and spent the next few hours in a sort of pleasant daze. Tired, a bit disoriented, making small talk, drinking chai, and sorting through the treats from home that Patti brought me (New, roomier pants! Long underwear! Gloves! A replacement sink stopper! And even a few un-asked-for gifts).

Me and our host, Sharma

Later that afternoon we ventured out into Delhi to meet another of Patti’s friends - Non. We took the metro for an hour to get into the centre of town, which gives you an idea of how far out we were staying. It was a pleasant afternoon – we got some food and beer (yay!), and after dark we walked around an area full of narrow streets lined with shops, hawkers, street food vendors. It was really crowded, as is all of Delhi (and, in fact, all of India). At one point a couple of young boys bumped in between me and Non and I recognized immediately that they were pickpockets jostling for the wallet in his back pocket. I was standing right behind him and saw it all so I smacked the kid and he and his sidekick veered off. It made me feel like quite the smug, savvy traveler but stay tuned and you shall soon see how pride goeth before the fall.

The next morning we had an interesting cab ride down to the Good Times Hotel, where we were to join our Intrepid tour group. Even though we called a legitimate, reputable cab company, we still ended up with a driver who clearly had his own agenda. He seemed a bit hesitant about the location of the hotel, even though we had very good information, and then he had to stop for fuel. Shortly after that he tried to feed us a standard cabbie/hotel scam. This normally happens at airports when you tell the driver the name of the hotel you’re heading for and he claims it is closed, under renovation, full, demolished or otherwise unavailable. Luckily for you though, he knows a good place where he can take you (and then get a kick-back on the inflated price of your room). Our cabbie started to mumble something about how he’d got a call from our hotel manager, which was such an absurd claim that it was kind of sad. Patti and I both saw through it immediately, and were on our guard after that. It took some very firm words, a phone call to Sharma, and a suspiciously long time, but we eventually made it in time to bolt down some lunch and join the group.

The group is small – only five in total – which is unusal. Other than me and Patti, there’s Adam, Sheila and her son Jono. All three of them are Australian, and our group leader is a friendly and knowledgeable young Indian guy named Akshay. It’s nice being in such a small group, there’s a lot less waiting around for people, and we can travel a lot quicker. Happily, as is usually the case with these kind of tours, everyone is friendly and interesting, so it looks like it will be a pleasant few weeks.

After our group meeting we headed out on the metro for a tour through old Delhi. We took cycle rickshaws from the metro station to the biggest mosque in the city, and then delved into the narrow streets of Old Delhi. Akshay was pretty good at keeping us alive, but the volume of traffic – pedestrians, biclycles, cycle rickshaws and motorcycles – was so heavy that it would have been really easy to get run over. So of course, I did. It wasn’t a big deal – just the hard front tire of a delivery bicycle that ran over the side of my right foot. But I was wearing sandals, and the tire also managed to glance off my still-tender, possibly-formerly-sprained little toe, so I was a lot more cautious after that.

This is a wide, spacious and uncrowded version of the street where I got run over. Picture this one third the width, with two-way traffic, shops spilling into the streets and pedestrians on both sides.

We stopped for a snack at a very authentic hole-in-the wall place where we tried parantha, a type of stuffed bread cooked on a grill. It’s not normally stuffed, but this place was one of only two or three – all in Old Delhi – where they’d mix things in with the dough before cooking. For 30 rupee (about 60 cents), Patti and I shared a plate with an assortment of sauces and chutneys with varying levels of explosiveness, and a mixed veg parantha. It was quite good, and left us ready for dessert, something India (unlike the Middle East) does very very well. Our next stop was a famous sweet shop, where we loaded up on a wide selection of treats, some of which we tried right away, and some we saved for the train trip the next morning.

Unexpectedly, the most fun and interesting stop of the afternoon was our visit to a Sikh temple. Each Sikh Temple – called a Gurdwara – is open to anyone of any caste, religion, gender or nationality. Everyone must take off their shoes and cover their heads before entering. We had a quick look at the central prayer area, but the best part was when we visited the community kitchen, called the Pangat. As explained in a pamphlet we picked up:

The two important features of a Gurdwara are the Sangat – the congregations and the Pangat – Community Kitchen, also known as Guru-Ka-Langar. This community kitchen is meant for providing food to all the devotees, pilgrims and visitors. It is a symbol of equality, fraternity and brotherhood. It is there that the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the kings and paupers, all share the same food sitting together in one row. The kitchen in run by the common contributions of the Sikhs. The institution of Langar (common kitchen) is instrumental in creating social equality among the whole mankind.

The fun part was actually visiting the kitchen. We got to try rolling chapatis with the other women volunteering, and I even spent a bit of time at the chapati grill, armed with a steel implement, trying to keep up with flipping the chapati at the right time, and then transferring them to the special grill where they puffed up and got that nice char. And we visited the communal dining area and had a bit of chai. It was a really nice visit, and it was fun that most everybody just dived in and tried things.

A woman at the chapati grill in the Sikh temple’s community kitchen.

After the temple it was time to head back to the hotel, so we piled into the metro again. It was rush hour by this time and the whole place was crammed. In the Delhi metro you have to go through a metal detector and a pat-down every time you enter a station. They have separate lines for men and women, and on this occasion the line for the men was so long it stretched up the stairs and towards the street, I suspect there were a thousand men in line, and that was just at one entrance to one station. The women’s line was very short, so Patti and Sheila and I breezed through and waited for Akshay, Adam and Jono on the other side. (The ratio of men to women was interesting indication of exactly how few women are part of the 9-5 work force in Delhi.)

Rush hour above ground.

When we lined up to get onto our train the crush of people was astounding. And when the doors opened people just kept cramming themselves into the car. Patti and I got in and I can’t believe the number of people who were able to squeeze in behind us. It’s hard to describe how tightly packed we were (in fact I tried to write that last sentence three or four times before I gave up). It was actually a bit fun, and Patti and I laughed and joked and eventually we made it to our destination and headed out into the night.

That’s when I reached down to my pocket and realized my cell phone wasn’t there. It’s always there. I go for that pocket a hundred times a day to check to time, or make a note, or look up a currency conversion. I couldn’t quite believe it – I checked my other pockets, and my daypack, but deep down I knew it was gone. It must have happened on the train – it was so crowded that there would have been no way I’d notice someone getting at my side pocket. Even though the pocket was snapped shut and the extra zipper I put in was closed the ride was long enough and I was distracted enough that someone managed to grab it. At least that’s what I suspect happened but I’ll never really know. I guess it’s possible that I left it somewhere, or dropped it, or something. Probably not though.

So it was a sad, angry walk back to the hotel. And every time I remembered something else that device did for me, I was sad and angry all over again. Most of the information in it is backed up in my computer, which is a big relief, but I did lose hundreds or text message conversations that I enjoyed going back and reading, and I lost some sound recordings that I’d made as well that meant a lot to me.

So what now? I have a few choices. I can buy a cheap phone just for India and toss it away in a week; that would cost about $40. Or, I could hit eBay and order an exact replica of the phone I lost. This would be easiest, mean an almost seamless transition, and cost a very reasonable $150. But more and more I’m thinking about upgrading. I’d kind of promised myself a new fancy phone gadget at the end of the trip anyways, so I wonder it makes sense to just get it now. Gadget lust is coursing through my veins and I’m spending a lot of time cruising eBay for unlocked iPhones. I haven’t ordered anything yet, but it may be inevitable.

For now though, I’m just living without. Patti’s Blackberry is our alarm clock, and I’m wearing my running watch so I can tell the time, and taking notes with a pen, and reconstructing my packing list on paper. Now that I’m getting used to it, I think I may just stay unplugged for the next two weeks. But the whole thing left me kind of jittery – especially the following morning. I was paranoid about my stuff, and suddenly everyone and everywhere seemed really unsafe and dodgey. And I have to admit that dealing with the logistics of replacing another important piece of gear while on the road is tiring. I guess it was too much to think I could travel like I am for a whole year without losing something in this way, and I suppose I should be grateful that both my passports are still with me, and that I’m now experienced with overcoming these little hurdles.

But enough about my woes. I’m in India, and it’s just as big and noisy and squalid and colourful and spicy and smelly and incredible as everyone says. So screw you pickpocket!* I’m determined to have fun here, and you can’t wreck that.

* When I emailed my friend Karen about the incident that evening she promptly wrote back and asked if I wanted to send the guy a nasty text message. So she wrote him and told him he sucks. And he does.


Karen said...

Don't let it get you down. A new phone will make its way into your hands soon enough. Enjoy the noise, colour, smell and spice of India.

The text message to said pickpocket was this...

"You stole Pam's phone and you suck."

Lisa said...

Excellent!!! Karen you rock!

And Pam you are so full of positive energy it's hard to feel down when you are around, or when I read your blog!

Global Granny said...

Hey there Pam - I've been enjoying following your many adventures, and glad to see you're finally in India 'cuz...

I too am planning a goodly peek at that part of the world (India, Nepal, Bhutan and especially Bangladesh) come winter and...

I'm sorely tempted to likewise join an Intrepid tour for at least part of my wanderings. Indeed, I'm guessing you're presently embarking on Intrepid's "Delhi to Kathmandu" (Original style) trip, yes?

While I've long been a passionate SOLO travelin' lass, I'm very impressed with both Intrepid's travel style as well as their travel philosophy.

Then again, I'm now leaning (again) back towards winging it for a month or two on my own, so... needless to say, I'll be watching your every move now! ;)

P.S. Oh, and about that phone - LOL on the text message to the idiot who may have swiped it and...

Seriously - it might just turn out to be a blessing to travel awhile unplugged (leastwise from a phone), no?

Kim said...

ditto Lisa,
Karen Rocks!

Still following Pam. Way to go!

Unknown said...

Maybe you will find that the phone loss is a bessing in disguise.

What's with all the hoo-haa everytime something gets lost or broken? You should expect it on such a long trip.

Wait until the day someone steals all of your laundry!!

Have fun in India....


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