In preparation for our trip, I didn’t prepare a thing. I bought a Time Out India book that I glanced at exactly once; otherwise, I took full advantage of John Luth’s love (need?) for planning. Most people my age have never used a travel agent or have experienced a trip in which they didn’t do the research and booking. Bring back the travel agents…or get a friend with travel planning OCD. Showing up somewhere and having things magically taken care of like you are a Kardashian is simply awesome.
What little I read about India had a strong underlying message: India is a place of extreme contrasts, unbelievable chaos and irrationality. These traits will intrigue you, exhaust you and leave you wanting more. Day One with LITS (Luth’s India Travel Service) validated my extensive research.
Day One-Friday, October 21
Ignoring jet lag and everything I learned as a cop, we set out for Old Delhi (about an hour’s drive). A quick note on the driving in India – and I will try not to harp on this but I feel a bit traumatized so it is on my mind – it is fu%#ing insane. There may not be words in the English language, or at least not in my liberal arts vocabulary, to appropriately describe what they call driving. Imagine if they handed everyone leaving a bar on New Year’s Eve a speedball, erased all the lines on the road, removed all police, added cows and rickshaws and announced a cash prize for the most aggressive driver who demonstrates mastery of their car horn. Then multiply it by ten.
We left the relative safety of our car and stepped out into a bustling market next to a 500 year old mosque. The call to prayer was blaring over speakers, causing an intense silence among the thousands of Muslims who were streaming past us. We were the only six Westerners within sight. My goal to feel uncomfortable was quickly being realized.
We spent the afternoon visiting the mosque, eating at Karim’s and navigating the impossibly crowded and confusing streets of Old Delhi. In a city of 20 million people, I can only describe the street scene as relentless. As we rode a rickshaw through the narrow bowels of the city, I simply couldn’t comprehend what I saw: every street, every block, every alley was wall-to-wall people, cars, motorcycles, goats, rickshaws and carts. Everyone is on the move all the time but there is no escape. It struck me that for the vast majority of these people, this is all they know and all they will ever know – a filthy, chaotic existence; however, there seemed to be a communal acceptance of their situation. Everyone and everything is always in contact with someone or something else, but the aggression or frustration that would be rampant in the US is absent.
To embrace the giant contradiction that defines India, we left Old Delhi and went to the Luths’ tailor. Technically, he makes custom shirts and suits for other people, but he is essentially employed by John given his new found addiction to custom clothing. Faced with a wall of fine fabrics, I found it incredibly difficult to get started but managed to pick out three bolts to work with. Mo’ money, mo’ problems, I guess.
We ended our first day with an amazing rooftop dinner at Wokamama. Whereas the US is obsessed with outward appearances, having money in India affords you the privilege to disappear, to insulate yourself from the reality of the streets. We left a dusty (frankly scary street) to find ourselves in an ultra-modern setting with all the comforts your could imagine.
As promised by my reading, Day One in India left me exhausted, bewildered and wanting more.