Words by: Mitchell Petit-Frere
Photos by: Oscar Diaz
I’m typing this very sentence in bed at The Nitesh Hotel in Delhi. It’s 9:20pm local time and I’m operating on something between traveler’s adrenaline and the desire to express an unforgettable first day in India. (*disclaimer* this post went up the following morning)
Our journey started Saturday night with a 12-hour flight from JFK to Dubai — where we endured an 8-hour layover — before catching a roughly 3-hour flight to Delhi. We landed in India around 10am local time Monday morning.
But let me tell you, for all that exhausting travel, our first full day in the country was well worth the wait. After going through customs, baggage claim and exchanging currency, the 7 of us who traveled on the same flight together (Oscar arrived much earlier and checked in the hotel hours before we touched down in India) were greeted by a representative from the travel agency who set up our accommodations. We were then whisked into a large, white van with a spacious interior, a steering wheel on the right-hand side of the vehicle and a friendly non-English speaking driver named Monu. Monu was tasked with taking us on our first ride through Delhi en route to our hotel.
That first ride will stick with me forever because of the countless jaw-dropping moments triggered by the things I saw looking out my window.
As soon as we made our way off the highway and into Delhi’s streets, a woman walked straight up to our stuck-in-standstill-traffic van — probably liking her chances of swindling a group of starry-eyed foreigners — and tapped on our windows, trying to convince us to buy the balloons she was selling. We respectfully declined her offer.
But that’s just an isolated example. The more provocative personifications of life in Delhi came via trends. Trends such as men urinating on the sides of the road (I think our count got as high as 8 or 9); constant car beeping that puts NYC to shame; a diverse mix of buses, vans, cars, motorcycles, tut tuts, bicycles and pedestrians navigating the roads; the flocks of people “picnicking” on open patches of green land, whether off a highway or in the middle of the city; the absence of fear illustrated in the bodies of mothers and children as they ride on fathers’ motorcycles; and the overlapping dispersement of obvious poverty and obvious wealth.
The Delhi trends I witnessed today made me want more. The unabashed nature of the city’s inhabitants was intoxicating. So, when Monu couldn’t immediately find our hotel during that first van ride and ended up prolonging the drive, I was ecstatic because it meant I had more time to stare out the window at a city so uniquely and refreshingly in tune with its chaos.
Here’s to Delhi for welcoming us to India with such distinctive charm.
This morning, at 7am, we’re headed off to Agra to explore the Taj Mahal. Until next post…
p.s. A special thank you to Heena, the person who booked all of our accommodations and travel arrangements, for making the experience that inspired this blog post possible.