I officially have 10 days left in India. I didn't get to do as much as I wanted but I realize now that my purpose wasn't to do what I wanted but rather what was needed. I got a sense of closure from that. Sometimes travelers go somewhere and aren't able to see the things they wanted to see. Maybe their journey takes them where they need to be. Wants and needs are two separate beasts and if you don't feed the wants, the needs will show you some pretty amazing stuff.
Where do I start with Delhi. Heat is obvious as it is always hot here. The saving grace is the rain. When it rains for just a bit, its like Delhi gets a well deserved bath and you can begin to appreciate the city again. Everybody said, "Get out of Delhi, its ugly" and to be honest that is probably why I stayed so long. I am ugly just like Delhi in some ways and was able to still see the beauty here amidst all the filth. The history far outweighs the bad of this city.
When you get here, get a sim card for your phone. Wifi is just becoming a thing here and there are times when a good map will save your sanity. To get a sim card you can go to any cell phone operator here, Vodafone, Airtel, aircell. Airtel is the first to have 4G/LTE here in India. Costs are relatively the same among all the carriers. There is a lot of competition and prices remain relatively low. I paid around $10 for a month of service and that gave me 2gigs of internet when needed. The internet is spotty at best. H+ down to edge just by walking 10 feet, but again, when you have some late nights back from shopping its nice to know that you can rely on the maps and see how to get home. In order to get cell service (prepaid) here in india, you will need a passport, a passport photo, a local residence and a number from someone who can vouch for you. The initial set up for me was 655 rupees and then 455 for the refills (I didn't use talk/text so data was key for me). It takes 24 hours to activate the service so be patient and find some wifi.
Whatsapp. When you activate said cell service, make sure you download this app. It may not be your favorite messaging app, but here in India I would be sufficed to say that about 100% of smartphone users use this app for communicating and calling. The calling feature on whatsapp is sorely underused and offers better quality that the local cell calls and is cheaper per call to use. VOIP will be where it is at with technology here in the next few years. I used whatsapp for everyone. Hangouts is still my go to, but whatsapp seems to be king/queen here.
Slow down and take your time: When you get here to Delhi, as fast paced as it seems with Tuk Tuks every 10 feet, and busses and cars in between, take time to find the beauty here. Amidst the poverty, litter on the streets and chaotic driving, there are some beautiful moments. You can always find a park with children playing or even kids practicing to become the next best cricket player. The history here is fascinating. If you are bored in your stay its because you aren't looking hard enough. History buffs and non history buffs will find this place intriguing and chock full of knowledge. Want to see another side of the city, walk down the back alley streets at night. The lights come on and the vendors are ready to do business.
Don't be touristy, at least not alone, stay in a pack. I see lots of people walking around with super expensive cameras around their necks while they walk the alleys just by themselves. You potentially say $$$ when you do this. I lost my note 4 the 2nd week I was here and it was because I wasn't as careful as I should have been. I have heard numerous stories of people losing wallets and cameras and backpacks full of stuff. Be aware. Im not saying be paranoid, just be very aware of your surroundings. Make sure you have your hand on your wallet or in your pocket. Carry a money belt if you want to feel secure. India isn't a place to fear, but you still have to be careful.
Try to learn the language, be prepared to take lots of pictures with babies and people and learn to smile! The culture here may seem harsh, but even in the darkest alley ways a smile and a "shukriah" which is Urdu the oldest language or "Dhan'yavāda" which is Hindi, goes a long way to help put a smile on faces. Namaste works very well also. If the locals think you don't know, they will push the limits and ask for more. Make sure you know your pricing before you get into an auto. They will always ask a certain amount, cut it in half and start negotiations from there. I have found it is roughly 20 rupee a kilometer here. If its 2 kilometer to the train station, you shouldn't be paying 100 but rather 40 rupee. If they use meter is less (and soon to be norm). Regarding babies and photos, if you have light light skin and are a woman, you will be asked to photo with a million babies. Make sure to ask for 10-15 rupees a photo, this way you can start your own modeling agency (I am kidding). I was asked for lots of photos when I went to temples or local tourist attractions. It has subsided a bit now. Learn to smile and India will smile back at you. Its amazing what a smile can do to you.
Travel alone (If you have a partner, make sure you are both on the same page). I will come back to india, by myself and draw up an agenda next time. I want to have a temporary game plan, even if India is keen on changing my plans, I like to have some semblance of where I will be traveling. I was too lose this time and sometimes that freedom comes at a price of not seeing enough. Learn to be flexible. You may find that you like a place a lot more than you thought you would, so allow yourself to ebb and flow in the locations. Also, find a great place to reorganize. Many of the backpackers I met came back to delhi, particularly Stops Hostel Delhi, for the smiles the rest and the wifi (to plan their next trips).
Don't come here to find yourself! You never will. You will become more lost than when you got here. Come here to be yourself and experience a whole new world. Allow yourself to be open to customs, cultures an food that will blow your mind. Travel helps frame life. India, regardless of what you may "See or read" in the papers is about love. Love of one another, and love of country. They are prideful here and feel that India is the best country in the world. After you have been here a month, you will start to agree with them. They realize that love is the most powerful force in the world. How else could 1.2 billion people get along every day with different religions and languages and such small buses. They have healthy discussions about things and try to find resolution.
I have met amazing people volunteering here at the hostel. The travelers have shared some amazing photos of this beautiful country. I am thankful for the many conversations I have had, as well as helping those find their way around this sometimes daunting city. I have also been witness to how the hostel is growing and taking on its own form. We have had street food nights and cooking classes. Bollywood movie nights and late night conversations over Kingfisher. My new friends, Pankaj and Pallavi are lovely, funny and quintessential India. They are everything that is right with India. They love their dogs, the backpackers and most of all, the hostel(s). They are groundbreakers (or firestarters as I like to call them). People who take a chance on something that isn't proven because they know there is potential They have a great product and hire great local people. Many people in India have no clue about hostels so for my Stops family, I commend them on leaping. I have always said the greater the risk, the greater the reward. I look forward to the day they call me and tell me they have offers for X million to buy their hostels. I have made numerous friends in the hostel with the local staff and for that, I am also thankful.
In all, India has shown me her darkness and her light. She has opened my eyes to the grateful. We need more thanks and less want. The colors, sights, sounds smells and smiles will reside in my heart for years to come. I plan to come back and have her show me more of her intricacies and beauty. I have learned to listen more and talk less. I have learned that less really can be more. If you plan your time accordingly, you really can live for about 5 to 10 dollars a day (or less). I have learned that summer is not the best time to come. I have learned to be more patient and less "deserving". I have learned that life gives you what you need and not necessarily what you want. Too often we get caught up in destinations (I need to be here by 20, here by 30 and complete all this by 40) Focus more on one foot in front of the other and that "not knowing" can be just as rewarding as thinking you figured it out. It is a marathon, not a sprint
Until next time...