I really wanted to love India. I had read so many stories set in India that made me picture a magical, colorful, bustling world. In our first few days, we are not finding it so magical. It is definitely a place that engages all your senses, but not in a good way.
Our fist signs of trouble started at 3:00 a.m. at the airport when our flight was delayed. Not a big deal; delays happen from time to time. We got in line behind two others and waited patiently for the airline to tell us when our plane would be taking off. Right down the way from us, however, an angry mob was forming. Apparently not everyone had received the e-mail letting them know that the plane was delayed and they wanted answers. Now. As soon as the ticket counters in front of us opened, the mob rushed the counters ahead of everyone waiting patiently in line. For some reason everyone thought they needed to be the first to get tickets – like the plane would magically appear and only take those who got tickets in the next 5 minutes. They continued in this manner despite several security and airline personnel trying to get everyone to move back. We ended up having to plant ourselves in a line in order to make it to the ticket counter. Not that we needed to get tickets any sooner either, but we could only take so much pushing, elbowing, and being rammed by luggage carts.
This same scene played out all day. As we were boarding the flight everyone needed to be first. So the four of us waited until everyone else had boarded before we even attempted to get on the plane. As we landed at our first destination (Kolkata), Ty stood up and a girl seated rows behind him shoved him out of the way in order to get closer to the door, which wasn’t even open yet. Out of the airport things didn’t get any better.
When we arrived in Delhi, we got our luggage and grabbed a taxi. The driver assured us that he knew where our hotel was located. After stopping to ask for directions several times, he finally dropped us off on a crowded street and pointed us down a dark alley. Our mistake was taking his word for it. And then we fell for the, “Hi, I know where it is, let me show you…” and we were led blocks away to a tourist office. Ray and I both knew we were being led astray, but at that point, there wasn’t much we could do. We were at least hoping to get a map. Someone in the tourist office did the same thing… “I know a better place, let me show you…” and led us to another office. And then, my phone that had ceased working in Thailand and Myanmar suddenly came to life. Thankfully I had charged it the night before. I was able to map the address and walk right to the hotel, which ended up being a couple blocks beyond where the taxi had dropped us down a little path called “slum alley.” Little did I know at this point that my international SIM card rates were $15 per MB in India. Thank goodness it is a pre-pay plan!
Ray and I took a walk later that afternoon to try to get SIM cards for our phones. We stopped at one store that sold cards and the person there tried to take us two block out of the way. Once we realized his store was not “right around the corner,” we turned around and ignored his protests. The second store we stopped at wanted to charge us 1500 rupees (about $23) for a SIM card that appeared to be expired. Finally, we found a place that gave us a reasonable rate for two SIMs and enough data to last us the short time we are here.
We are not strangers to being stared at. We stand out a bit in Asian countries for a variety of reasons. In India the stares don’t feel like mere curiosity; they feel angry. Like we are intruders in this place. And those who don’t see us as intruders only see walking dollar signs. People here do not ask where you’re from to be friendly; they ask to get you talking in order to see what they can get from you. The worst part is the kids. Small children come up to you and beg you for food. And even when you say no, they follow you and keep begging for blocks. We have found ourselves ignoring people and not making eye contact. Our friendly, outgoing manner has turned cold.
To top it all off, Ray has come down with Delhi-belly, a term he scoffed at when I first mentioned it.
With all that has gone wrong, we are still trying to experience the good that India has to offer. Our hotel will arrange travel for us, albeit with a bit of a markup. At this point, though, we are willing to pay a little extra in order to avoid all the scams. Tomorrow we have a car and driver for the day to take us to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Right now, looks like only three of us will make it there.