My first thought upon arriving in Delhi: This place is really hazy. Like, LA hazy. I kept hearing about the smell of the city, but I was too tired and too dazed to think anything of it. Later I would look up and ask, “What’s that burning smell?” and my mother would laugh and say, “That’s Delhi.”
My second thought: I am going to die in a traffic accident.
I know about the roads in India, but to drive on them is something altogether different. There are no traffic rules except for stopping at red lights. Everyone weaves in and out of lanes, rendering them completely pointless. All the cars, buses, motorcycles, and rickshaws are within a centimeter of each other, and you can see all the scratches and dings on their sides from how many times they’ve hit another moving vehicle.
And the honking is constant.
We received necklaces of marigold flowers when we arrived, a welcoming tradition with a religious aspect. Every time I moved I smelled them. Looking out the car window, I was motion sick within a minute, but couldn’t look away from the streets. At the airport I thought, this isn’t so different. And then we drove away from the airport.
First of all, people pass out in the middle of anywhere to nap; mostly on patches of grass. The streets are an uncanny blend of western consumerism and eastern poverty. Whenever the traffic stops, people—mostly children—come up to the cars and tap on the windows to sell toys, balloons, pieces of coconut. We even passed a dancing boy who smacked the side of the car door for money, which we knew we couldn’t give to him because of how the begging system is rigged in India.
By the time I got to the hotel I was ready to sleep for a million years. In fact, I slept for 12. Or maybe 11; we were woken around 9 by the sound of what I first thought was gunfire, then turned out to be fireworks. Across the street, a wedding was going on, and low-firing fireworks were being set off.
Weddings are a big deal.
Today we are getting over jetlag. We did leave the hotel to go shopping, since my mother wants me to have a few ready-made Indian shirts (I’ve outgrown all my old Indian clothes). Motion sick again, but chewing gum helped. This time I saw goats, cows, and dogs in the streets. Motorcycles are everywhere, and it’s a common sight to see two guys speeding away somewhere with one of them checking his smart phone. For a poverty-stricken country, India loves technology.
Interesting fact about the motorcycles, though: only men are, by law, forced to wear helmets. Women aren’t forced to wear them because it clashes with their hair and outfits. Naturally.
Also, there are pigeons. Everywhere. It’s a Hindu custom to feed pigeons, as it’s believed to cleanse you of sins you may or may not be aware of. However, it does nothing to cleanse the city.
India is called the land of festivals. Today was the festival of Maha Shivratri, when people celebrate the god Shiva and how he danced the tandava, which created the universe, and which he will eventually destroy with the same dance. I was so delighted to hear this, mostly because 1) I’ve always been fascinated by Shiva, and 2) I mention this in the second Timekeeper book.
At the mall—a newer structure, only ten years old or so—we were bombarded by western stores, but found a few Indian ones. Then, strangely, we ate at an Asian fusion place that had pretty good food. I never expected to find sushi in India (sadly, or wisely, I did not try it).
Security is everywhere. You go through detectors and have your car checked wherever you go. It makes me wonder why no one has set a dystopian novel in India; it’s the perfect setting. (No, I will not write one. Dystopian is not my thing).
Overall: Delhi is exhausting and crazy. Tomorrow we go to Jaipur, where I hear there are historical things and elephants. I’m excited to get out of Delhi and see more historical stuff.
But mostly I’m excited about the elephants.