Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
36Trip End Oct 11, 2006
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Local Time: 3:30PM, Friday
US Central Daylight Saving Time: 5:00AM, Friday
India, the name even evokes a sense of mysticism. From the time I set foot in New Delhi to the wonderful wedding (October 5, 2006) of Daria and Ashish in Dehra Dun, Uttaranchal State, I will have been immersed in the real India that not most tourists get a chance to see: the celebration of love, joy, yoga, and life - Indian style.
TRANSIT MADRID-ZÜRICH-NEW DELHI
I woke up very early and went to Madrid Barajas International Airport at around 5:45AM
Filled with both excitement and trepidity, I was looking forward to finally visiting one of the world's oldest civilizations and to see its colorful history, architecture, and culture. However for the second time on this trip (after Mongolia), I would be facing a severe handicap in communication. Even in Mongolia, I had always found a way to express myself verbally and made myself understood. But my poor command of the Hindi language would be a setup for some adventure in the making.
I said Adiós to Madrid in the cloak of night. The sun finally rose when I was flying over the southern Alps in Switzerland. It was one of the most beautiful vistas, with the soft sunrays bouncing off the crystal-blue ice caps of the mountains
Because of its neutrality, this mountainous land-locked country existed like an island engulfed by the behemoth European Union. As such, its strict immigration policy required for meticulous passport control upon entry by any means. Therefore, as soon as I exited the plane and was walking inside the jet way, I was confronted by two Swiss Immigration Officials demanding to see all the passengers' passports. The passengers had not even stepped foot inside the building and already were subjected to a passport inspection. The Swiss were not playing any games! They had no patience to check our entry documents inside the airport building; they would start checking them literally at the doorstep. They also brought along a cavalry of sniffing German shepherds.
However austere they were, the Swiss always could be counted on for their efficiency. Zürich International Airport was one of the fastest and easiest airports to make a connecting flight in the world. With clear signs, punctual inter-terminal trains, and multilingual staff, it was difficult losing any time while making a connection. Therefore, with plenty of time to spare, I walked around searching for breakfast. Earlier this morning, I was using my Spanish at the airport check-in in Madrid, but here I could have been well understood communicating in German, French, or Italian at the Flight Transfer Counter
On the plane, I sat next to Frédéric, a 43 year-old backpacking Frenchman from the beach resort town of Biarritz in southwestern France. His English was only marginal, so we spoke most of the time in his native tongue. He had fallen so much in love with India that this was going to be his 11th visit. Since converting to Hinduism and adopting a Hindi middle name, he spoke mostly of his spiritual awakening in Varanasi. We were interrupted by the multilingual talent of the Swiss Air crew, who were all fluent in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Hindi.
The plane left Zürich at around 10:50AM. When the sun was setting, I caught glimpse of vague outlines of the tall Himalayan peaks piercing through the clouds. After a few more hours, we touched ground at around 9:20PM at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Despite the long line through Indian customs, I thought the procedure was quite efficient. I breezed through Immigration and Customs and had my luggage pulled from the carousel by porters - everything took about 20 minutes. I proceeded to the State Bank of India to exchange some money (US $1 = 45.2 Rupees).
Ashish came to the airport with his uncle and chauffeur to pick me up. My first impression of New Delhi at night was the endless traffic congestion, the aggressive drivers, the sea of people everywhere. My senses were barraged with so much noise, activity, agitation, smells, and chaos. In the daytime, New Delhi would become an even more tumultuous, dynamic, and chaotic city.
When the new capital of India was to move from Calcutta to Delhi in 1931 under British rule, a new capital city had to be planned. In the world, only five other capitals were also planned cities: Washington, DC (USA, 1790), Ottawa (Canada, 1857), Canberra (Australia, 1927), Brasilia (Brazil, 1960), and Abuja (Nigeria, 1976)
Today, the Indian capital boasts more than 13 million residents with a juxtaposition of sophisticated and traditional buildings in an East-Meets-West urban mosaic. Its streets are dominated by a carnivorous, unyielding traffic, where livestock, cyclists, pedestrians, and cars compete for limited road space.
Escaping New Delhi, I went with Daria's family and Ashish to the town of Dehra Dun the following day. In India, the words "city" and "town" were all relative. Despite having a population of 1 million people, Dehra Dun was still classified as a town by Indian standard. In contrast, Australia was a country at the other extreme by uplifting the status of its villages to "towns" or "cities." For instance, Darwin holds the status of a capital "city" of Northern Territory despite its population of 100,000
Upon arriving at the train station in Ashish's hometown of Dehra Dun, Daria's family and I were well received by his entire family. We were showered with floral necklaces and bouquets of fragrant flowers. We even got an imprinting of the Tika or "Third Eye" dye on our foreheads. They accepted all of us immediately, and we were shown great hospitality, grace, cordiality, and warmth from every single family member.
After lunch, we toured the hill station town of Mussoorie. Later that night, we found ourselves stranded at a hotel restaurant 2000m (6000ft) up in the mountains, 30km from our hotel in Dehra Dun. Our chauffeur had decided to go home and abandon us somewhere in the Himalayan foothills. It was hard convincing a taxi to take us down the treacherously curvaceous and sinusoidal cliff road to Dehra Dun below in the obscurity of nightfall. After around four hours of waiting, Ashish's father arrived to the rescue with a friend in two cars. I went with Ashish, his father, Daria, and Sneha. Pamela, Fabrizio, and Nino went with the friend, who turned out to possess rudimentary driving skills. Their car was dangerously descending the mountain road, almost to the point of falling off the cliff. Despite Pamela's invocation for divine help, the car was driven in a drunk fashion. Then, it stopped, and the car seemed to display more self-control. Everyone arrived back to the hotel nearly at 3AM, but only after an adventure of a lifetime!