Need time to take it all in - UPDATED AND FINAL!

Trip Start Mar 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 28, 2013

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

(I started this last post while still in Delhi, couldn't finish it, and now after a week in Tokyo to contemplate the trip, I have completed it and post it here. Thanks for taking the time to read it.)

As I sit and write this in bed unable to sleep, I count down my last few hours here in India. What a trip, what a ride, what an experience. I've been saving my comments on Delhi until here near the end, as my first post seemed to be more polarizing negative than positive, and with good reason. I've been back in Delhi for over a week now, (these posts haven't been created time specifically, just calendar specific), and a lot of further emotions and experiences had to have taken place before commenting on fair Delhi again. Now I'm ready.

Delhi as a city is a great example of India as a whole. Spend more than a week here and you grow to love and dislike it all at the same time. Seriously. India as a country is like that as well. Certain people and situations I loved, others I firmly hated and hope never to have to live through again. The entire country is like that as well, mind you the more I think about it, the same can be said of every country. Except Ireland…it’s marvelous from start to finish.

For the most part the people here are very welcoming, friendly, curious, ready to ask a million questions and happy to show off their incredible country. They are a proud bunch and have every reason to be. This country is rich in color, heritage, religion, ancient sites and amazing depth of wildlife and terrains. Then there's the other side. As a foreigner we are perceived to be insanely rich and therefore an easy mark for a quick cash handout, or rupee in this case. Now to be clear, we ARE insanely rich compared to 98% of the people here. I've written about clothless and dirty children begging in the streets who are living under a tarp with no running water or bathroom facilities. At any major city street intersection you are bombarded with women carrying month old babies saying, "money for baby", or "rupees, rupees, rupees". If you gave one rupee/2 cents, to every one of them, you'd be broke in an hour. It's heartbreaking to see anyone live like that, especially the children. Really it is. These kids have never even been bathed or had their haircut, let alone complained that their dinosaur shaped chicken nugget was cold or didn't come with the right dipping sauce and why can’t they play their Xbox for another hour.

These people are begging not to make a quick buck, but to survive day to day. A 100-rupee note, $2 to you and I, will feed their family for almost a month. No shit, a month. So they get a pass in my eyes, especially when you know their fellow city and country mates walk and drive past them daily and show little to no emotion or regard for their condition. Why? They are of a lower caste. They have to suffer as penalty for something they or their family has done in the past. "Their next life will be better", I heard over and over again, always with a smile that dictated optimism, not hatred towards these poor people. The best and worst of Hinduism in a nutshell. Still hard to digest at the end of the day, especially for someone like me who thinks we only get one spin around the cosmos on this dust ball called Earth.

No, the people who really bothered me, more so here in Delhi than anywhere else, where the touts. I am white, therefore I am a rube. From the minute you step off the plane and pretty much everywhere in the city, you are being inundated with people trying to sell you something or take you somewhere. Everyone has a cousin with a "special deal" for you. Every tuk tuk driver will kick out their local fare to pick you up as either they can charge you double and/or take you to "best shopping mall", along the way picking up a small commission. They will go out of their way to take you where you don't want to go, to make a 60-cent commission. Why? Money is that tight for them. Worse of all are the street vendors. I don't mean the guy hawking soda and water or other foodstuffs from their cart, or the cigarette and gum guy, I mean the people who walk around pitching jewelry, bags, toys, ear cleanings with used q-tips, books, shoeshines, postcards and the like.

As Canadians we are raised to look people in the eye when we talk to them and to politely say, "no thanks". Here you can't do either. Looking a tout in the eye establishes a connection that means 'yes I am interested’, even as you are waving your hand and saying ‘no’. I've had people literally follow me for an hour after I've made that mistake. One gent waited three hours at my car for me to return to sell me a $2 necklace after I said "no thank you" while glancing at him, 180 minutes earlier. It's no longer tourist season here as it's now summer and temps are always well over 100F. Makes it nice and quiet for foreigners, but makes the touts more desperate and aggressive as well. So I am torn about it all. Survival makes people say and do things out of desperation. You see that lot here.

Delhi itself, like India as a whole, really is two totally different animals. Let’s call them Poor Delhi and Rich Delhi. The city is divided into two parts, officially called Old Delhi and New Delhi. In Old Delhi the streets are jam packed with traffic going nowhere, honking literally 22.5 hours day, only stopping from 3:30am-5am. The streets are crammed with tuk tuks, cars, water buffalo pulling carts, humans pulling rickshaws, pedestrians, motorcycles and scooters, commercial trucks, dogs and the cows sleeping in the middle of all the chaos. I saw a tuk tuk driver turn sharply and hit a cow in the head. He quickly got out and dropped to his knees and apologized to the cow as it sauntered away, all the while adding to the traffic gridlock. The entire Old Delhi area has streets only 12 feet wide for both lanes and everywhere you look are people, garbage, homeless, chaos and no civility. There are no trees or other signs of green life, just people rushing and pushing to get nowhere fast. Cross the border into New Delhi, literally south of Connaught Circle, and everything changes.

This newer part of the city features wider streets, less congestion, beautiful trees and gardens, people smile more, there’s way less crime and things seem more peaceful. It’s a little weird, these two differences. There’s even the odd minute where there’s no honking whatsoever. Again, weird. The restaurants here seem more sanitary and the food is remarkably better. So after spending time in both areas, I went back and reread my first post, which was written after spending the majority of my time in Old Delhi only. Now that I have spent a month in both sides of this city, I should come clean and state that Delhi is, overall, better than I first described. Sure it still has its issues, but like I stated before, all cities do. Vancouver’s West End anyone?

But what about the people as a whole, and especially those outside of Delhi? Putting the touts aside, they were really warm and welcoming and always open for a conversation about almost anything. Everyone of every age, asks ‘what’s your name and what’s your country’ They are eager to meet someone from a different country, my skin color gives me away, and are never shy to ask ‘what do you do’, ‘how many childrens you have’ and ‘how much money you make at your job’. As a westerner we are raised not to ask certain questions, especially of a stranger as it is deemed impolite. Not here. After replying, again and again, that I did not have any children, their question was followed with, “why? You or your wife not able to make the baby. Whose fault?” When I would reply that it was my choice not to have any, their heads would explode in the sheer audacity of that statement. We are here to make future generations. It was almost comical these looks I would receive. But that’s their way. They don’t mean anything by their questions, they are just curious. They don’t have access to travel like we do, so they must explore and learn the only way they can.

This curiosity starts at an early age, as my interactions with the local children were one of the highlights of the entire trip. Any time I was within a few feet of these yardapes, (they travel in packs), they would always wave and ask the necessary, “what’s my name and my country”. The bold ones would hang around to ask further questions. In Jaisalmer as I wandered about in a Jain temple, five kids under say 8 came over to say hello. One quickly asked for rupees and the eldest of the group chastised her in Hindi and she quickly withdrew her hand from my chest. The youngest of the group who was silent to this point said, “candy…chocolate?” As westerners we are expected to carry large amounts of candy, chocolate and/or gum in our bags and purses. I searched mine knowing there was nothing in my messenger bag. At the very bottom I came across a pack of Tums antacids and passed these off as candy. The kids’ faces lit up as I took out the pack and gave each of them a tablet. They all put them in their pocket for later savoring…and thank god for that as I didn’t want to see their looks of disappoint when biting into the chalky, ickiness that is a Tums, expecting it to be the sweetest of the sweet instead.

The longer you spent with someone the more open they would become and we would discuss in great detail family, politics, America, travel, education, literature and art, etc. Shyly I would introduce the gang rape in Delhi into a conversation and they wouldn’t get upset or not want to discuss it, but instead would speak of the horrible event and how it has hurt their country. While there I read an article in the Times of India newspaper where a very prominent and well known Bollywood actor said he worries about his sister who lives in Delhi, as her safety can not be guaranteed there and Delhi is one of the worst cities in the world in regards to safety for women, and men as well to a degree at certain times. All of the politicians and police are corrupt and care little for anything other than lining their pockets with cash.

Sunil, my last driver, echoed these statements. While he lived and worked in Delhi, he wouldn’t allow his family to be raised there. “Anywhere else in India is okay, Delhi, no.” Interesting. I told him the rape was front-page news on every paper in the US and Canada and was on the TV news as well. He was shocked. Why would the rest of the world care about this one event? Sunil went on to say that it’s sad one incident in Delhi has ruined the reputation of the country as a whole. And he is right. Another article I read in the Times of India stated that after the rape travel to Delhi was down more than 40% and travel to India as a whole was down over 30%. Entire tours were being canceled throughout the end of 2013 and the federal government was in crisis mode to see what they could do to reverse the situation.

I said to Sunil, “it’s a shame that one bad apple has ruined the whole bunch” and he literally stopped the car as we drove down the highway at 50 mph to shake my hand and thank me for that statement. He followed it with, “we are good people, please tell that to everyone.” And he is right. For the most part I always felt safe and secure no matter where I roamed in India, even in the tightest of quarters inside ‘locals only’ areas, 99% of the time alone. But please know I did not go out once the sun dropped and I don’t recommend any one do. There are many “rotten apples” who are simply uneducated to what is right and wrong. During the day these cretins are driven into the background by the majority who are happy to help with directions, or offer suggestions of things to do and see…proud ambassadors of their city. To a degree, it reminded me of Times Square in Manhattan, pre-2000. As a tourist you could walk around the area during the day and feel somewhat safe, but once night crept through the tall skyscrapers, it was a free for all and you best stay away.

Sunil and I talked about the hardships afforded most Indians in terms of work and educating their children. He was from a town some 400kms north of Delhi, near the Nepal border, and worked 10 months of the year in Delhi. Sure he could work in the same city where his family lived, but would only make 10% of what he did in the large city. This allowed him to send his two kids to private school so they could better themselves and their future. This is what must be done. I respected that. And him.

We talked politics and the ‘Americanization’ of the world, especially any area labeled as Islamic or “evil” and the continued bullshit happening in Iraq and Afghanistan under the guise of freeing the country’s people. We talked religion and the differences between Western and Eastern examples. He was shocked to learn that I was an atheist, yet here I was in his country to learn more about its multitude of incredibly different religions. “Why?” How to answer that…. I was on a search to see what I could learn as being born here in North America, we are pretty much limited to the story of a long haired carpenter who turned water into wine, some other guy who stocked a boat with animals, and there was some water walking in between eye for an eye retaliations, etc. Oh and some virgin chick produced a baby through non-contact intimacy. It is all a little hard for me to believe and to accept. So I wanted to learn more. I had dabbled in reading the Koran, the Torah, and the teachings of Buddha, even Shintoism, but knew zero about Hinduism, Jainism and Sikh beliefs.

After spending countless days in a plethora of gurdwaras, temples, shrines and such dedicated to each of these religions, I will be completely honest and say I am more confused than I have ever been. Christianity as a whole preaches that there’s only ONE god (lower case G used on purpose) and that you have to believe in him or you’re a hopeless cause, destined to spend eternity in hellfire. Well try telling that to the billion around the world who are Hindus. Their gods are called devas (or devatās) and goddesses are called devis and there are over 330 million of them. Yup, 330,000,000. Now try to tell that to a right wing, born again Christian from West Virginia, “no, you are incorrect, there are in fact many gods”, and imagine the incredible fight that would commence.

While Muslims worship Allah, and Sikhs worship their own version as well, after reading all I could, asking a myriad of questions, and visiting as many sites of worship as I could in my five weeks here, well over 100 at last count, I have decided that no particular religion by itself seems perfect in me eyes. There are aspects of each that appeal to me and seem to make sense. The more I learned of these Eastern religions, the more I wanted to know. If I had to pick one and only one, I would say Hinduism really spoke to me. I am a creative and illustrative person and loved the artistic side of this one. I also loved the idea that there are millions of deities to pattern your life after, who will protect you or show you the path to a better, enriched life now and in the next one. There is always a reason for everything that happens. Who knows. I am overwhelmed.

At the end of the day I didn’t really come home with a definitive answer to the ‘who are we and why are we here’ question and maybe that was my only stupidity to think I would be closer to knowing the meaning of life after my first trip here. I do feel more comfortable in my own skin and my own head and feel very content and positive in my life choices and status in my community and life circle. I feel I have lived a life that has been more positive than negative to the people around me and to the world as a whole, and if that is the one requisite for another chance to come back here again after this life ends, so be it, I shall be in great shape.

I am eager to continue traveling more and to learn more about myself through the eyes and actions of people around the world. This trip opened my eyes to the reasons why I do the things I do, say the things I say and take the actions that I do. I am a diehard progressive liberal who wants to leave this existence better as a whole than before I arrived. I do have this deep desire to help people in need. I won’t ever get the images of the homeless children and dogs of Delhi from my mind and don’t want to. The time I spent at the orphanage in Delhi cemented the thought process that I had to continue to help those in need. I could not live the republicant (the T is on purpose) way of life that is “fuck you, I don’t need to take care of you, you are on your own.” No sir, you are not alone. Let me help. We all need to do our share, pull our weight, reach out and lend a hand. I am a liberal, and I approve this message…that should be on my tombstone, or cryologic freezer container.

Now don’t take this as calling you out, you have the right to believe and do what you want in life, just think a little more about how it affects those around you. Get out there and learn about different cultures and people and how they live. Appreciate all we have here in North America, from clean and clear water from our taps in endless amounts, clean and abundant washroom facilities, a ridiculous amount of food in all varieties--even chemical laced, cancer causing ones deemed safe for us--that we waste more than half of day to day, access to health care (unless you are one of the 46.7 million Americans with zero insurance) and access to a fair and just legal system. We all won the lottery when we were born here and take that for granted. We could have it so much worse. Does that mean we need to feel guilty about it? No. But it does mean we should all do one small, little thing to help out someone else who wasn’t so lucky. For me that will include continued donations to the orphanage I spent time at. For you that could include volunteering or donating locally. Spend an hour, donate a doesn’t take much. It does all make a difference, believe me. I’ve witnessed it first hand.

So will I return to India? Yes. There are still so many different areas to see and experiences to partake in there. Are there certain areas I won’t return to? Absolutely. Next time I will be with my lovely wife as there were too many times I wanted her next to me so I could point with open mouth and gesture, “are you seeing what I am seeing?” Traveling alone I missed that. But it was a spectacular trip and learning experience for the most part. It was good for me to live inside my head and be forced to debate things with myself, without the soundboard of anyone else. Being over 40 now, clears throat, I am happy to know I can still force myself into uncomfortable situations and make the best of things. I am happy to know I can still relate to those less fortunate and figure out a way to help. As much as I have traveled throughout my life, to dozens of countries, flying well over a million miles along the way, I still have only seen less than 1% this world has to offer. I need to continue being more open and more accepting of things unrelated to my life and my locale. And I crave to see, explore and live so much more.

India, thanks for your hospitality and drive to see more. I appreciate it and you.

And I love and appreciate you all who joined me along the way. Namaste.
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Peter Bierstedt on

Wonderful trip, Terry! Thanks for sharing it!

VDawn fitzgerald on

Terry your take on Christianity matches my beliefs. After reading the Life of Pi I have decided to be a Piist. Pick the best of them all and be open minded and kind. I enjoyed your trip to India, and loved your thought provoking blogs. A great big thank you. Love Dawn

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