I write to you from a train departing from New Delhi heading towards Rishikesh (hopefully). I am sure you yogis recognize the name as it is rumored to be the yoga capitol of the world. Every year hundreds of white people flock to the city in search spiritual transcendence and extreme flexibility. They stay in a fancy hotel for a couple of weeks, meditate with their local guru, then return to their homelands as a spiritual wizard who can shoot curry out of their fingertips. Seen it myself. Paul and I are imposters, we are definitely not die-hard yogis and too much curry will have us battling over our squatty-toilet all night. Even though we are not seeking full wizarding powers, we thought it would be a good escape from the insane vortex that is Delhi.
Our first four days in Delhi were exhausting, busy, and magical. We hit the ground running. After our 27 hours of travel we were greeted in the New Delhi airport by a small, quick man (who I shall call Jo because I cannot pronounce or recall his name) holding a sheet of paper with my name printed across it. He shuffled us out the doors and into the parking lot. The heat wave nearly knocked us off our feet…literally. It was not a “you forgot it was a summer day outside of your matinee movie” kind of heat wave. It was more like a “you have been cast into the fiery depths of Mordor, sell us your soul and you can return to the shire” kind of heat wave. Jo motioned for us to wait while he brought the car around. We stood, dripping in sweat, our backpacks feeling much heavier than they felt in California, and our lungs struggling to sort out the useable air from the sticky smog. A screech echoed through the walls of the parking garage and compact black van with electric blue lighting bolts catapulted around the corner, skidding to a stop in front of us. The van looked like one of Alex’s (the boy I once nannied) toy cars had been submerged in Alice’s drinking potion and tumbled into wonderland. Jo hopped out of the front seat and threw our bags in the back. He encouraged me not to buckle my seat belt, but when he tightly fastened his own I grew slightly concerned and even more confused. Under the review mirror dangled a cardboard medallion that read “this taxi respects women”. I wondered what my ride would have been like in a taxi that did not feel the need to clarify this. Is a simple cab ride really too much for a women to ask?
As Jo fired up the van and began to chauffeur us through the sticky wonderland I immediately diagnosed him to be wasted. The van straddled lane lines and swerved around motor bikes on the shoulder. I soon realized that either all of the other drivers on the road were also drunk, or Jo was just following normal Indian traffic protocol. Frankly, I am not sure which is the better option. In the USA we drive on the right, in the UK they drive on the left, and in India they drive wherever the hell they feel like it. As we darted around the other vehicles on the road a memory of my roommates and I playing “Beerio Cart” popped into my head; a game in which the main goal is basically to consume as much alcohol as possible and still successfully navigate through the video game “Mario Cart”. I can now identify with the characters in this game. Finally we merged onto a one way road (that comprised of three lanes being used as five) and I at least felt a little relieved to no longer be facing any sort of oncoming traffic. Jo slowed the toy van and pulled over into the left hand shoulder. A sigh of relief escaped me. Thankful that we had miraculously avoided any sort of collision and ecstatic at the idea of finally being able to catch some shut-eye. I began to reach for by backpack when I felt Jo tilt the wheels of the van to the right. “No” I thought “no way”. Paul shot me a look and I knew the same thought crossed his mind at the same time. I grabbed his arm, ready to abandon ship at any moment. The van shot forward in full petal-to-the-metal fashion and Jo flipped a u-turn straight into the oncoming 3-5 lane traffic. Jo parted the oncoming stream like moses until he was able to make the turn he had missed. When Jo finally dropped us off at our hotel safe I collapsed onto the bed, melting into a pool of sweat, exhaustion and relief.
The next day we arranged to go on a city tour. We were getting ready to embrace our full clueless-tourist selves. In a few hours I expected to be riding in a double decker bus, listening to the city’s history shouted through a megaphone by a pimple-faced high school grad funding his way into theater school. Who were were greeted by, however, was Chawla (a nickname for one much longer and harder to pronounce). Chawla was a kind, older gentleman with three grown up daughters. He ushered us into the back of his white sedan with a large sticker that read “tourist” across the back doors -and to think we nearly got away with flying under the radar. Once we were tucked into the back of our private, flashy, tourist car we embarked on our 8 hour private tour with Chawla….yes…you read that right, 8 hours. Chawla’s english was very impressive, but most of his vocabulary was comprised of civic nouns like government, private, public, and CNG gas. He showed us all of the government buildings and their corresponding employee housing (every government employee is given private and protected housing). He even made special note to show us the department of traffic control, and then proceeded to flip a u-turn in the middle of the road in front of the department and sever officers – if you ever have the urge to take up residency in New Delhi I recommend you looking into employment with traffic control. Chawla showed us every magical part of Delhi – and some of his friend’s shops in which we begrudgingly purchased over priced tea. By the end of our tour we were grateful for Chawla’s personal tour and nauseous from partaking in Delhi traffic for 8 hours.