Saturday, December 19, 2009

India


October 15th

I am learning an entirely new philosophy of driving. Lines on the road are mere suggestions and vehicles often drive right down the middle of them (though not straight down the middle, no one drives straight). Changing lanes is more like swerving to avoid hitting motorcycles. There are a lot of motorcycles, and what cracks me up is the women riding side-saddle on the back of them in their beautiful sparkling saris, completely relaxed and unconcerned that they’ve almost been rear ended five times within the last five minutes. Saris on the backs of motorbikes, fluttering in the wind. Amazing.

My taxi driver picked me up from the arrivals gate and ushered me past the taxi wallahs waiting outside so fast that I didn’t have time to find an ATM, not that I saw one. So I arrived at the Grand Godwin Hotel in Delhi with a $1 bill and a $5 bill in my pocket, U.S. currency. I gave the taxi driver the dollar (U.S. money is often accepted here) and checked in. My roommate had not arrived yet even though she was supposed to be here yesterday. At least she was able to arrange my pickup at the airport.

In a flash, one of the bell boys, or coolies, grabbed my bag and I followed him up to the room. The only money I had on me then was the $5 bill, which was way too much, and a 10 rupee note given to me for luck by a well traveled friend before I left. Thanks Dr. Jensen! It was definitely lucky I had that 10 rupees to give the bell boy; tips are serious business here.

I explored the bathroom, thanking God for a western style toilet. But the shower was baffling. There were a few plastic buckets under a faucet, above that was a shower head, and there was a drain in the floor. No shower stall, bathtub or even ridge to keep the water from flooding the place. There was a half-hearted attempt at a shower curtain. So even though I had been dreaming about a steamy hot shower to sooth my aching and very sick body, I couldn't bring myself to royally mess up the bathroom before my roommate got here. I could just imagine her stepping into a flood while trying to use the toilet.

My water bottle, last filled at Heathrow, had a couple mouthfuls of water left. I took a rationed gulp and crawled under the covers of the Queen sized bed. The air conditioner was on full blast and I was shivering. Throughout the week of freezing cold nights in Oxford, I dreamt of 90+ degrees India. And here I was freezing again. Sigh.

When I woke up, I drank the rest of the water and quickly realized that I would become more sick very quickly if I wasn't hydrated. After an hour of praying to the Gods that the American voices I heard in the hallway belonged to my roommate, I gave up hope of rescue. I just wanted to hole up in the safe little room – but I needed water. So I went to the lobby and spent fifteen minutes misunderstanding the concierge in every possible linguistic way. All I wanted was water. I didn't want it brought to me because then I would probably have to tip and I had no money. I explained my problem to the concierge and he told me to wait on the couch and someone would take me to the ATM since it was a busy and dangerous time of night.

A kindly young Indian man, clearly used to reassuring freaked out, lost, uncomprehending and incomprehensible tourists, took me across the street – holding his arm out more than once to prevent me from getting run over – and haggled with two rickshaw drivers. Yes, rickshaws. Bicycle rickshaws specifically. It turned out that the ATM was a long walk under good traffic conditions, but at this time of night a rickshaw was our only chance of survival.

Traveling in that rickshaw for 2 blocks was the most frightening experience I have ever had in my life. Never have I felt honestly afraid for my physical body. Never before has death seemed a real possibility. Most of the light on the street came from the 4 stories tall neon hotel signs on almost every building. Vehicles darted in and out, dodging other rickshaws, taxis, small motorized rickshaws and bicyclists. The ATM was literally a small hole in the wall. My guide from the hotel pushed our way in and guarded me while I fumbled with my card and punched in my numbers. I took out enough money to pay for my hotel room in cash, which turned out to be very wise since cash was all the hotel accepted.

My roommate called me late that night. Her plane was delayed in Chicago, and she was getting her own room in the hotel. We met for breakfast the next morning on the rooftop of the Grand Godwin and shared a cab to the next hotel, the one from which our tour would start.

4 comments:

Pocketmouse said...

what time did you venture out??? was it past midnight or before? I'm guessing before.

And I'm glad the ATM worked?!?!!? which one!?!?

Pocketmouse said...

Also.. nice deal@Taxi. Typically from airports the minimum that I have paid is 300rs. which is $6.

I'm glad he took the $1. Makes me wonder if he was already paid before. Good stuff!

LV said...

THe dollar was a tip, he was paid before by the hotel.

Lauren :) said...

Wow that does sound rather terrifying. I'm glad you made it through! Why did your roommate randomly decide she was getting her own room after all that?