Monday, January 25, 2010

First Impressions of India

We arrived in Delhi late at night, I'm always excited to see airports in new countries, although this may not seem very exciting to most, it's interesting to me to see how they differ from the U.S. The airport in Delhi was nothing like what I expected, it was actually much less chaotic than I pictured it would be. I realized this could have been because of how late it was, but after the long flight, I was happy to move through the check points swiftly, collect my baggage, and get to the hotel. The one observation I did make right away was that the airport was very hot and hazy, and Christmas music was playing from the speakers above the baggage conveyor, I was not expecting to hear Christmas music. After being greeted by Monica's family at the airport (which was unexpected but very nice) we found our way to the bus that we would end up spending many hours on over the next few days. Our bus drive to the YMCA Tourist Hotel gave a taste of the traffic and fog we would experience the rest of our time in Delhi. Unfortunately because of the heavy fog, it was hard to see a lot from the bus, but I did my best to take note of my surroundings and try to get a good first glimpse of the city. We ended up driving to the YWCA Tourist Hotel on accident and didn't realize this until all the bags were unloaded and everyone was in the lobby ready to check in, this prolonged our journey a bit, but we eventually made it to the right place. By the time we were all checked in, it was around 1 a.m. and considering we were scheduled to leave for Agra at around 6 a.m., I was looking forward to a couple hours of sleep and a shower before the real adventure started, luckily I was in a room that had hot water, we only had one towel, but we improvised and were ready to go bright and early the next morning.

Because of the intense fog, we had to take the bus to Agra instead of the train. It was really foggy, I don't believe I've seen fog like that more than once or twice in my life. One of the first things I noticed as we were leaving Delhi, was the makeshift shacks that were set up almost anywhere there was space to build a shelter. In addition, I noticed a large number of people just sleeping out in the open on the sidewalk. I can only imagine how many people were living inside of these small shacks, I'm sure they contained entire families. I had heard about the extreme poverty in India, so it wasn't extremely surprising, but actually seeing it was still a little shocking. Considering how bad the traffic was and how close some of these shelters were to very busy roads, I can imagine the damage a car accident may have not only on the drivers, but the people who are living so close to the roads. I tried to imagine what it would be like to raise a family living in a shack with no electricity, no water or sewage, no food readily available, and all the other challenges these people face, it's hard to comprehend a situation like this, although I know it happens in the U.S. it is definitely not as wide spread and visible as it is in India. It really makes me appreciate all that I have.

The bus ride was interesting, even though it was foggy, we could see everything going on just off the highway on the route from Delhi to Agra, it seems as if there were people and small buildings the entire way, considering how far we traveled, that was pretty amazing. The people were going about their daily routine. There seemed to be a lot of people busy doing things and a lot of people not really doing much at all. The buildings were old and not very well maintained. People were driving bikes, scooters, motorcycles, animal drawn carts, and other forms of transportation. There were a lot of animals roaming around, they seemed to coexist with the people closely, I noticed a lot of animals taking advantage of piles of trash laying around the buildings. There seemed to be a lot of little shops selling food and beverages, and probably anything else they had available to sell. The people along the road from Delhi to Agra did not appear to be very wealthy. Judging by the surroundings I would guess that if these people were involved in some type of occupation it would involve labor or agriculture. Although they did not seem wealthy, they did not seem as impoverished as some of the people who were living in makeshift shacks in Delhi.

Traffic was just as bad as I had heard it would be, drivers don't seem to follow the conventional rules of the road, but there at least seems to be some method to the madness, I'm surprised we didn't see more accidents. We stopped for a quick break about halfway through the trip and had an Indian breakfast, I'm still not sure exactly what it was, but it was my first real Indian food in India and it was good. After a longer than expected journey (which would end up being a theme for most of the trip) we finally arrived at our destination, the Taj Mahal.

Overall, my first impression of India was a lot like I was expecting it to be. I knew it would be crowded, parts would be impoverished, there would be animals roaming around, traffic would be really bad, and it would be very different then what I'm used to seeing on a day to day basis, it's one thing to have an idea of what to expect, but even if you know what to expect, it's still a bit of culture shock to actually experience it. That's how I would sum up my first day in India, nothing was extremely surprising or really took me off guard, but it was a great experience, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the goals of this trip is cultural immersion, and I feel like I received a good amount of this during the first 24 hours, that's a good sign that there is much more to come.

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