This was our first long-haul trip. We’d read so much about India before going that we knew that we could only prepare so much. Before we’d left we’d been told we’d love it and we’d hate it; that it was beautiful and that it was ugly; that it was majestic, but that it was filthy; that we would have the time or our lives or wish we’d never gone. Such opposing opinions! Now after having gone and reflected on the trip, we have to say that India was definitely our most challenging journey to date. It was all of those things.
We visited North India, touching down in Delhi, the country’s capital. With not even five minutes out of the airport we knew that India would live up to its hype of being a crowded, maddening place with a rich history and diverse culture. While you may be greeted by those peaceful hands (above) inside Ghandi International Airport, you can forget about all of that peace once you step outside and into the city (we did not go into remote villages or the mountains during this trip).
India is crazy.
We did have a good time overall and don’t wish that we’d never gone, but this trip was not without its ups and downs. Thankfully, it was mostly up (and the down didn’t come until the end). A large part of the reason we had more of a good experience than bad is because we had a friend/local with us for almost the full two-weeks we were there.
This is us with Aiswarya, who happens to be the illustrator of the very first children’s book we published years ago. Though we’ve worked together and become friends over the years, this was our first time actually meeting in person, and we can’t say enough about how kind she was to us. When she makes it to the east coast of the US we’re going to take her and her family all over the place lol. But for now, back to India.
India is hard. Make no mistake about it. It is not for the faint of heart. Having a local who can ease you into the culture difference, navigate the chaos and help you figure out the best places to go on a first trip is priceless. Without our friend, we probably would have been a) overwhelmed and annoyed and/or b) paying for organized tours for everything vs venturing out on our own. Having a guide who served as a cultural ambassador of sorts was invaluable.
The first day of our trip we wrote off to recover from the almost 20-hour flight to get there. We flew Emirates, by the way, which was everything we hoped it would be. We’ll have to write another entry just to describe the coach and first class experience. As far as lodging, we were playing it middle of the road for most of the trip, trying to maximize the value of the US dollar vs the Rupee ($1USD = ~$66 rupees). We started at the Radisson Blu and ended at a Palace and all ranged from $50-$250/night…for a PALACE with butlers, poolside remote controls to call for service, car service, etc. You can definitely ball out in India and not feel guilty. lol Even on the low end, the hotel workers were friendly and attentive. They all seemed to take a high level of pride in their jobs.
During our first couple of days we also tried to maximize our time. We explored New Delhi, Amber Fort, Amritsar and the Lotus Temple. We rode in regular cars, auto-rickshaws (aka Tuk Tuks – those green and yellow, three-wheeled vehicles pictured above), a railroad and a subway–getting a well-rounded feel for how to get around in India. It’s a constant roller coaster. We thought we were going to die—immediately—when we got in an auto-rickshaw for the first time. Not only is everything in the street: cows, donkeys, dogs, bikes, monkeys, motorcycles, people, more people, MORE people, young (very), old and everything in between, but no one followed traffic rules. It was kind of like just get in where you fit in and blow the horn the whole time, even if you’re driving on the wrong side of the road and horse trots out. Driving in India is the most chaotic scene we’ve ever seen in our lives but after day two (day four for Monica), we had gotten used to it. Somehow within all of that disorder is some kind of respectful order. We didn’t see a single accident or road rage while there, which was quite amazing considering traffic always looked like this:
It was also during these transit adventures that we started to see the worst of India. The poverty. The uncleanliness. The lack of infrastructure. The limitations of the people due to circumstances beyond their control. It was during a long wait for a train in a railroad station that we saw a barely-clothed toddler pulling up her clothes to expose herself to men on the other side of the platform, while her mother, who was clearly in the middle of some kind of state of psychosis, did nothing. Meanwhile small packs of monkeys ran and scampered all over the station and on the railroad tracks. No one was phased. This was normal. It was a completely different world than we’ve ever known.
It was on the highways we saw both child and adult beggars. Relentless. Aggressive. Tapping and banging on our car windows. Some seeming mechanical, with eyes that said their begging in itself was a job—not necessarily an act of desperation although we know for some it was.
When you’re traveling in a regular car or auto-rickshaw you’re close to the ground. You’re close to the people. You get an experience that is different than being on a giant tour bus above it all. The hardship of human existence presents itself to you in a way that you cannot just change the channel, turn off the radio or close your eyes.The poverty is in your face. You see it. It permeates you. It humbles you.
From the beginning to the end of our trip we kept feeling conflicted. Mesmerized by the ancient beauty yet plagued by the poverty we could do nothing about. You learn quickly not to give anything to the beggars because if you give to one, 15 more show up and not only that, whatever you give to a child will most likely NOT stay with that child but go to whomever told him or her to go out and “work.” If you do give anything, let it be food, not money.
If you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, it’s like that but worse. We already know how fortunate we are just to the sheer luck of our places of birth, but visiting a country like India is also a big reminder of how wealthy our country is. What is considered the poverty line in the US is probably middle class in India. The mind-trip is the extreme levels of extravagance that also presents in India. S and E-class Mercedes alongside old 10-speed bikes, very well dressed men among women in soiled clothes, sparkling mansions, glittering palaces, lush green acres protected by iron gates—generations of money just steps away from dusty alleys of cyclical poverty. It’s the disparity that is unforgiving, especially when you talk to people and see just how warm, welcoming and friendly they are into their personal space. Visiting a country like this will force you to look beyond the surface and ponder humanity. As you make your way to all of the old-world sites and learn the history of how the British stole so much (of course) and left so little you can’t help but think of a country so big and with so much potential still struggles with creating a sustainable infrastructure and path to wealth for all of its citizens.
We adjusted to all of this in the first few days while exploring temples bursting with positive spiritual energy, grand old forts and making new friends. It was a lot to digest and gave us much to discuss after settling back into our hotel each night.
We don’t know how the hell they pull this thing with the weight of three passengers. My goodness! lol
Though really tiring, the first few days were really a ball! We did way more than we thought we could and survived the culture shock, polluted air and foreign food. Stay tuned for part two where we made our way to Agra to check out the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and much more.
As always, thanks for reading and let us know about your trip if you’ve gone or ask us anything you’d like to know about ours! As two black, LGBT women who ventured half-way across the world to check out a country that’s not exactly known for it’s treatment of women we have to say it wasn’t as bad as we thought when it came to the men but still warrants as much research as possible before venturing over. We can’t possibly cover it all in this blog so feel free to ask anything you want.
Until the next post…Cheril and Monica