Monday, February 29, 2016

A Drive Through Delhi

Indian traffic.  You can read about it--it's terrible, lines are suggestions, everybody honks all the time, there are all sorts of vehicles, people, and animals in the roads--but until you actually experience it, you don't really understand.

In the good news department, I did my homework, and I knew what to expect, so instead of having ALL THE PANIC as every car, truck, motorcycle, auto-rickshaw, and bicycle delivery vehicle became dancers in a truly intimate tango to the music of blaring car horns, I sat up straight and watched.  There has to be some method to the madness.  Despite having people coming within what had to be an inch of the vehicle on all sides, I saw not a single accident on the way from the airport to the hotel, which took about an hour to get to, since I arrived during rush hour.

People wandered through the mayhem of four "lanes" of drivers all trying to funnel into one.  Drivers just stopped in the middle of the street.  Delivery vehicles drove the wrong way down the road.  A goat meandered into the traffic, only to be herded back to the roadside shop where it lived.  At a point where everyone was stopped, a woman with an infant made the rounds, knocking on car windows, making an eating gesture.  Someone gave her an orange.  She was very insistent when she knocked on my window.  I felt like a very bad person when I did not give her anything.  (The issue of beggars in India is a huge one, and worth an entire separate blog--basically, if you're moved by the plight of the poor, and it's impossible not to be, there are better ways to help. I expect this conflicting sense of guilt to be a continuing struggle during my stay here.)

I spotted at least four men peeing on walls.  The smell of the city is very strong.  According to the CDC, Delhi has the worst air pollution in the world.  I believe it.  I'm very grateful that I don't suffer from asthma, or other respiratory issues.  There is refuse everywhere, although I did see a large number of people sweeping the sides of the roads.

To try to stay awake, I walked out the (guarded) gate of my hotel, into an alleyway, where I shadowed locals to walk among the vehicles to the Select CityWalk, a high end shopping mall full of things like United Colors of Benneton, Forever 21, and Guess.  To get into the mall--and my hotel, for that matter--you have to go through a metal detector, and send your bag through a scanner, or have it looked through manually by a guard.  It's a mixed feeling of security that these measures are taken, and sadness that they appear to be necessary.

I managed to stay awake until 4:45 PM, then gave up and slept. Woke up at 11:00 PM, took Ambien, and then slept right on through until 6:00 AM.  Hoping that I did a good enough job to kick my jet lag away.  That stuff is no joke!

So far, everyone I've encountered has been unfailingly polite, and I'm settling well.  Today I'll meet my guide (met the driver yesterday), and anybody else who is a member of my tour, then it's off to begin exploring more of New Delhi.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Learning to Fly

It seems somehow appropriate that the song on the radio when we pulled out to head for the airport was "Learning to Fly," by The Foo Fighters.  I did learn something today.  I learned that it is possible for me to fly halfway around the world with no anti-anxiety medication. I'm not sure how much of that to attribute to being in premium economy, and hence having less claustrophobia, but it was pretty much a revelation.

My flight from Seattle to London-Heathrow was on a Boeing 777, in the bulkhead row of the premium economy section.  This was surprisingly spacious.  You get your own leg-rest, which was a nice bonus.  There is the down side that all of your bags have to go in the overhead bin, so you have to be careful about what you choose to stuff in the magazine holder.

I ordered the low-lactose meal.  My memory of the last time I did that was that the food was the blandest bland that ever blanded.  I was not expecting anything better, so I was pleasantly surprised.  Now, mind, I can't actually tell you what I ate.  The only identifiable ingredients were green beans and water chestnuts.  They were served on noodles, which looked like what would happen if you blew spaghetti up to the size of earthworms.  Aside from the mysterious nature of the food, it was very tasty.  I'd read that airlines have discovered that umami, or savory, flavors perform the best in the sky, and I am pretty sure that's what they were going for, to which I say, success!

Heathrow was a madhouse.  Spending six hours there seemed like it was going to be torturous, but I discovered the "Quiet Area," which had a bunch of recliner seats with power outlets.  Hooray!  Napping was had, and it was glorious!

The flight from London to Delhi was on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  I did notice that it was quieter than the 777, and less dry.  Overall, very nice.

Delhi is a very polluted city.  When we flew in, the smog was so thick, and the sun so bright, that we had to abort the landing about 10 feet above the runway and try again, because the pilots couldn't see the runway.  Thankfully, we did succeed in landing on the second try.

Time for me to try to stay awake until 8:00 PM.  That will be . . . interesting . . . given that I'm now 13.5 hours ahead.  Go, go magic time zone adjustment skills!  (I have those, right?)

More later!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Are We There Yet?

In just over one week, I will be getting on an airplane and flying halfway around the world, from Seattle, WA to New Delhi, India.  Never in my life did I think that I would have this opportunity, but after hearing me say, "Some day, maybe I'll go to India," my husband decided that he was ready to be done.

Leading up to Christmas morning, 2014, he was very, very pleased with himself.  As I opened presents and found maps of India, guidebooks for India, Hindi language-learning software, I began to understand why.  It wasn't until I opened the card in my stocking and found the check and the note--Vacation to India--that I really truly believed this was happening.  There was hand-flapping, and a distinct lack of ability to find words, and maybe some happy-crying.

And then there was panic.

See, I don't consider myself to be a good traveler.  I have to take motion sickness prevention and anti-anxiety medication to fly--and even then, I get super-stressed about it.  And India is not a place that is easy.  Not like, for example, England, my last international destination.  And it's so BIG!  How could I even narrow down where to go?  What to see?

I decided early on that I would travel with a tour group.  My husband is not coming with me, and I'm not comfortable traveling through India as a solo woman, so that decision was easy.  From there, I had to narrow things down.  Due to my limited time available I decided to follow the "classic" tourist route and visit the so-called Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.

Unfortunately, I'll be missing some places that I would dearly have loved to see: Udaipur, Jodhpur, Varanasi, and the southern state of Kerala with its lush backwaters, high among them.  Still, for a quick sampler, this was the best option I found.  I'll see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, Amer Fort, Chandni Chowk, Fatehpur Sikri, and so many other places.

The CDC recommends several immunizations for travel to India, so I got to have a nice series of shots for Hepatitis A & B and pills to prevent typhoid.  I'll be taking anti-malarials, and bringing along antibiotics and electrolytes, in case I pick up a case of the dreaded "Delhi Belly."

I've purchased an item called a SteriPen to treat any water that isn't bottled, though I plan to stick to bottled water as much as possible.  As a super-paranoid person, I'll be very cautious in my food choices.  Only fruits that I peel myself and food that has been cooked thoroughly.  No street food for me, no matter how tasty it looks.  And since I'm lactose intolerant, I won't be able to have the ubiquitous chai or lassi.

I decided to splurge for my plane flights and booked myself into premium economy.  I'm hoping that the extra legroom and slightly wider seats will make me a little less claustrophobic than I usually am on a plane, and that will make the nearly full day of flying each way a little more tolerable.

Still, I've been preparing for so very long now, I am feeling ready.  I'm not even panicking about the flights!  I'm just ready to take off on a true adventure.

Are we there yet?