I deboarded the airplane in Delhi just before midnight and entered a dingy, claustrophobic airport with walls tinted yellow from the constant smoke cloud hovering in the air. I rubbed my burning eyes and opened them to my name on a white piece of printer paper.
The husband of my first host from Couchsurfing.org, Nittin, was awaiting my arrival. Together we shared a taxi to where I hoped was his home. The reality of my decision to travel – alone – and stay with complete locals in a country recently plagued by various rape scandals (among other issues) finally sunk in as we turned down a deserted alley barely wider than our small car and then Nittin asked me to follow him into a dark, cement basement.
You’re so stupid, Jessica. Why didn’t you bring a friend? I could run, but it’s late, I have no idea where I am and everything is dark.
These were the thoughts running through my mind when, suddenly, a dark-skinned, saree-clad woman with a big smile blindsided me with a hug and a warm welcome. I took a deep breath.
“You must be Savita,” I said. She smiled and nodded, then showed me where I could sleep and hurriedly went to the kitchen to make chai – the (absolutely delicious!) traditional drink of India that is politely served to any guest entering one’s home, plus several other times throughout the day – and Maggie, the Indian brand of Top Ramen.
I slept well until an unrelenting pounding on the metal door sometime around 3am. Still unsure of my surroundings, this gave me reason to worry.
Now what? There’s a foot of open space between my room’s wall and the ceiling, a window with bars looking into the hallway, and a large door that barely locks. Welp. Nothing I can do now, I guess.
And somehow I fell back asleep. After a warm chai and a bucket of water that had been heated with a branding iron to constitute a shower the next morning, Nittin and I headed out to see the city. He apologized over a breakfast of spicy samosas for the obnoxious wake up call. It was city workers, delivering their weekly water supply for the two-family household.
“Delhi have water problem,” said Nittin. “But in Shimla where we go tomorrow, we have all water we want. You’ll see.”
At first, my one-day tour with Nittin left me wanting more. Everything from ox carts to spice sellers lined the narrow, crowded streets, and the in-your-face poverty and colorful houses built practically on top of each other down alleyways no wider than sidewalks (plus the fact that locals still attempt to drive cars, despite the constant stop, reverse and rearrange tactics necessary just to get to the main road) intrigued me.
If you’re going to visit the city and you’re also on a budget, check out these top 10 places to see in Delhi which you can explore with only $8 USD.
But once I left Delhi and saw more of what India has to offer, I knew one day had been enough and I have no desire to return. However, with all my mind changes lately, I doubt any of you would be surprised if I did.
- Delhi not on top in crime against women: Minister (vancouverdesi.com)
- Indecisive India
- The Traveler’s Itch: Next Stop, India
India in Images: Delhi