After a 19-hour series of plane rides, bus tours and 12-hour overnight train, I’m home! The journey here has been far from easy, but I’m so happy to be here and can’t wait to see what the next eight weeks entail.
WARNING: This blog post is very long, but I hope you find it entertaining. It’s been a crazy few days. Let’s all hope I don’t have quite this much excitement to report in future posts.
Arrival in Delhi
While I’d tried to prepare myself for an overwhelming introduction to India, India beat me to the punch. I knew getting together with the driver was going to be difficult; I didn’t think I’d face any challenges beforehand. I was wrong.
My flight from Paris landed in Delhi around 11 PM the evening of January 6th. I cleared Immigration and headed out to the baggage claim. The carousel spun with what seemed like an endless stream of black and navy luggage and I watched intently for my bright yellow North Face duffel. The carousel kept going round and the other passengers on the plane trickled out of the area with their carts piled high with luggage. Eventually there were only six or seven of us left, and it began to sink in that my bag was not coming. Just to be sure though, I walked around the carousel one last time and then headed to the misplaced baggage counter.
A crowd clustered in front of the counter, but no real line formed. People just stood scattered creating a scene of confusion and chaos. Eventually, I made my way to the desk and explained my situation to the attendant. My story elicited next to no response from her. “Take this,” she told me and handed me a claim sheet with spaces for my passport number, baggage tag number, and contact information while in India.
This was a real issue because I knew we were going to be leaving on a train to Udaipur the next night and couldn’t get my baggage delivered to the hotel in Delhi. I called my mom. No sooner had she picked up the phone, I felt a glob in my throat and tears forming in my eyes. I knew losing my luggage wasn’t that big of a deal, but it all began to hit me how far away from home and truly alone I was. I didn’t know my address in Udaipur and couldn’t connect with any program coordinators to find out. To make matters worse, I also feared that the man who was supposed to pick me up would eventually leave and I’d be stranded at the Delhi airport. Finally though, I was able to contact Bishan, the man who was waiting outside to drive me to the hotel. He knew the address I should have the airline send the bags to. But between our poor cellphone connection, his accent and my mental fog from a restless five hour night of sleep on the plane, I could not make out what he was saying. Finally, he told me to just come outside and he’d give the address to me on a slip of paper.
Left with no other feasible option, I headed toward the exit. Men with machine guns stood by the door, and I pointed to my lost baggage claim asking one of the guards if I could get an address and come back in. He stoically nodded. I scanned the crowd for a Duke shirt or hat, searching for a flash of royal blue in the crowd, but all I saw was a sea of brown and black. It was cold outside and everyone had nude colored scarves or blankets wrapped around their necks and heads. All were men. I walked further to see if Bishan was standing by the curb. No signs of him there either. I felt completely helpless surrounded by unfamiliar faces. It felt like everyone was looking at me; I was the only person in a short-sleeved shirt, the only person with blond hair, and virtually the only female in the crowd. As I headed back to the airport exit, I saw a blue baseball cap emerge. It was Bishan.
From there, things went smoothly. I completed the form, returned to Bishan and we met up with Nicole, another girl on the trip who had just flown in from Amsterdam. The three of us got in a car and headed to our hotel for the night. We arrived just before 2 AM. Nicole and I spent a few minutes checking email and letting people at home know we’d made it then we went to bed.
It started with a bang
At 10 AM Tuesday morning, we went downstairs to check out then get breakfast. I met the rest of the students on the trip all of whom seemed really nice and we headed on to the bus. The driveway of the hotel formed a T with the one-lane road that ran outside of it and our bus had backed in, taking up virtually the whole length of the driveway. In order to get out, the driver had to make a 90-degree turn. And to complicate things, there was a concrete pillar on the corner between the driveway and the road with a flattened square top that was very close to the bus. As our driver tried to turn out of the parking spot he kept inching nearer and nearer to the sharp corner of the top of the concrete pillar and we heard a scrape.
He had made a big white scuff about half way down the window across from where I was sitting. Reese, who was sitting in the seat next to the window, asked anyone else if they’d heard a crack. I had only heard the scrape, but before any of us knew what was happening, the bus made another maneuver and the entire three-foot by three-foot square window shattered. Blue chunks of glass scattered all over the seats and floor of the bus next to the window. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The bus driver came back and motioned for Reese and Nicole whose seat was also covered in glass to move to the back. No real attention was paid to the incident after that. The bus started moving and we were off.
In the morning, we explored the Qutb Complex in Southern Delhi, which includes a massive stone minar or pillar and a mosque. The intricately carved
structures had been made in the 12th century out of colorful sandstone. We walked around for about an hour, exploring and listening to our guides tell us about the relics.
We stopped for an Indian lunch in a office building food court and then headed North to Humayun’s Tomb. Humayun, the second Mughal emperor died in the mid-1500s, and the building was erected in his honor. The building was the first great example of a Mughal tomb and inspired the design of the Taj Mahal.
From there, we proceeded to the train station. Once outside of the station, our guides began talking to a few men who we figured out were porters. Each man took two 50+ pound suitcases on his head and carried the group’s luggage into the station, up and down a full flight of stairs to our platform. It was very impressive. The night train went as well as could be expected. We got a sleeper car for the whole group and each of us got a padded bench to sleep on. I didn’t sleep completely soundly, but it wasn’t terrible. When we finally got to Udaipur, we loaded into taxis and drove to our hotel.
On Wednesday night, we stayed in a hotel called Chunda Palace. The name does not lie; it’s actually a palace. We were greeted with a glass of fresh apple juice, a huge orange lei and a bindi on our foreheads. Then we went to put our luggage (or just handbags in my case) in our rooms. The room was incredible…chandelier, lofted ceiling and walls completely covered in intricate painting. The bathroom has marble floors, counters and walls, and not only an overhead shower head, but a handheld one as well as 6 wall mounted shower spouts that can all be run at the same time. I took two showers today just to take advantage of it.
The rest of the day entailed three beautiful meals on the rooftop terrace of our hotel and several meetings with the professors on the trip, district officials, program directors and our local co-researchers. We’ve all been paired up with a local MBA student who will stay with us when we do our field research and homestay in a rural village. I’m paired with a woman named Meenal. She’s really nice and even told me about her boyfriend but has sworn me to secrecy. All of her friends know about him, but her parents don’t, so she told me I couldn’t say a word.
After orientation, some of the program directors took us to go shopping at a local mall. After 3 travel-filled days in the same clothes, I was dying for the chance to buy new clothes. While walking into the mall and talking with some friends, my excitement got the best of me and walked straight into a curb that jutted into the sidewalk. Before I knew what was happening, I was down. I had banged my knee, bruised and cut my shin and worst of all, ripped the leg of the only pants I had. Major bummer.
Now, I’m just crossing my fingers that my bags arrive tomorrow, but if not, I have a new set of Indian outfits I’ll be more than happy to wear (three tunics and two pants all for less than $30). In many ways, India has thrown me for a loop. I did not anticipate all of the obstacles I’ve faced so far. But I also didn’t anticipate how energized the place would make me feel. India is a crazy place and I can’t wait to explore more. NAMASTE!