I have been meaning to blog about my final days in India and trip to Delhi and Amritsar for like, 2 years - ever since I got back from India. And it'd really be pushing it if I put it off until after my mission.
After spending the night in the little piggy-pen outside the airport in Port Blair, we (me, Meghan, Courtney, Kristin) flew back to Chennai and then to Delhi. Once in Delhi, our taxi driver precariously piled our luggage on top of his taxi and drove us to a woman named Barbara's house, who we would be couch surfing with for a few days. At Barbara's house, a young bearded German man answered the door. We were hoping he was Barbara's young lover, but he was actually just a fellow couch surfer, named Moritz, who had just barely arrived in India from Germany. (Just another awesome benefit of couch surfing - meeting awesome people you never would have met otherwise.)
On my favorite day in Delhi, we spent a day with the goal of making it to the Red Fort, but purposefully took all day to get there. (One reason I love traveling with these girls/Moritz. The lack of agenda lends for super fun and interesting detours.) Along the way, we stopped to buy spices, chunky grandpa sweaters and gloves (no more Bay of Bengal, tell you what!), and tried all the street food and fruit we hadn't tried before. We especially wanted to introduce all our India favorites to Moritz. (Side note: sometimes the men in India wear the greatest sweaters and sweater vests I have ever seen – shimmery, fuzzy sweater vests in pink, lavender and bright orange. It’s great. Also, a lot of the women wear sweaters underneath their saris when it is cold. Which is funny, because the women – especially when they wear traditional clothes – are so classy and matchy and put together, but with the sweaters underneath, their saris become clashy and disheveled. It’s charming and endearing.) We also stopped at a peaceful, beautiful mosque we happened across along the way. Except maybe not so peaceful for Meghan, who had to deal with a weird guy tailing her all around saying in his low, raspy voice, "I love you. I love you. Love kiss? Love kiss?" over and over. We finally made it to the Red Fort later that afternoon.
After the Red Fort, we walked across the street to the Jain temple. Upstairs there were tons of sick or injured birds in cages (the temple doubled as a hospital for birds), and a man summoned me over to a little office and let me feed a little bird three drops of medicine. Oh, you bet that was a highlight of India!
A poster illustrating the ways man can cause injury and death to birds.
The India Gate at night.
After a few days in Delhi, we took a train further north to Amritsar. It was the absolute worst train ride I have ever been on in my life. It was soooo cold, and the later and darker it got, the more freeeezing it got. The train ride was about 8 hours long and since we were in the low-class part of the train, there was no glass over the windows, just open bars. And the doors were never shut – always flapping open in the wind. The train was also really loud and so every time another train went past, it was so loud and abrasive. And because of how cold it was, I could feel myself getting progressively sicker as the night wore on. I told Meg and Courtney and Kristin that I hated this train ride so much that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to laugh about it. (Sure enough, it was already funny the next day.)
Finally, finally, finally we arrived in Amritsar and a man who we were going to couch surf with named Mr. Singh picked us up. Mr. Singh is a Sikh and he owns this beautiful old restored farmhouse in a village outside of Amritsar. He breeds white stallions for a living. He is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met and he loves the couch surfing program because there is a scripture he believes that says “a houseguest is a gift from God.”
When we got to the house, I was shocked to discover how spacious it was and that our bedroom had a huge, delicious bed, with tons of blankets and a shower with hot water. (I was expecting mats, cement floors, and freezing water.) I thought I was going to die from the divinity of it all. We slept so well that night and were awakened in the morning by a random woman in our room. Her name was Rayshma and she couldn’t speak English very well, but somehow communicated to us that she wanted us to go to her village with her to get food. We followed her. She introduced us to charming people, including some of her baby grandchildren and a young woman who did our henna.
We got back to the farmhouse and ate some of the most delicious food I have ever had in my life. I think a lot of the ingredients came from the farm’s garden. Fresh vegetables, creamy paneer.
Part of the farmhouse. Isn't it so great?! I loved the tile and skinny bricks.
The swimming pool at the farmhouse.
One of Mr. Singh's workers, tending the white stallions.
After eating, we left for the Golden Temple. We began walking towards the main road so we could catch an auto into the city, but Rayshma ran up to us and told us to get in the car with Mr. Singh's brother, who could drive us to the temple. We tried to resist and told her we didn't want to make him do that, but she said one of Indian people's favorite English phrases, "Nooo proooblem!!" So we hopped in and he drove us to the temple. We bought scarves to cover our heads and went into the temple complex.
We sat right here for a long time, looking at the temple as it changed colors as it got darker.
Courtney, Meghan, Kristin.
And we had to document our ultimately disheveled outfits. Grandpa sweaters over maxi dresses, socks with Chacos, fingerless gloves, head scarves, etc.
Waiting at a train station.
We were only in Amritsar for one day, and then took a train back to Delhi. The second the train stopped in the Delhi station, everyone waiting for the train began shoving their way onto the train before anyone could get off. People were even chucking their luggage in through the windows and climbing onto the train via the windows. It was a (hilarious) madhouse.
Once we were back in Delhi, we couch surfed with the coolest person ever. His name was Adam and he lived in Noida (a subcity of Delhi that smelled like rotten eggs/the grossest word ever). He was hilarious, had a "pet" spider who lived behind his toilet, and had the nicest roommate named Raj.
We took a day trip (3-4 hour train ride) to the Taj Mahal. It was for real dreamy. And since you've never seen the Taj Mahal, let me post a million pictures of it:
We spent all day there, minus a lunch break, where we dined looking out towards the Taj, Aladdin-style.
The train back to Delhi took about 5 or 6 hours instead of the 3 or 4. It included being stopped on the tracks in the middle of nowhere for a really long time, and no one knew what was going on. (Per usual.) It also included a middle-aged man sitting on the bench next to me blatantly passing gas in my direction. I'm talking - lifting up a bum cheek and pointing towards me, if you will. It was so great. But, really, India. Always funny.
One of our shopping excursions in Delhi. Wait, seriously, have you ever seen more people in your life?
We spent a little more time in Delhi, flew back to Vizag (where we had been all semester), picked up our luggage, bought sweets and noodles, and flew home the next day. When our director was accompanying us to the airport, some guy got in the way of the car and our driver had to slam on his brakes. Super common occurrence, no biggie. But Krishnayya (our director) exclaimed, "Oh, crap man! That guy is a nerd!" It was a good way to end my time in India.