Delhi in Monsoon Season
Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
9Trip End Oct 15, 2007
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Top 6 signs you're in the Indian Subcontinent:
1. A bus goes by with people leaning out all windows and doors, and another 15 people (or more) on top
2. Frequent cows on the roadway. And the occasional elephant.
3. Food is REALLY good AND vegetarian
4. You break a sweat standing up. or sitting back down.
5. Stopping at a traffic light a small girl runs out with a begging bowl and starts doing back-flips on one side of the car, and there's suddenly a monkey sitting on the window on the right side (pay for picture)
6. Three people on a moped is not out of the ordinary; five is not out of the question
7. They talk in that really really cool accent
Along with the cool Indian accent, I've been (pleasantly) surprised how much English is spoken and written here. India has an absurd number of languages (140 or something like that), and English is one of the common ones, so hopefully this will keep up as we wander.
We came to Delhi knowing it would full well be the monsoon, and hot and wet, and the plan was to see the sights, and then head north to the Ladakh province which is shielded by the Himalaya from the monsoon. Delhi is actually not that much of a tourist spot, and the sights are a few old buildings and the Taj Mahal. So we signed ourselves up for a flight to Srinagar, along with a day tour to the Taj Mahal and figured that would be all of the hot & wet we could handle anyway.
One can go to the Taj Mahal by tour bus, or by a train and bus combo, both of which leave you with just over an hour at the Taj, and little other flexibility. We decided to splurge on a private car out and back, which came with a guide and the freedom of time flexibility. The driver picked us up at 6am, off we went into the dense Delhi traffic. There has been a surprising amount of English spoken in India so far, but our driver was not in that pool
We stopped for breakfast halfway there, the driver dumping us with all the other tourists at a tourist shop, heavily air conditioned, theoretically safe food, and prices about 4-5 times higher than you get with a local restaurant. We walked right back out, and explained to our confused driver that we wanted a more local place. There were plenty of these, and we had a very nice breakfast of Dal soup, Indian bread etc. for a fraction of the tourist price. This amazing split in price between where tourists (and richer locals) stop, and where everyone else eats is probably the single clearest view into the economy. In the "west" it seems that poverty is a sliding scale from too rich, down to unable to eat. In India, there seems to be more of a binary division, the people living on $1-2 per day (although more typically $5-7/day in the cities), and then the middle/upper class with a real income. A meal can cost 20 rupees on the street, ($0.50) or less, but can cost 400 rps or more in a western style restaurant ($10). Consider that this is 10 days worth of work for the bottom 35% of India's population. The analogy for a typical average income US citizen would be something like having a choice of eating at McDonald's, or eating a meal which costs $2500.00 - it's just not something which they could do, ever
Anyway, the bedlam and culture shock have been great, but the phenomenal heat & humidity of Delhi were not, so we got a flight to Srinagar, Kashmir to put some elevation between us and sea level and mostly shield us from the monsoon. For the record, Kashmir has been quite safe for some time now, to the point where even the uber-paranoid US State Department has dropped all travel warnings. As I write this, we're just back from a great week of trekking in the Kashmiri Himalaya, which will have to wait for the next blog.