When I planned my trip I imagined India to be the halfway hump; like if I could just make it through unscathed, everything after - Southeast Asia, Oceania - would be a breeze. But in the days leading up to my arrival in Delhi I grew increasingly anxious. The nation has not had great publicity of late in regard to its treatment of women both local and foreign (just imagine the reactions I've gotten when I say I'm going alone), not to mention all the minor things you have to be mindful of that you can take for granted at home, like the quality of the food and water. Even in the directions to my Airbnb host's apartment, I was instructed to take a photo of the cab's license plate and send it to him for forwarding to his contact at the police. Not the most reassuring words to read right before boarding your flight.
What I noticed first as the car (I took the safer option and had the host send one for me; probably the only time in my life I'll have someone waiting outside baggage claim with my name written on a sign) made its way from the airport toward the neighborhood of Nizamuddin East was how lush and green the city was. In fact, if you took the moisture out of the air, reduced the temperature and removed 50% of the cars, it might even feel like Seattle.
Or not - just a few minutes after leaving the apartment, I was walking down a street when a family of macaques crossed in front of me. I hastily fished my camera out of my purse; the pedestrian coming from the opposite direction looked utterly unfazed, as did the driver who honked at the monkeys to get out of the way.
Nizamuddin East shares a border with the complex of Humayun's Tomb, one of Delhi's main attractions, but the guard at the gate told me I had to go through the main entrance on the opposite side. As I turned away I ran into a fellow American - a musician by the name of Moses, of all things - who kindly offered to drop me off at the tomb on his way home. We caught an autorickshaw, with him doing all the negotiation for fares since he's lived here for about a year now. (Many drivers refuse to use their meters so you have to haggle up front).
If you've never experienced an autorickshaw, it's probably a lot like how taking a golf cart onto I-85 would feel - exposed, vulnerable, with a discernible undercurrent of adrenaline as you wonder if each screech of the brakes will be the last sound you ever hear. Now, I thought drivers in Morocco were crazy - just imagine a city full of hungry, thirsty, nicotine-deprived people all rushing home for dinner at sunset every day for the month of Ramadan - but that's just how traffic normally functions in Delhi. I swear people actually just lean on the horn the entire time they're behind the wheel. It certainly sounds like it.
I got to the tomb in one piece and said goodbye to Moses. Approaching the ticket office I noticed two things. Firstly, just like in Morocco, there are men everywhere that stare. (Maybe I'm just hypersensitive to the male presence because at home no one ever looks twice at me, but I'm pretty sure if you took a random sample of people out and about in downtown Manhattan, the gender balance would be a lot more even than it is here). Secondly: Indians 20 rupees, foreigners 250 rupees. I know, the more expensive entry is just shy of $5, but still... However, expensive ticket or not, it was completely worth it. The complex houses several different tombs and ruins, the main one of which served as the inspiration for the design of the Taj Mahal, and it's all so isolated by greenery that you forget how hectic and potentially life-threatening the journey to get there was.
That evening a friend I met at LCB last summer sent her driver to bring me back to her place for dinner, where her fiance and some of their artist friends were gathered. (The co-director of Slumdog Millionaire was amongst the guests; in my excitement to meet her I may have pulled a Jennifer Lawrence and word-vomited effusive praise for the film). As we ate the delicious southern Indian dishes my friend had prepared, everyone asked what I thought of India so far. Well, I had only been there for a few hours, and although it was very different from home I hadn't felt too cultureshocked. Yet.
[Edit] Got those pictures up on Flickr here. Realized that they upload in reverse chronological order. Annoying, but there's only so much I can do from an iPad.