For starters: INDIA IS INSANE!!!
I’ve experienced a wildly swinging pendulum of emotions these past four days. India has been so much more intense than I predicted.
All of the pre-trip reading I did made me pretty anxious about spending time in New Delhi alone before my friends joined me a few days later. Nothing sold the country as a dream destination for women, especially women traveling solo. I arrived to New Delhi on Wednesday night on high alert and got a taxi to my hostel. It was pouring rain when the cab driver started to slow down in one of the sketchiest neighborhoods I’ve ever been in.
I thought to myself, “This has to be a mistake.“
Stops Hostel, said TripAdvisor reviews, was “great,” an “Oasis in Delhi” with “excellent staff” and I found it to be none of those things. The hostel was located in a bleak part of Darya Ganj, and even in the dark of night, I could tell that this was not a neighborhood I should be in alone.
In the morning, I was able to confirm that yes, yes this wasn’t a choice pick of locations for a solo lady. Darya Ganj was a clusterf*** of haphazard construction where I saw the sadness of abject poverty in full light. I also saw a fully nude man casually strolling in the street. I didn’t arrive in Delhi expecting to find San Francisco, but I had booked this particular hostel expecting to be in a safe location.
Although the hostel itself seemed safe with security guards, I wasn’t loving the place. The front desk staff turned out to be cold and inhospitable. I had booked an all-girls dorm, yet on my second night my roommate was a 30+ year old man lounging around the room in nothing but a bath towel for way too long. I couldn’t handle the dodgy area, the front desk staff’s demeanor, or the unreliable WiFi, so I ended up booking a private room at Moustache Hostel in the GK-1 neighborhood.
I spent the next few nights in a little 2nd floor studio apartment reached by a quaint spiral staircase. The place was perfect, and free of semi or fully nude men.
So things were off to an interesting start from the get go with the accommodation issues. Day one I spent shopping for India-appropriate garb, adjusting to the culture, and meeting with locals who could help me with some Delhi-focused stories for Munchies.
For one such story, I needed to find a place in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar called Jain Coffee House. On day two, I set out to try Jain’s mango and paneer sandwiches. One metro trip, three failed rickshaw rides, and two and a half hours walking in the rain later, I finally found Jain hiding in an alley.
I approached the counter and asked about the sandwiches, to which the staff simply replied “no.” I was confused. No sandwiches now? No sandwiches ever? The language barrier made it impossible to find out what the actual f happened to the sandwiches. I was obviously killing it my first 24 hours in Delhi.
I spent the next 15 minutes simmering in my failure over a cup of their excellent chai tea.
The rest of days two and three I filled trying to research a story on a popular snack beloved by Delhi residents. The momo is a dumpling that originated from the Tibetan Plateau, so I went to different Tibetan colonies and Nepalese restaurants stuffing my face with the doughy spheres, Delhi Belly be damned! A highlight of the trip so far was being welcomed into the kitchen of Big Apple restaurant in Majnu-Ka-Tilla Tibetan refugee camp to photograph the pre-cooked momos.
When I’m wasn’t thinking about dumplings, I kept finding myself wondering, “where are all the women?” On the streets, there are so few women out and about. There are very few on the metro (compared to the number of men), even in the women-only cars. Most of the vendors I come across are guys. I guess I get it; being in public as a lady isn’t very comfortable when you have men shamelessly stone-cold staring at you. I feel it myself and watch the way other local women get thoroughly stared at from every angle.
There’s also a clear reason for those all-women metro trains. During rush hour I was waiting in line (with other women) to board a co-ed train when a man placed his forearm on me like he was trying to get in between my butt cheeks. When I tried to move away, he moved with me, readjusting to make sure he got his arm right back in there. I pivoted and he pivoted. Finally I just power walked to a wall and put my back to it, forcing him to choose between continuing to harass me or miss the train. He left me alone.
Despite the unfortunate issues related to the country’s patriarchal culture, not everyone is the aggressive metro offender or the leering pedestrian. I have met really great Indian men (and women) who have been more than welcoming and helpful. In a city of 9.8 million people, you are bound to find bad apples in with the good.
Ending on a good note, I’ve had the pleasure of eating some damn good Indian delights even though I’m worried about getting Delhi Belly. I have this very unscientific theory that I’m less likely to get sick from Indian sweets, so I’ve had my fair share of gulab jamun, laddu, and the sweet mother of all street desserts, jalebi. Thus far, my theory seems to be working out although I am on a sure path to diabetes, obesity, and toothache ( #WorthIt ).
Tomorrow is a new day, and we’re are headed to Agra to see the ol’ Taj Mahal before trekking north to Shimla, Kasol, and Manali. Outside of Delhi, I’m sure India will continue to surprise, shock, and delight, and I can’t wait to find out.