I arrived to New Delhi in the middle of the night which is exactly what every guidebook tells you absolutely not to do unless you don’t mind being robbed, raped, or worse.
But I’ve been traveling in developing countries for awhile and assumed that booking a taxi pickup from a guesthouse would solve my problem. I was correct in my assumption.
After a few hours of sleep, I ventured out into the street. Immediately I was glad that my friend Ruth from England had decided to meet me in this crazy city.
Having spent the last 8 months in the USA, the chaos of the street was incredibly jarring.
Motorbikes and tuk tuks rule the road and seem to have assassination on the brain.
People staring at your light skin and light hair and you realize there are no other westerners in sight which is weird because you read this is a backpacker neighborhood.
Shop owners trying to sell you just about everything you can imagine because you are a walking dollar sign from a wealthy country.
Strangers, all men of course, approaching you to ask all sorts of questions including one man who propositioned my dear friend to join him back in his hotel room.
A journey to the train station proved just about everyone wanted to scam us — telling us the train was canceled and we had to purchase a new ticket for the next day.
All with smiles and head wobbles and a look of pure guilelessness, of course. Friendly liars. Not a bad sort as long as you aren’t too gullible.
Yet within 24 hours both Ruth and I were in love with this crazy country. A visit to the Taj Mahal — perhaps the most touristic place in India — proved that these people are warm, friendly, curious, and kind.
We witnessed many random acts of kindness, some involving us, some not. It gave us chills and brought tears to our eyes to see such genuine goodness in humanity.
One such anecdote, seemingly simple, but so profound: upon stepping out of the taxi to enter the gate to the Taj Mahal, my 5 year old Haviana flip flop snapped to the point of no return.
I wasn’t prepared to go barefoot on the dirty streets quite yet as it was only my second day in India. A young man, seeing my distress, approached us and told us there was a shoe man right down the street.
Naturally we were skeptical with a hundred touts trying to sell us cheap souvenirs and tours of the Taj. Indeed I thought he would lead us away to rob us.
We followed him anyway. Not 100 meters down the road was a cobbler sitting on the street repairing shoes. It took him about 3 minutes to fix my sandal. The young man who led us to him refused a tip when I tried to offer.
One thing that absolutely amazes me is that western culture hasn’t permeated this country the way it has in SE Asia. Indian women — and tourists alike for that matter — all dress in saris and punjabi dresses. Bindis are the norm. Henna on the arms.
And why on earth would they trade their beautiful, vibrant garments for jeans and a tee? It’s refreshing to see that Nordstrom and Nike haven’t entirely taken over the world.
I haven’t been in this country for long, but India has already won me over.
The smiles. The kind eyes. The head wobble. The chai. The smell of incense burning in every shop.
This country is magic. The decision to spend some time here is probably one of the best ones I’ll ever make.