India was my first real taste of a culture unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me. Immediately the overwhelming amount of car horns and beeps from motorbikes was incredible. It was incredible in the way that the most annoying thing in the world might be incredible. Back home, if you were to honk your horn it might mean, “hey fuck you!” but here in India the horn seemed to lose its power. Everyone has a sensitive trigger and uses the horn for any reason at all.
Get out of my way! BEEP
Hey I’m coming. BEEP
Hello my friend! BEEP
I just ate breakfast! BEEP
Ya know I haven’t used my horn in a while… BEEP
It immediately became annoying and seemed unnecessary. Even if the logic was that there were 6 billion people here and they wanted to let you they were coming at all times for safety purposes, it seemed to have been worn out considering I tended to zone out and ignore the horns after a while since I heard it every 1-2 seconds.
Right off the bat, when we arrived in New Delhi I was hit with a sickness I hope I never meet again. Some call it the “Delhi Belly”. What a cute name for such a horrific situation. The only comparison might have been when I had giardia on the Appalachian trail, but even though I was also uncontrollably sitting on the toilet every 10 minutes at that point, at least it was isolated to one area of the body. This on the other hand was both ends. As I was sick, and it seemed like an inappropriate time to leave and venture off on a bicycle through the most populated country in the world having to shit or vomit every 10 minutes, we stayed put in Delhi for a few days.
The streets outside our hostel were covered in human life and was very cool to see the parades that seemed to randomly happen. Colorful powders were covering the bodies of the people holding giant India flags and usually rolling a giant float, hand covered in flowers and other colorful things. Drums were included in these random marches of people and their faces were happy and expressive. Trash was more often than not thrown immediately on to their ground after being used. Done with a bag of chips? It was then thrown on the street without a thought. Finished enjoying a coffee in a to-go cup? Chuck that thing in the street. I found myself searching for a trash bin or a receptacle in which to throw my trash but was greeted only by an accumulation that had been swept together or a burning pile of trash on the curb in which to throw my trash.
Once I was feeling better I joined Josh on an exploration of our surroundings. The restaurants served inexpensive but delicious food. Hygienically, it was very overwhelming to see how things were done considering nobody used utensils or cutlery. You have one hand with which to eat and one with which to clean. The food was usually slapped onto a metal plate and you’d then rip a piece of bread or “naan” and use that to grab your curry or whatever you had on your plate. It was delicious but I couldn’t help to think that this nightmare caused my sickness in the first place. I considered drinking out of the sink or pitchers of water for about .5 seconds before deciding i would be buying bottles of water from here on out.
While in search of beer, the only way to purchase it was a sketchy caged sliver of an alleyway where a man stands behind a counter behind a cage you might see in prison. Hand him your money and he hands you your beer. There were no prices on anything in order for the person to haggle the price of just about anything he was selling from fruit to beer to sandals.
The Population of India is over 1,300,000,000 human beings. That’s one billion more people than the US and I’d be surprised if i was wrong about every single one of them staring at me as I rode across India. When I would stop to drink some water there would be a crowd of 10-20 people surrounding me. They’d stare unemotionally and not say a word.
“what’s up homies? You like the way I drink my water?” I’d say lightheartedly
No response. Emotionless stare.
But it didn’t stop there. No matter what there was a crowd of staring people and at most I’d get a few words out of them. This switched from feeling like a rock star where i enjoyed the attention and the stares and points, to frustration of never being left alone for even a moment. This included riding my bike. There were times when id be riding up a slight incline and as i looked behind me there would be a line of single dudes waiting their turn to ride up next to me and smile.
“Hello my friend! Can i have one selfie please” they’d sometimes say.
“Sorry dude”, I’d say “I’m obviously riding my bike and if i stop for you ill have to stop for everyone that’s waiting to get their selfie.”
“PLEASE MY FRIEND”
“okay my friend I am missing you already” he’d say while riding off until the next guy rode up next to me and the process repeated.
At a point near the end of our time in India, I had stopped to buy a cold can of coke and a couple bottles of water. I was immediately hounded by many people poking around with complete disregard of personal space and a man in a white robe holding a basket. Out of my peripheral vision i had noticed him showing me his basket, probably asking if i wanted to purchase it.
“No man i don’t want your basket, its very nice but no thank you.”
As he continued to push closer my eyes refused to look at him and i thought maybe if i just ignore him he will go away. He continued saying something in a language i couldn’t understand until finally opening the basket as i simultaneously was turning around to yell “fuck off”. At that point a cobra popped his stupid ugly face out of the basket which i thought my man was trying to sell me. Nope, he was trying to show me his legless armless creepy ass cobra who seemed unhappy to be locked up in a hot basket all day.
“Get that fucking thing away from me!!” i yelled as i bowed up ready to hit the guy.
His friend must have sensed the seriousness of the situation and pulled him and the snake away.
I fucking hate snakes.
Agra is a city about 150 miles from New Delhi and we arrived anxious to see the famous Taj Mahal. We stood in the hot sun waiting in a massive line but once we were inside the courtyard walls it all became worth it to see this massive marble structure and its surrounding property. We got there relatively early hoping to beat the crowds but apparently that was everyone’s plan as well. The Taj Mahal was made to honor and house the tomb of his favorite wife in the mid 1600’s. During it’s building process there were said to have been 1,000 elephants and 20,000 artisans hired to complete the process. The whole construction was estimated to have cost 32 million rupees which is about 52 billion rupees today ($827 million US). All this done for this guys wife. If i die please don’t go through all that trouble.
After walking around all day we rode our bikes back to the hostel for the night. On the way back we heard a voice coming from a tuk tuk driver.
“do you want tuk tuk ride?” he said while looking right at us
“no man…were literally riding our bicycles right now” I said in exhaustion
Our next big stop was Varanasi. It is considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities and had a huge impact on the development of Hinduism in India. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major center for pilgrimage. As josh and i rode our bikes thru the city we were exposed to dead and dying bodies in the street. It was a heavy thing to see a dying old men and women weighing nearly nothing just waiting to die in the city in order for his spirit to be brought to heaven. That night josh and i explored the city on our own. There was an eerie feeling due to the dim lights and oldness of this city. As we approached the Ganges river thru tight dark alleys and dimly lit tunnels we started to smell the fire. Sparks of orange fire flew in the air, the hissing of burning bodies filled your ears and a smell existed that only exists here as you looked over several piles of wood burning a tightly wrapped body until its ashes could be put into the river. Each body takes upwards of 1,000 pounds of timber to burn completely and occasionally a partially burned body might be put into the water and sometimes not even burned at all. A young man took us around and talked to us about what happens here and why. I thought about the differences in appreciating life and death and how different parts of the world have different ways of dealing with it.
Josh and i ventured across India on our bikes trying to keep it together with the frustration and uncomfortable situations we had been going through. It took a lot sometimes to hold it in when all we wanted to do was scream. The easy and the hard have to exist for life to go on. As I’ve said in earlier posts, you cant go down the mountain without climbing it first. Its important to have the uncomfortable situations as well as the good situations to balance your life. I need to accept more and be willing to appreciate a different culture while putting myself in that different or complicated situation. We’re all on this earth trying to figure it out and we may never do it.
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