Thursday, April 4, 2013

D: Oh, the places you'll go!

It's Day 4 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

D is for Delhi and Duxford

Delhi, India (September 1987)


Sikh temple
After spending three weeks in Indonesia (one of my favorite countries ever), we arrived in Delhi at 10:30 p.m. and were immediately thrown into the chaos that is India. Immigration took some time, as did trying to declare our money honestly (the customs officials didn't seem to want us to, because it was more work for them, I guess), and when Mike asked the money changer for smaller bills, he flatly said "No." We knew immediately that India would be very different than Indonesia!


Red fort

Naive that we were, we had assumed we'd be able to stay in the airport retiring rooms overnight so we could get our bearings...but they were full, of course. So we hopped in a pre-paid taxi and rode into the city. After trying a few places listed in our guidebook, we finally allowed the taxi driver to take us to HIS hotel, Hotel Bright, which was a complete and total dump. Clearly, it's changed since 1987!! It was filthy, with dirty sheets and no screens in the windows, and incredibly noisy. The toilets were on the other side of the room. It was a horrible first night--people were pounding on our door in the middle of the night and shouting in the hallway, and Mike got eaten alive by mosquitos. Not a good start!
 
At the fort

The next few nights we stayed in a better, more expensive hotel, and we realized that traveling in India would not be as inexpensive as we initially thought. On our first day, we went for a walk in the park and sat down to read the paper...but soon hordes of men descended, trying to clean our ears, polish our shoes, and give us massages. I wanted nothing to do with all that, but Mike wasn't as firm, and soon he had a guy cleaning his ears, much to my disgust! I kept warning him in Japanese that it wasn't very clean, but he was noncommital and let the guy carry on, while another guy came up to massage his legs! Meanwhile, I was trying to read my paper and ignoring them. One guy kept telling me how dirty my shoes were, while another kept peering into my ears, saying "Just a look, ma'am." Mike ended up paying 50 rupees to the ear cleaner! (Sucker!!) I still tease him about the ear cleaning, 26 years later! That was just one incident of being cheated in India, I'm afraid. We were blatant targets, naive foreigners.
It took a few days for us to get our bearings in India and get used to the food and poor level of customer service. One night we went out to a nicer restaurant and I ordered tomato soup, which arrived with some kind of claw in it!


Mike inside the fort
We took a one-day bus tour through the major sights of Delhi--starting with the Jantar Mantar, a series of astronomical observatories once used for calculating times, measuring sun and moon rays, and shadows. Next we visited a wonderful Sikh temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, in which we took off our shoes and covered our heads with scarves. Next was a gawdy Hindu temple in which there were all sorts of admonishments carved into marble such as "Just as the bird loses its freedom when enchained, so are those doomed to bondage who are enslaved to desire."

Then we went to the Qutab Minar, a mosque complex built at the onset of Muslim rule in India, on the very site where there was once a Hindu temple. It had a 73-meter-high tower of victory that had been finished in 1193, but it was closed because 45 children had died by stampede on a school trip several years before. This was followed by the very modern B'Hai House of Worship, which is in the shape of a lotus and surrounded by reflecting pools. I noted that it was, without

exception, the cleanest place we had yet to be in India.

Raj Ghat
We drove through the crowded streets of Old Delhi to the Red Fort, which was built by Shaj Jahan when he planned to move the capital from Agra to Delhi, but never succeeded before his son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in Agra Fort. Near the Lahore Gate (one of two gates at the fort) is a platform from which Jawaharlal Nehru first unfurled the Indian flag at independence, and it's a tradition every year on Independence Day for the prime minister to proudly unfurl it again. Right below the fort was a very poor encampment of tents, like a shantytown. I saw a boy peeing into a stagnant pool. I just discovered this wonderful, colorful blog by a woman who has visited Delhi much more recently--her photos and stories are wonderful!

We ended the day with a visit to the Raj Ghat, a large, beautiful park now used as a VIP mausoleum. We saw the cremation mound of Nehru and a memorial to Indira Gandhi...and finally the austere cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi, a simple slab of marble on which was carved his last words, "Oh God," in Hindi.
Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi
(on the site of his cremation)
As I mentioned in "A is for Agra," as we were at the Delhi rail station purchasing our India Rail tickets, we encountered our friend Jill from Japan, who had been traveling through Pakistan and India for months. She hated Delhi with a passion, and the night before she had her traveler's checks stolen, so she was not happy. We planned to go to Agra together the next day, and then we made several wild goose trips around the city trying to find the NW Orient office. (Remember that old airline?) We found that the best food we had in Delhi was Middle Eastern!

We returned to Delhi at the end of our month in India and spent one night in a modern tourist hotel--it was the last night we had together before separating for four months...Mike was headed back to England and I was going home to Oregon. By this time we were engaged and knew we would reunite in Oregon in the New Year, but it was a very bittersweet time. I flew out one day before Mike did, and spent one night in Hong Kong on my own before heading back to Portland...and at the Delhi airport, a horrible guard would not let him come to the gate to say goodbye. (These were the days when people were able to say goodbye at the airport gates.) So our last parting was being separated by this mean man! Not a pleasant memory, as I was sobbing because I was being separated from my fiancee, who I wouldn't see for several months.

I feel ambivalent about India. Traveling there was such an amazing experience, and I have many wonderful memories, but it was a hard one as well. I would not have been as brave as Jill, traveling through India and even scarier, Pakistan, all on my own. I felt much more secure being with a man. I read this morning that India's tourism is being hit hard because of the recent high-profile rapes there, especially the one that resulted in the death of a 23-year-old woman. According to that article, a Swiss woman was recently gang raped and a British woman jumped out of her Agra hotel room window because she feared that the hotel manager was going to attack her. Violence against women has always been prevalent in India--one only has to read about the acid attacks, dowries, divorces, female infanticide, glorification of male children, and shunning of widows to realize that--but it's finally getting more press.

I love reading about India in fiction and nonfiction (the biography of Indira Gandhi, last year's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons to name a few), and watching films that take place in India. I love Indian food. I'm a bit of an Indiophile. I am so glad I got to visit there in my early 20s. But I'm not in a hurry to return there, and the recent violent attacks against women are not making me any more eager.

Duxford, England (Summer 2004)

A few years ago we visited the Imperial War Museums in Duxford, not too far from Cambridge. I'm not much of a war buff, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this visit! It is set on the grounds of the former WWI and WWII airfield and has over 200 aircraft in addition to tanks, military vehicles, and boats. Worth visiting if you are in the area!

Chris (age 8) with his cousin Mark (age 7)
at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Today was a long post with lots of detail and photos, but tomorrow it's back to the United Kingdom with a much shorter post.


34 comments:

  1. As much as I love Indian textiles/clothes and jewelry, you would never catch me dead there. On the other hand, it'd be great for weight loss since I wouldn't touch any of their food.

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    1. I adore Indian food, but just as it was when I traveled to China, I often found that the quality of ingredients was not as good. It might be different now than it was in the 1980s...also, I was traveling on the cheap!

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    2. I am an Indian and find this remark pretty offensive. I don't think anybody is forcing you to go to a place where you would be clearly uncomfortable! After all, one needs an open mind to appreciate other cultures.

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    3. Agree with you out there Roshni ! Well said !

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    4. Jojo, Your remark made me burst out laughing. Its alright if you don't like our food. I personally don't like much of western food either. So we're even there.

      Just keep liking our textiles and jewelry. Someday sample our culture too... it really is amazing. And I'm not being biased.

      Peace to you.
      Dagny

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    5. I'm so sorry if I caused offense. I was just writing about my experiences as a young traveler in India. I have found that the more money you spend, the higher quality the food (and the accommodations). When we stayed in the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, it was wonderful. Most of the time we were staying--and eating--on the cheap. And it was 1989. I'm sure things have changed since then.

      Of course, no one forced me to go to India--I wanted to go there, and it was an amazing experience. But I did not find it an easy place to travel in.

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    6. Relax Marie , the above remarks are not about your post , but a response to the first comment out here . Dropping from At Z challenge :)

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    7. Thanks for letting me know, Sridevi.

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  2. A great idea for a blog. I wouldn't go to India these days it's very worrying.

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    1. Thank you! It's such a shame, because it's a culturally rich country.

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  3. I'm so going to have to come back to your blog. One of my characters in the sequel novel goes to India. A friend of mine is from the area and told me I needed better descriptions. If you don't mind, I'd love your opinion on those particular chapters.

    Thanks so much for your blog!!
    Returning the visit. Blogging A to Z Challenge http://www.shellygoodmanwright.com/apps/blog/show/25373502-d-is-for-distractions

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    1. Sure--you might want to find a native Indian though, since I haven't been there for 24 years!

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  4. My husband travels to India on business quite often. He finds the contrast of poverty and excess difficult to process, but that's part of what makes travel so interesting and so broadening. You see how different cultures live and get out of the neat box most of us have made for ourselves in our own neighborhoods.

    Love your theme! I did travel posts in 2011 and blogged about a China-Taiwain-Hong Kong trek in 2012. This year I'm talking motherhood which is also a journey of sorts : )

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  5. Thanks, Joyce. Yes, the extreme contrast between poverty and excess is difficult, and I suspect it's much more extreme now than it was when we were there in 1989. The book I refer to above, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, studies that contrast.

    Thanks for the comment. I will have to go back and look at your Asia posts!

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  6. How great to come across other 'destinations' A to Z blog! Thoroughly enjoying your posts, especially this one as it mentions two places that are still on my bucket list - Indonesia and India. I am itching to get to Indonesia, but India still feels like somewhere I 'should' want to go, but I haven't yet felt the urge. I think it's one of those destinations that appeal to you at a certain time in your life so maybe I'll wake up one day and randomly decide 'I need to go to India'!

    Look forward to seeing what you share for the rest of the challenge!

    http://www.mydestinationunknown.com
    A to Z Participant

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    1. Thank you, Kellie. I hope you are able to get to both destinations!

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  7. Hopped over here as part of A to Z challenge.
    I live in New Delhi and your D for Delhi piqued my interest ! But I cringed as I read your post :P
    Loved you idea of using Travel as a Theme for A to Z.

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    1. I'm sorry I didn't have more positive things to say about Delhi and India--as I said, it was a bittersweet experience for me there...I'm sure a lot of it was because of traveling on the cheap...and in 1989.

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    2. Travelling with a shoe string budget can be tough .. been there done that ! India is a lot different now than it was in 1989. I hope you get a chance to visit again :P

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  8. I love India - it is after all my homeland and to me one of the most beautiful places on earth. On each of my visits back there, my soul soars. You will either love it or hate it. If you expect too much you will be disappointed anywhere. If you visit India with an open mind and embrace its culture you will be pleasantly surprised.
    Dropping by from AtoZ

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    1. I agree, Suzy...I do believe that my experience might have been better if I had more money to spend. I read a book several years ago about a woman who had been to India in her early 20s and had not enjoyed it, and then she returned and loved it.

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  10. Came to here from A To Z. Clearly U havent experienced "the best" in India. Cheap hotels are cheap in any country be it japan or the USA. If I visit Japan I would love to embrace the culture , know how to use chopsticks and appreciate the tradition even IF I AM NOT A PART OF IT. I at any point of time in my life wont be able to taste FOREIGN food. Delhi is a delight to foodies. Clearly U dont either relish it or U have been to all wrong places. Theres chandni chowk , kareem's kebab , CP , Dilli haat (To shop and eat) and many more food joints. Either ur agent cheated U or U HAD NO IDEA when U planned the trip. Yep there are women atrocities in INDIA and every one is getting united to fight but there r CRIMES all over the world !. In AFrica ppl are abducted and no one has any idea how ?
    In USA every other day Indians are missing mysteriously or frequently being robbed or killed.
    Anyway not diving in to the statistics. I have been to Delhi and I WAS There when Nirbhaya died (23yr old girl) In spite of all CRIMES there is good in Delhi too !!
    Sad U had to face all bad experiences and project it in bad light !!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Afshan. I'm sure a lot of my experience is because this was 1989 and I was a traveler...we didn't have a lot of money to spend. I love to travel and lived in Japan for 3 years so it's not that I don't have an appreciation for foreign cultures, I assure you. I didn't have a travel agent...we were on our own. I'm sure I would have had a very different experience if I had been traveling with more money to spend. I'm sorry that you feel I projected it in a bad light. Delhi was a hard awakening for me--my husband proposed to me in Udaipur later in our trip, and I do have many positive memories of India.

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  11. Yep I read ur reply Marie :) Yep may be U had few issues hence the experience was not great. Didnt mean to offend u and definitely didnt mean to get an apology from U. Its just that there is much more good too if we are little more careful. May be if you visit again hoping to see a post on your "good" experiences. You should really write a story on your husband proposing you in Udaipur !!
    God bless . TC and thanks for dropping by

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    1. Yes, will definitely be writing more about India--we traveled across Rajasthan and had some great adventures!

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  12. well, seeing it is about travelling to delhi in 1980s I dont grudge for the negative points...but India has changed so much since then...

    am more interested in U for Udaipur :)

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com/

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    1. Yes, I know it must have changed so much then! For example, the Hotel Bright...looks like a four-star hotel now!!

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  13. Hi! I'm a Ninja Minion checking in. Are you enjoying the challenge?

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    1. Yes I am, Ciara. Thanks for checking in!

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  14. A fascinating insight into your experiences. Isn't it funny how things change? I loved the irony of Hotel Bright being anything, although I can appreciate how you would not see the humour in this at the time! I also spotted an old Comic Relief T-Shirt on your husband in one shot! That bought back some memories for David and I :0)

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  15. Yes, it was ironic--that's for sure! Was that Comic Relief? I remember that old t-shirt but it's long gone now! :)

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  16. I, too, am fascinated by India and its culture. For me, though, I think it would be sensory overload even if nothing overtly horrible happened. The sights, sounds, smells, chaos...it makes me a little dizzy just thinking about it all.

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