It’s finally happening! I took the decision to travel to India! I had a lot of second thoughts about this country as I’ve heard lots of stories concerning the safety of woman. But when I read about Leh and the great Himalaya’s, and when I realized it’s a now or never story -at least for this season- I decided to just go for it! The plan is to meet a young friend and to cross through the Himalaya’s by motorbike. Enjoying the mountains and the beautiful scenery. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?! It was enough motivation for me to fill in the online visa application form asap. Last night I got my approval, this morning I’m flying :D! I love how sudden plans can change when you’re traveling!
First stop; Yangon airport. I feel wonderful and sad at the same time when the taxi drives me to the airport; sad to leave beautiful Myanmar without doing too much local stuff. And excited to go on a new adventure. One that will probably blow my mind! It feels good to travel solo again and to be independent and to be able to find my own way in this world. When it’s time to board and I’m in the aircraft I can’t help but feel super excited and empowered! This is my life! This is my journey, my travel, and I’m doing it alone. I got overwhelmed by my experiences from the last couple of months. Or actually last year! It’s been so good and adventurous. With ups and downs and a difficult period lately where I felt stuck, sick and thought about going home many times. At this moment all these feelings are gone. I feel good, I feel stronger than ever! I am making my own decisions and enjoy it to the fullest!
Just a two-hour flight away and I arrive in India, in Gaya to wait for my transfer to Delhi. I have to pass immigration already and notice it lacks a system. There is space for a line to follow, but nobody makes a line and so I do what everybody does; get yourself to the immigration desk as soon as possible, getting yourself the first in line. While the friendly officer asked questions about the stamps in my passport – and why I’m traveling solo for that matter! – another passenger accidently almost took my tickets and personal info as it was laying on the desk. Okay, be careful about your stuff! I notified him and got my documents back but in the action accidently took his immigration card instead. Haha, what an unorganized mess! Luckily he was very friendly and the whole process of taking, returning and sorting all documents happened with laughter and friendly faces, as it it’s the most usual thing on earth. A couple of minutes later I had my Indian immigration stamp and I was ready for entry! Yay! I was surprised to see my backpack on the luggage band on my way to the exit. As it was supposed to be checked into the flight to Delhi directly. But as I saw it I took it anyway. Time to get outside of the arrival hall! Lots of people were waiting for their relatives. I see hundreds of faces looking at me, making me feel slightly uncomfortable. By the way people dress I see they are Muslim; men are wearing long dresses and the woman have their heads covered. I’m happy I’ve covered at least my shoulders and knees but still feel a bit outplaced. Outside many more people stare at me, it’s like every face on the streets wants to see who has arrived. Their eyes pierce through my skin and I don’t know where to look. I feel a bit suspicious about the whole situation and am not sure how to act or react to all these faces. I decide to just smile and remain friendly, but actually feel quite intimidated and rather uncertain. Without hesitation I walk immediately from the arrival exit to the departure entrance. Away from all the faces on the street. At least I can check in my backpack again to be a little less obvious. There will be enough time for exploration later, without my luggage on my back. Unfortunately, the counter is not yet open, as the friendly attendant informs me in well English.
I take place in the departure hall and observe the situation. Curious faces are all around me. I greet and smile but don’t always get a response back. Still I feel super excited to be here and I don’t feel unsafe. I wanted a different world and now I’m in it! One thing that I immediately notice are the many colors people wear. It looks very cheerful and beautiful! It only takes minutes after I sat down before Hassan asked if the seat next to me is free. I tell him it is and we start having conversations. He is super kind and friendly. He warns me to watch out for bad people and tells me about Calcutta, where he’s from. He explains me how to greet in Arabic (Salam Aleikum) and later his friends and uncle join us. They were waiting for their grandfather and haven’t slept all night as they took the bus straight from Calcutta. In his eyes I see honesty and friendliness. The vibe in the hall is great as children play around, running and laughing. I’m talking to Hassan and the kind people he’s with, and don’t feel too much being stared at. When the grandfather arrives the boy says goodbye and I’m on my own again. But this time it feels aright. Sometimes it helps to communicate with a local for a moment to take in the environment and to balance the situation. I got a few stares, but other than that people were minding their own business.
When it was time to check in the flight staff kindly directed me to the right place and for the second time today I checked in. As the plain was delayed I had to wait a long time in the waiting hall again. I slept a bit at and got super bored when I woke up. I filled the time with singing and walking around a bit. And when the plane finally arrived got surprised by the an announcement; instead of a direct flight to Delhi we stopped at Varanasi first. No way! Even more travel time! Pff.. what a long travel today! But miracles do tend to happen as in the end we arrived in Delhi in time (even though we flew A LOT later than planned) I was so happy and excited when we descended and I saw parts of the city and the large roads. Back in a city of millions! I felt my eyes filling with tears of joy and excitement, and a bit of tension also. I’m actually in India. The place where so many weird and crazy stories come from. And I am alone. And I’m going to find my way. I can and will do this! First challenge; getting my money exchanged and getting a sim card. Took me about 6 times crossing the airport, trying different ATMs and telephone providers, but I got it done :D! Second challenge; finding the metro (easily spotted!) and getting ON the metro (very difficult task as I’m traveling in rush hour!) I wait one train to be the first one in line, and then it’s still a struggle to get in! Crazy enough I have so much fun being squished together like never before -although it reminds me of the bus in Mongolia!– and I laugh out loud the whole way. I’m surrounded by Indian men. Seriously, where are the woman?! They’re all friendly and some laugh with me. The longer the journey took the more I got pushed inside and my concern changed from how to get into the subway to how to ever get out of there again! Luckily for me my stop was at a busy transit, so a lot more people went out, making the way free for me :)!
I make my way to the Kashmiri gate from where I’m planning to take the night bus straight to Manali. -I came here for the mountains and want to see them as soon as possible! – but just when I’m about to search for tickets to Manali a guy walks up to me and gives me advice concerning the busses. Apparently this is a very local bus station, full of people trying to rip you off. And as also drug abusers take the same busses it’s not really safe to travel from here at night. Hmm.. rip offs, addicts, unsafe night travel… enough reasons for me to accept his invitation to a recommended tourist center nearby. On the way to there he couldn’t stress enough never to trust anybody in India. It was hard for me not confront him that I shouldn’t trust him then?! After all, I am following him to some supposedly touristy place at night time. But I decided to just appreciate his help and not be impolite or anyhow rude as he actually seems like a genuine person. He brought me to the center and left with a polite goodbye. Always good when you can trust your judgment :)! At the office they told me that indeed it’s safer to travel from Majnu Ka Tilla, but that there were no busses going at this time. No problem, I’ll stay here the night 🙂 I checked my maps, found a hostel close to the information center and was brought to there by a friend of the tourist center by rickshaw. That was a cool experience on itself! Passing slowly on the road. Observing the hectic and colorful life in Delhi. Crossing a large fruit market before we reached the hostel. The man brought me all the way to the front door, which was very nice as in this area in Paharganj the streets are very narrow and maze-like. It’s quite hard to find any place as you easily get lost. On the way he tried to sell me jeep tickets to Manali instead of the bus, but not in a too pushy way. I kindly thanked him and checked into the room. It’s a small room where 4 people live; 2 Indian nationals, one male and one female and a Canadian girl. We discuss our travel plans and experiences so far and from the stories I make up this is indeed one crazy place to live or visit. We talk about things like human trafficking, lover boys and sexual assault. Nice topics for conversation haha -not! – It’s interesting that EVERYONE who I’ve met so far is telling me to watch out for bad people and scammers. But that until now I have only met (close enough) genuine people. I hope it’s going to stay like this, but probably not :P!
Well, about only meeting genuine people… my internet on the phone isn’t working. So much for honesty at the freaking airport! Luckily internet is something to overcome. By the time I’m completely installed in my home for the night it’s close to 11pm. I’ve been living on airplane-food and snacks all day and feel quite hungry! Time for my first Indian meal ever! I’m recommended to go to one nearby restaurant and take place in the white-ish space with grey tables. I have a look at their huge menu and try to decide what to order; the stuffed tomato’s with paneer sound good to me! ‘Only this miss?!’ The waiter asks surprised. ‘Eeuh… won’t it be enough?!’ I ask, assuming it will be served with rice. The man patiently explains to me that it’s only a gravy and recommends me to order some naan with it. Okay! Let’s do it :D! I order some garlic naan and a lemon tea with it and feast on the meal, as it’s full of flavor. I can definitely get used to this food! And am excited to taste more of it during my stay :D!
The moment I left the hostel I was back in another world; this is definitely the culture shock people are usually referring too. Although most shops have closed now and it’s a lot less crowded than earlier today there’s still a lot to digest. Not necessarily pretty things like dirt and garbage on the floor, people watching TV in a small alley right next to an open space that is used as a toilet. People who are begging, and people who are selling stuff on the street. Somebody is even making a fire at the side of the street! I feel like a stranger in a complete different world. People stare at me when I pass by and I stare at them, trying to read them, trying to understand where on earth I’ve arrived. It is new, its exciting! I make my way back to the hostel and of course get lost in one of the many narrow alleys. I’m happy when somebody kindly directs me the way.
Today’s been a day full of impressions! And I can’t just yet make up my mind wheather I like this place or not; from the unorganized start at the airport to the intimidating faces at Gaya and the funny faces in the metro. From being warned about all kinds of dangers in this city which even led to changing my plan, to the friendly faces who offered their help and assistance. It’s been a very diverse start. Luckily I have plenty of time to learn and explore more of this country and am very excited to see what tomorrow will bring me!
Have you ever visited India? What where your thoughts when you arrived? Let me know in the comment box below 😉