What it’s like to travel in India

November 29th 2008

To start this journal about the Rinchen Terdzo, I thought it best to give a sense of what it is like to travel in India. After all, this is part of the function of the blog, to share as much as possible about the events in here in India.

Delhi usually meets the visitor with a bit of an onslaught. Patricia Kirigin and I arrived at around five in the morning, well rested and surprisingly awake after the eight hour trip from London. Neither of us had slept more than six hours in two days. We had the strange luck to be upgraded to first class at the last moment and so the trip in had been quite enjoyable.

After passport control’s 15 or 20 lines of travelers—tall and strong Sikh men with thick blue turbans, Indian women in saris or in t-shirts and jeans, devout Muslim men with trimmed beards and proper pants and tunics—we eventually located the last of our bags which had found their way off the carousel without our knowing. I changed some money at a 24-hour exchange and received an inch of 100 rupee notes stapled together into a pile. I asked one of the men at the exchange what would be a good amount to give someone who might try to take our bags and wheel them to our car. With a somewhat mischievous smile he recommended 100 rupees which would be around two dollars adding that 50 was enough to get a good cup of tea.

We’d asked our guest house [Likir House, Lajpat Nagar II] to send a car and we were on the road in remarkably good time. As we moved along I remarked, ‘They don’t know how good they’ve got it,’ meaning the people in the west who’ve never been to places like Delhi. It is shocking to enter an area of pollution so intense that you can feel dust on your teeth within minutes of getting off the plane, even while indoors. Dust and fog together in the morning create an atmosphere where light seems to physically hang in the space.

On what would be an expressway coming in from Kennedy Airport in New York one sees men pushing carts in the slow lane along with tribal women in worn out colored shawls and thick sliver ankle bracelets. Seemly everywhere there is dust, grime and a mixture of poverty, rampant advertising and towering construction cranes in the distance. This chaos is amplified by the driving being a bit free-form and drivers communicating turns by beeping.

After we settled in our room we were suprpised to see our friend Tharpa Chodron, a long-time student of the Vidyadhara and seasoned Asia traveler. She’d been at the hotel a while and was looking for a room for Ngodrup Rongae, the well-known thanka painter, and his nephew who were coming into Delhi. Tharpa and some students of Lama Palden, a western teacher from the Bay Area, filled us in on the main dharmic event in Delhi right now, His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche teaching on the Samantabhadra prayer.

The guesthouse is in a relatively quiet district with bustling shops and street bazaars. There’s an alternation between mountain bike stores, western-style coffee bars, mobile phone shops, corn-roasting street vendors, beggar girls pulling your sleeves, and curious children at every turn. Today we were told is 200 times as slow because of the national election. After a nap we took a walk around the neighborhood and got some makhani dhal, nan, palaak panir and aloo gobi from a nearby hotel.

 

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