A Long Way From Home
3/4/12 – 1:15 AM (India Time)
Shortly after arriving in the New Delhi airport at 1:30 AM on Saturday morning, we quickly learned that even seemingly simple tasks (like finding our driver and getting to the bed and breakfast where we’d be spending whatever was left of the night) take on whole new levels of complexity in India. Apparently the airport recently changed its pick-up policy, preventing drivers from parking curbside, which meant we had to finagle 10 people and 16 checked bags—many of them weighed down by gifts of books and art supplies for the school in Chaukori—onto a shuttle bus that took us to where our ride was parked. While we walked the final stretch to our vehicle, hampered by our gear and general weariness, our lungs took in the harsh reality that there is no place like home (Dublin) when it comes clean air. The darkness of a New Delhi night is softened by a smoggy haze that seems to stick to you, inside and out.
There was a surprisingly large amount of traffic on the road for 3:00 AM, but the real obstacle proved to be the labyrinth of narrow, non-descript side streets once we got to the general vicinity of the B&B. The driver jumped out a few times to ask people along the way for directions. When we finally found the right street, we were met with an uncooperative gatekeeper who refused to open allow our large vehicle access. There we sat, parked for 30 minutes, while our final destination and the promise of much needed sleep, lay painfully just out of reach. Eventually, the driver made the final leg of the journey (about ½ km) on foot, and brought back the owner of the B&B who found a way to convince the man to grant us passage. (I’m guessing it had something to do with the fact that he and his neighbors were responsible for paying this man’s salary). We finally got to bed by about 4:30 AM (6:00 PM Friday back home), roughly 27 hours after leaving Dublin.
We awoke by about 9:00 AM and had a nice breakfast before heading out to see a bit of New Delhi. The highlight was definitely the time we spent touring exploring the Qutb Minar, a 238 ft. tower constructed in the late 12th century of red sandstone and marble. It is the tallest minaret in all of India! The level of detailed carving in the tower and surrounding monuments was most impressive. Afterward, we met up with a childhood friend of Jay’s and had lunch at an interesting restaurant called “Olive…something or other” (not Garden). So there we sat in India, eating Italian food, while the radio piped Latin America music into the courtyard. Bizarre!
After lunch we were back on the road to Agra, where we are now spending the night in a nice hotel, before an early morning trip to the Taj Mahal. I won’t say much of the drive here, other than that it was long, chaotic, but never ceased to be entertaining. Mapquest shows it as 211 km and roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes. It took us 7 hours! ‘Traffic’ does not even begin to describe what transpired today. But we did get to a dancing monkey (from a safe distance), all kinds of strange vehicles and carts powered by a variety of sources (fossil fuels, humans, oxen, camels), an inebriated man who decided from 10 feet away that ours was the best direction in which to relieve himself, and countless amazing feats of high-speed vehicular maneuvering. The best example was when our driver apparently (all but three of us were asleep) pulled up alongside a moving truck, whose bed was loaded with sugar cane. He got close enough to grab hold of a few loose ends and then tapped his break to pull them from the pile. Truth? Maybe not. Courage? Check.
A Long Way From Home