Friday, February 13, 2009

Rickshaw Rides and Airplane Flies

I actually started getting around the city some yesterday. After finally finding an ATM at which the security guard did not stop me from entering, I got a good supply of rupees and was able to get out. I found a rickshaw and asked for a ride to the Red Fort - Lal Qila.

Rickshaws are scary. Super scary. Riding in a 3 wheeled scooter type vehicle with absolutely no safety measures seems like a recipe for disaster. I think my life flashed before my eyes my entire first ride. Driving in India is nothing like driving I have seen anywhere else. Yes, they have lanes painted on the streets, but they seem to mean nothing to Indian drivers. Same with traffic lights a lot of the time. Through all the chaos there does seem to be some order. Traffic generally flows well. And after a while, I came to appreciate the aggressiveness of the rickshaw drivers. Like slipping between two cars, inches away on either side just to gain a few feet while stopped at a light. Or heading full tilt into a traffic circle in which no one stops or waits and everyone is headed a different direction.

Indian roads are also a very noisy experience. Every truck has "Horn Please" painted on the back. The car horn is used for everything here. The road provides a symphony of screeching horns, "Meeeeeeep. Bleep bleep. Moooo. Baaa." and after dark, the "Use dipper at night" painted onto many of the trucks inspires a light show of drivers flashing their high beams.

Anyway, back to the Red Fort. It's a huge place, built over a long period of the history of India. There's tons of stuff built by the Mughals, and it was used as a base by the British when they ruled India. Apparently it was a huge symbol to put Indians into the Red Fort around the time of independence.

I was well harassed by a guy who wanted to take me on a bicycle rickshaw tour of the Old City, claiming I would get pickpocketed, not be able to see anything, blah blah blah. After forcefully rejecting him over and over and over as I walked into the Old City, I turned down onto a bazaar. The street was narrow and lined with market stalls as far as the eye could see. At first it was jewelry stores, then textiles, then food. The market ended at a large mosque, then continued onto the other side. Just as I was entering the muslim market that continued down, the afternoon prayers began to be called from the mosque. It felt more like how I'd expect one of the middle eastern countries to be. The bazaar continued for kilometers, it seemed, but I exited to take a rickshaw back to my hotel.

Later, I met Solon at his house, a room with family friends in a very nice Delhi neighborhood. We went to dinner at a pretty high end place, with two of Solon's friends who are here to study joining us. One of the girls had gone to Berkeley High at the same time I did. It was really nice to spend some time with people from home, though I didn't really know any of them, after my shocking entry into India.

Today I flew South to Chennai. I woke up at 4:30 AM to get to the airport for my 7:15 flight. It was delayed 4 hours because the airport was too foggy. Ouch. The airport is a bit out of town and I took the regional train into town for 6 rupees, a pittance compared to the 240 it would have cost in a rickshaw. The train had sweet uncovered doors that provided a nice breeze to ward of the 32 degree celsius heat and a great view of the passing city. On the train I met three local guys who were studying engineering and had a nice chat with them about my travels.

Tomorrow I head to Bangalore, probably by train to go stay with Madhu, my instructor from my NOLS course! It will be awesome to see him again and stay with an Indian family.

(All photos from the Red Fort. Hope they turned out OK, they look terrible on this computer screen.)


Unknown said...

You really know how to pack in the activities in a short space of time, Zach! Your descriptions make me feel like I'm there. I think the photos look great, and it's nice to have the visual to go along with the words. Mom

Anonymous said...

Rickshaw reality: here I'd thought my driving had made you immune to such things.....I can picture it dude, sounds scary fun!

Anonymous said...

The pix look real good--made me think of our trip to Spain--remember the Mezquita in Cordoba?

Anonymous said...

You are the man dude! Love your Dad's comparison to Dickensen. You are definitely a young writer and your travels inspired Nicole and I to have Indian food for dinner.

Anonymous said...

Zach - I am an old friend of Mom's. I met you when your were a kid. Let me know when you are headed for Kolkata - I have some young friends there.

Advice to the Young Marco Polo:

Say "no" firmly and repeat as necessary. Don't be embarrased. They are counting on prevailing over weaklings. Be a man.

If you "spontaneously" meet someone, and it turns out they can get you just what you have been looking for CHEAP - and its not far away - DO NOT accompany that person if it requires going out of the public eye. Its a scam and they might well hurt or even kill you.

Go down no alleys, go into no labyrinthine quarters, enter no private buildings with anyone unknown to you. They have no mercy.

Drug dealers make two profits on their sales: They sell TO you at a profit - then they turn you in to the police for another profit. You can't buy drugs from any one unknown to you. One way ticket to Bubbaville.

Besides, you probably would be smart to have your wits about you at all times.

Some travelers don't drink anything except from bottles they witness being opened. Of course, you have been warned not to drink the water.

Men may offer you girls. Always say no. Its invariably a scam. Always a scam. You will meet plenty of girls on your own, at discos, beaches, etc.. In India, there are plenty of regular, pretty high-school or college girls who want to sex an american, for fun, or in the hope of future profit, or even some current "presents".

Never accept a man's offer to provide you a girl. The chance of it turning out to be a good experience is really thisclose to zero.

Never let anyone do any favors for you at all - unless you re prepared to pay.

If you let someone do anything for you, even sometimes point you in the right direction, they will expect to be paid.

Never order any food or beverage or any item or transact any business at all of any kind whatsoever without acertaining and agreeing on, in English and sometimes by display of currency, the exact, final price. No one will give you any breaks. You got the dough and you are fair game. "Never give a sucker an even break!"

Finally, do not expect the police to be your friend and saviour. They are not that interested in you and are government workers like everyone else.

Let's say you are in a bar or restaurant and you buy yourself or a companion drink or a meal, without firmly agreeing to the price first. Then they give you a bill for $97 USD. You gotta pay, friend, or they will beat the crap outta you. The police will side with them, not you. Get clear on the price first on everything.

With these rules in mind, you should save yourself a lot of aggravation and have the road clear to a fabulous time!

Bon Voyage!

Anonymous said...

Hi Zach, Your blowing my mind with your descriptions, pictures and stories. I never wanted to visit India until now. Keep Truckin' Love ya, David

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