India: Delhi in a Day

I wake up to an incredible breakfast, which has been cooked for me by the young girl who let me into their home, and cooked me dinner last night in Dolly’s absence. It has become clear to me now that she is their live in housemaid, which is very common in other countries. I had stayed with a friend of my father when I was traveling in Greece, who had a live in housemaid as well. I have to admit, I find it a little uncomfortable asking people to do things for me (I know, that doesn’t sound like me at all) but the whole concept is beginning to make sense to me, and I’m becoming more comfortable with it. I was pretty awkward about it to begin with. For one, I was helping her do the dishes last night… but that was before I was certain that she works here.

The breakfast she cooks me is the best breakfast ever. I would probably eat breakfast on a regular basis in Canada if we had this. Dolly tells me it is a traditional Indian breakfast and it consists of a whole grain naan bread stuffed with cauliflower and chives (or another herb), topped with a bit of butter and served with plain yogurt. They serve me not one, not two, but THREE of these naan breads one at a time. I am satisfied after one, but they keep coming so I keep eating. I only get through half of the third one, and am pressured to eat more but I absolutely can’t. I tell Dolly how delicious it is many times, but she seems concerned when I can’t finish my third piece of naan bread. I think it’s funny how different cultures and generations feel about food compared to how we regard it now in western culture. The older generations are always wanting us to eat more, have dessert, stuff our faces if we love it. Now, in western culture it’s looked down upon to over eat. With North America’s obsession with weight, it’s extremely rare to have someone tell you to keep eating when you say you’re full, but this has happened to me so many times in the last month while being in Denmark and India especially.

After breakfast Dolly calls a driver to take me around Delhi and see all of the sights I would like. She suggests that I go see The Lotus Temple, The Red Fort, Quatab Minar, and Connaught Place.
First, the driver takes me to Quatab Minar which is the tallest building in Old Delhi, and was built hundreds of years ago. Some hindi singer is filming a music video on one section of the grounds so I go to watch for a little bit. I love Bollywood style everything! All the acting is so cheesy, and even the song they are dancing too sounds cheesy, though it is in Hindi and obviously I can’t understand what it’s about. It was fun to see how they film the video in any case.

I notice much later in the day that I was ripped off at the Qutub Minar, when I gave the man at the counter a 1000 rupees for a 350 rupee ticket, and was only given 350 rupees back. I don’t notice at the time because people are swarming me, asking if I needed a tour guide, or need to buy postcards, need a photographer etc., as I am paying. It’s very clever of them, to distract you like that, and the 300 rupees I lose is not the end of the world, but it’s the moral aspect of it that hurts my soul. At first when I arrived in India I thought it was hilarious and I came prepared to be ripped off at least once or twice, but it really does become tiresome after a while. I don’t enjoy feeling like I have been taken advantage of… Especially 10 times a day. However the flip side to it, is that when I do catch someone trying to rip me off, and call them out, I feel like a champion.

After the Quatab Minar I planned to go to The Red Fort and Lotus Temple but they are both closed, so the driver makes some suggestions about where to go. I have heard that sometimes tour guides and cab drivers will lie to you about monuments being closed in order to lure you to other activities that they earn commission for bringing you to. At first I think that’s what he is doing because I have learned to assume the worst, but he takes me to The Lotus Temple anyway to take pictures from the outside and I see that it is in fact closed, so that makes me feel better.

However, after The Lotus Temple he drives me to a textile shop without asking me if I’d like to go (but he doesn’t really speak English so if he did ask it’s possible I wouldn’t have understood him anyway). The next thing I know we are pulled over and someone from the shop has come to collect me from my car. It’s all very confusing and a little bit scary because I don’t know where I am… this doesn’t look like sight seeing to me. I notice a lot of other tourists around who are all smiling and looking at scarves and dresses, which puts me at ease. It becomes obvious very quickly that I have been brought here with the sole purpose of purchasing something. They sit me down on a very luxurious purple couch, offer me a tea, and begin their schpiel. “Great quality” “best price” “many more colours” “feel the silk”. They are trying to sell me saris, pashminas, pillow cases, everything and anything they can. I keep explaining that I do not need or want anything, but of course they keep pushing. In order to get out quickly, I find a pashmina I like and tell them that I’ll take it and then leave. They try to lure me over to other sections of the shop but I firmly tell them all I would like is the pashmina. When I ask how much it costs, the response I get is “very good price”….. Okay…. How much is a very good price?

The pashmina is 50 Canadian dollars, and they refuse to haggle with me when I tell them that it’s way too expensive. “Fix price” they keep telling me, but I know that NOTHING in India is “fix price”. I find a cheaper pashmina that I like less, but agree to buy it anyway just to get out of the store (it just seemed too impossible and very awkward to just leave with nothing, which I’m sure is their intent). On my way to the cash, they take me the long way around weaving through separate sections of the giant store where I am stopped numerous times and told to look at the good quality jewelry, traditional indian style shoes, broaches for your saris etc. I tell the man leading me on this ridiculous walk to the cash register (which I had passed on the way in and therefore knew I did not need to walk through all of this to get back) that I do not want anything else, and that I’d just like to pay and leave. Growing more annoyed with every step we take towards the cash, I decide to just duck out and leave as soon as I see the front door. I hear the man calling after me, but I just ignore him and b-line back to my car.

I am absolutely sick of feeling like a cash cow everywhere I go. I don’t like people thinking they can take advantage of me and make me buy things I don’t want to buy, or pay more for things I don’t even want in the first place. For example, people asking me to take a picture of them, and then demanding a tip. I didn’t ask them for a picture, they asked ME. It happens literally everywhere I go. I think what annoys me the most about this textile shop situation, is that my driver took me there without asking me. I wanted to go sight seeing, Dolly had given him a list of places I wanted to see, and this textile shop was not one of them. I feel angry for a long time, thinking about the textile shop and how it was filled with unsuspecting tourists and almost no locals that I could see. It makes me think about my visit to the textile shop in Jaipur, where I had purchased a sari and bed sheets. I was given a tour of how they make all the fabrics and dyes, so it seemed more like a tour at the time. It makes me wonder if I had been ripped off there too, even after haggling. I just never know. The whole experience now feels dirty and unwelcome, as opposed to exciting and unique, as it had felt in Jaipur. As we drive to the next monument, I begin to cool off and feel less angry about the situation. I remember how much I loved buying my sari and sheets, and how the textile shop in Jaipur had made a brand new one for me after taking my measurements, and had even brought the sari to my hotel along with the man who had sewn it, to make sure everything fit perfectly.

I start to think that even if I had been lead there on false pretenses, with the sole purpose of paying too much for a sari, it was still extremely inexpensive in comparison to what I would have paid at home, and felt like a very special experience at the time. I just find that I am constantly struggling with how to know what is actually a good deal, and what is a mistake, which really is extremely exhausting and disheartening after a while.

Next, my car takes me to The India Gate, which looks a little bit like the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. This is the most touristy-vibed place I have been to yet, including the Taj Mahal. At the Taj, there were no vehicles allowed anywhere near the entrance, and I only encountered a very small number of people selling trinkets and things, who were only allowed to stand out front of the entrance to the Taj, not anywhere inside the gates. Here, at the India Gate, I am still in my car when a crowd of children start swarming my doors on both sides, knocking on my window, asking me to buy things or begging for change. I manage to squeeze out one side of the vehicle and start walking towards the monument but of course they all follow me. When I reach the surrounding area of the gate, a very old woman comes up beside me, smacks a sticker of the Indian flag to my arm, and demands a donation. I come up with the lamest lie, and tell her that I have left all my money in the car. She angrily removes the sticker (as if I had wanted it on my arm in the first place) and mutters something in Hindi under her breath.
I still have a pack of children following me.

On top of that, a young woman has now grabbed me by the back of my arm, and is requesting that I take a picture with her. I have learned to say no to this question every time I am asked because for one, I don’t want or need a picture with random people, and secondly they always want money afterwards, so it’s a lose/lose situation.
I politely tell her no and try to keep walking, dodging small children with trinkets in my face as I go. She does not like my answer, continues to grab me, and starts saying “please”. Not in a begging tone, but in a “you’re being a bitch just take a damn picture with me” tone. I have to physically remove her hand from my arm, and tell her no in the most stern way possible. I feel awful but it is also SO ridiculous to have someone I don’t even know grabbing me like that while I’m minding my own business. Beyond those encounters there are a million food and drink carts scattered around the circumference of the gate, people making bubbles (and selling the little machine that blows them), people selling postcards, cotton candy, keychains, weird little squeaky toys, and any other trinket you can think of. It was absolute madness. I get in, take a photo of The Gate, and run out, back to the safety and tranquility of the car.

Finally, the driver takes me to Connaught Place, which is a main market area of Delhi.
I shop around for a little while, still slightly angry from being dropped off at the textile factory earlier, and make it very clear to all shop keepers that I encounter that I do not want to buy ANYTHING. I stop into a little café and order a chicken sandwich that honestly, tastes exactly like an Indian version of a Subway sandwich, which means I adore it.

I return back to Dolly’s house where it is just me, the housekeeper, her baby and her husband. Something delicious is cooking, and I wonder if we will be eating in again tonight, or if I will be meeting Dolly somewhere for dinner. Both sound like fabulous options to me.

I am served dinner at home and my mouth is watering, it smells SO delicious. I would try to explain all of the yummy things that I have, but I am too busy eating them. I took a picture and thought about posting it to the blog, but then I thought about how much I don’t like when people post pictures of their meals on instagram, so I delete it. Sorry folks.


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