We made it to India last night and couldn’t be happier! After a three-hour delay in Helsinki and a six-hour flight, we landed in monsoon-soaked Delhi. One of my best friends, Alvir, picked us up from the airport and took us back to the hotel he had gotten for us. He had arrived in Delhi earlier in the day from Ahmedabad and left this afternoon for Kolkata on his way home. We didn’t have much time together, but we made the most of it since we haven’t seen each other in over a year and probably won’t for at least another. Through IndiCorps, he’s been living and volunteering in a Rajasthani village for the past year. It was a cool rendezvous in the sense that we met up in the city that we both lived in years ago and shared so many memories, but it was odd in that we were coming from Europe and he from a third-world village.
Coming out of our hotel this morning was a shock. I haven’t been to India in a few years and we’re just coming off of Europe, so I was not prepared at all. Last week, I began thinking Turkey is similar to India in some ways and noticed we were getting farther East. But after today, Turkey seems like Britain or something. India is crazier than anywhere. I’d forgotten just how crowded it is, how poor it is, how miraculous transportation is, how dirty, how noisy, how hot, how humid, and how amazing it is. There’s no way to describe it, but it felt good to be back. I was a little intimidated at first, but luckily we had Alvir to navigate and arrange everything for us. It was a good introduction back to the country.
The first thing we did after waking up was take the new Metro north to Civil Lines, to try and say hi to the director of my old study abroad program. The Metro is super fast, cheap, clean, and crowded. I was amazed by how quickly we got to where we were going, compared to the time and cost of the rickshaws we took everywhere just two and a half years ago. Our old director wasn’t around, so we headed to the neighborhood where we lived a few years ago to hit up our favorite restaurant, Grand Plaza (or GP for short). We sat and enjoyed their world-famous chai (at least to us) and a simple Indian meal of dahl makhani and palaak paneer. It was just one of many things we did that day that brought back so many great memories. Then we headed to south Delhi, because Alvir hasn’t smoked in year and was craving some hookah. We couldn’t find one hookah place and the other one we knew of closed, so we settled for some coffee and ice-cream instead. We talked for awhile until Alvir had to leave for the airport. Then it was just Joylani and I again.
While we were with Alvir, I was in disbelief that I used to get around Delhi by myself. Having poor Hindi and sense of direction, I doubted I’d be adept at getting Joylani and myself around. But once Alvir was gone, my Hindi came back. Words and phrases that I forgot I even knew just came out of my mouth as I negotiated rickshaw fares and spoke with touts and waiters. It was amazing. On our way back north to central Delhi, things began feeling familiar again. It felt good to be back. It felt good to be in India once we arrived at the airport. It felt good to see Alvir and hang out with him. But once we were on our own, Delhi really felt like home again.
At first, Delhi was a shock. But throughout the day, with Alvir’s help at first, I found my groove again. Part of that was doing some of my favorite things. We enjoyed chai at GP, where we used to chill every night. We took a bike-rickshaw along Mall Road towards Model Town, just like we did back from school or Muhkerjee Nagar. We crisscrossed the city in auto-rickshaws, trying to find Shalom (where I had an awesome birthday party) or Mocha (or favorite hookah/coffee shop). We walked around CP. It was just the little things that brought back memories, places, and a language I’d forgotten. It was also the little things that made this my best day of this adventure yet. Today solidified India’s position as my favorite country too (in case you’re curious, the Maldives is my number two, with several competing for third). It was a day full of memories, but its even more exciting that Joylani and I get to spend the next few months in such an amazing place.