Friday, February 17, 2012

Around the World: Arriving in New Delhi

February 17, 1992

Arrived at the station in plenty of time for the late night train from Jaipur to Delhi.  Attempts to reserve a seat only produced a wild goose chase to locate someone willing and/or capable to complete such a task.  I did get a thorough tour of Jaipur's railway station, as I was sent upstairs and downstairs and to this window and that one, where I met every single station employee that was not authorized to reserve anything for anyone.

When the train did pull into the station, it was clear that the only way to get a reservation on this train was to just get on. Claire and I ran the length of the train along the platform looking for a car with any available space without luck.  At the last car, the engine's whistle blows, indicating the train is ready to leave the station, but trying to get into the packed car is impossible. There just isn't any space that allows both of us to get into the car wearing backpacks.  Out of time, I quickly suggest a plan.  I'll get on, Claire will pass me both packs and then Claire will board.

As Claire tosses me the second pack, the train begins pulling out of the station.  She runs to keep up the with the train while I extend my arm to help her get on.  Two other passengers take hold of me as Claire grabs onto my arm and leaps for the door.  She lands in the car a bit off balance, but is steadied by three more passengers.  Once she is safely aboard, I survey the car for somewhere to settle for the trip.  Our hasty selection of this particular car comes with both bad and good news.  Respectively, the car we have chosen is beyond capacity full, and entirely by women.

Somehow, the five women who assisted us in boarding rearrange themselves to make a small area for Claire and I to sit.  Many of the passengers are sleeping on and against others who are curled up together under shared shawls, feeding infants or sitting quietly.  I soon find my shoulder is someone's support and my thigh is another woman's pillow.  Claire and I use our stacked packs to share a place to rest our heads for the journey.  There's a respectable sense of sisterhood among this group of women; we are all in this together.

I wake up from an unplanned nap just after sunrise to find the train about half an hour away from arriving in New Delhi.  The parallel rails are covered with people claiming whatever treasures they can find along the tracks.  A line of women are perched along one of the rails, bathing in a murky puddle.  Memory flashes back to the impoverished slums of Bombay and I wonder what other cruel fates of human existence reside in a metropolis the size of Delhi.

Railway slum between Jaipur and Delhi
Photo by Navid Baraty

Outside the train station, Claire and I are surrounded by a small mob of rickshaw drivers and beggars.  The crowd is screaming to us, demanding our money for either an offered service or just because and still coming closer.  Claire leans her head closer to my ear and says, "Wonder Woman!"  I know exactly what she means.  Both of us, wearing backpacks, start spinning on the spot and manage to knock most of the unwelcome crowd away.  Of the few brave enough to remain or wise enough to back up, is a rickshaw wallah offering a good price.

Shortly into the trip, I am convinced that one of us may have bumped him a little too hard.

This rickshaw driver appears to be aiming for road worthy targets. After he crunched over a parked bicycle, he started aiming for random pedestrians.  He even tried to hit a cow!  With his mouth full of betel nut, he tries repeatedly to convince us to go to another hotel.  Since neither of us can understand him, we just keep hollering in response, "Sunny's Guest House!"

Sunny's Guest House is relatively clean, pleasant and convenient, even though it has that self renovated look about it.  I'm pretty sure the walls of my windowless room are some form of cardboard.  The only source of daylight is from a tiny hole cut in a corner to let a small fan circulate air.  It has a bed and a door I can lock.  The common area is the top side of the roof that shelters the ground floor office and patio.  This overhanging part of the second floor has a bit more grade on it that there probably should be.  It's full of travelers that are either just arriving or soon leaving.

Outside Sunny's Guest House
Photo by Trip Advisor

The next flight on my itinerary is from Bombay to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I am less than thrilled about taking the train back to Bombay.  The reviews of Dubai vary, depending on the gender of the person I speak to.  Several female travelers report a negative experience, usually involving unwanted attention from the local men for displaying benign body parts (ankle, knee, arm).

From Dubai, I would then have to make my way overland to Bahrain.  This means crossing the border into Saudi Arabia, a place I will have difficulty traveling through without a male escort.  There's a lot about this trip that isn't sitting well with me, a foreboding feeling I have learned is wise to pay attention to.  

The original RTW route.

There is a plentiful selection of alternative destinations between here and London.  I'm just not comfortable moving over land through this part of the world.  I'm learning that I don't tolerate men who disrespect women terribly well, and my limited knowledge of the Middle East suggests that there are parts where women are barely tolerated at all.  I refuse to accept being treated like property, or at the very least inferior, simply because I am female.  I have a feeling this attitude could become a serious problem.

New Delhi's Connaught Place is a cornucopia of airline offices that I hope will be able to get me from here to London, and hopefully, without getting me into serious trouble along the way.

• ¤ •

A woman is like a tea bag.  It's only when she's in hot water that you realize how strong she is.
~Eleanor Roosevelt