Day Two: Hustle and Bustle of Delhi
The day began with this lingering feeling of “post Delhi stress” syndrome – one that’s not particularly motivating for going anywhere near a rickshaw, let alone out on the streets without proper ear plugs.
After grabbing breakfast upstairs, I came back to our room and spent way too much time trying to connect to Wifi, while Wylie peacefully meditated and began yoga. After about 20 minutes of stagnation, I decided it was time to ditch the screen and go into a quiet space myself – first doing some basic asanas and then chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It dawned on me that in only the course of twenty-four hours, I already carried this silent frustration around not having the ability to establish connection – to the digital world, through locals from Delhi due to language, or any other backpackers because they were simply nowhere to be found. I felt trapped, triggering this familiar feeling I must have felt traveling to Brazil growing up (where my Portuguese-speaking parents were my only connection to the world around me). You would think twenty-eight years of practice would have helped me avoid this very emotional moment, but the feeling was alive and going strong.
Today was our last full day in Delhi, as we didn’t have a hotel booked for the following night. That meant today was the day to visit Amit and make some important decisions about the rest of our time in India, specifically where to go next. We always had our list of places, but purposefully waited to book anything without consulting a local. What we soon learned was that hiring a private driver could save many headaches and longer trips down the road, even if that meant paying a bit more. The Indian railway system is extensive, but doesn’t always chart out the most intuitive routes, hence the appeal of a driver who can take you around a particular region/state and also drive you to and from sites within a city. Amit’s friend – and also a very convincing salesman – presented to us a driver/hotel combo deal for 3,370 rupees a day over the course of 19 days.
Feeling somewhat uneasy about travel agency fees and being fully removed from the planning process made the decision difficult, but in the end we decided to go for it. We were told to come back in an hour while Amit’s friend cooked up an itinerary, which left us with an hour to kill.
In that hour, a few awesome things happened. We scarfed down some Dal Makhani (a lentil based sauce over rice) back at the hotel’s restaurant, which gave us fuel to go back out onto the streets and stroll (more like bustle) through Arakashan Road. Apparently, this road is home to over 600 hotels, hence all the rickshaw mayhem. In just one block, we passed a bull wheeling a cart, Indian children flooding out of school for the day, a hipster-y coffee shop advertising all sorts of delicious iced coffee drinks, and finally – our first and long overdue hostel sighting! (cue up some English speaking people!).
Walking into Zostel was like metaphorically smelling the warmth and tastiness of fresh bread coming out of the oven. The Indian warmth and hostel vibes immediately brought me back to my Thailand backpacking days, and I instantly felt at home. I walked right up to the reception, where two Indian women with amazing English fluency greeted us (mind you, we had yet to see any young millennial Indian women in a professional role up until this point). They answered some basic questions about pricing, and enthusiastically agreed to give us a basic tour so we could compare the single vs. private hostel rooms. We learned that Zostel has opened up only three years ago as the first backpackers hostel in India, and was present in roughly 12 cities, many of which we were about to travel to.
I mean, if there was any sign from the universe to go the hostel route vs. the hotel route (despite the convenience of having Amit’s friend set us up), this was it. There was an Indian man working the hostel who also spoke fluent Chinese – also a sign?! The serendipity of that moment led us to change course immediately. In about three hours, we managed to book hostels for these cities in Rajasthan (while also keeping the private driver part of the deal with Amit’s friend):
Mind you, the Internet connection is like the wind, no matter what kind of luxurious hotel or modern hostel you find yourself in – it comes and goes when it wants, sometimes it comes for 5 minutes and then it goes for 40. It’s up to you to embrace it and go with it, which is an Indian art I’m hoping to master in the next four months. Never having been such a last minute planner, I honestly commend backpackers who book transportation and hotels/hostels as each day comes – it’s definitely not a walk in the park, especially when you’re working off of Indian Wifi and Indian time!
We were completely exhausted from all the planning by the end of the day. As nighttime rolled around, we got a hearty much needed laugh from this sign below right outside Hotel Elegance: