Hello everyone! If you didn’t know already, we are still in India, but no longer in New Delhi. However, I still want to tell you guys about a tour we took a couple weeks ago.
The tour company is unique, since the guides are adults who grew up as street kids! It’s called Street Connections, and is part of the Salaam Baalak Trust, which is an Indian non-profit and non-governmental organization dedicated to helping street children and working children.
Our guide, Khursheed, is currently one of the only two guides in the company. He is, as stated before, an adult who grew up on the streets. Around the age of 6 days old, his parents got divorced, and at age 6, his mother died, so he had to go live with his grandmother. Khursheed said that when he was young he was a pretty naughty boy who regularly got into trouble for stealing. When his grandmother eventually kicked him out, he went to live with his father and stepmom, who were abusive and cruel, until he ran away and lived on the streets. That’s when the Salamm Baalak Trust found him and brought him to one of their orphanages where he grew up the last 6 years of his childhood. When he had to leave the orphanage due to age restrictions, he joined their tour company and has been a guide for a year now.
We met Khursheed at a place called Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. On certain days of the year, it will have around 25000 people in it at once, all of them worshipping. Khursheed told us that it had cost the emperor Shah Jahan one million rupees, or the equivalent of $26,226,000 dollars today.
After leaving Jama Masjid, we started walking around on side streets, where we occasionally saw little ‘street temples’ where people could go and pray. They were about the size of an average living room, so just large enough for a statue, a shrine, and a prayer carpet to fit in comfortably.
When we were done walking around the streets, we went to a Jain temple. This temple was two stories tall, and on the second level there were around thirty little gold statues, and one large nude marble statue of a dude (Editor’s Note: The statue is of Lord Mahavir). In some smaller side rooms, there were a few small artifacts, but we didn’t know what they were since our guide had to stay at the entrance. Also, we couldn’t understand the descriptions because they were in Hindi.
We made another stop at the Spice Market (Khari Baoli), where Khursheed took us through the hustle and bustle of many shops and people up to the roof of the complex. On the way up, all of us were assaulted by a sensory overload of every type of spice in the market at once. At this point, we started sneezing and I noticed that every single person there (including locals) either had a mask on or was sneezing just as much as we were. That was especially difficult for Kamaile, due to the fact that she had a cold at the time and was already congested and coughing. When we got to the roof, I immediately noticed a dog that was tangled up in kite string. The string was wrapped around his torso and neck, so I helped free him. The we went back to viewing the Khari Baoli from above.
Finally, we went to the orphanage where Khursheed told us his story and a bit about the company. The company helps rescue basically slave children from companies, educates them, and teaches them life skills while giving them a home. After donating, he helped us find our way home on the super confusing subway system. We said our goodbyes on the train, and we walked home.
Finally! I’m back with a new blog post and your daily dose of Smiley Maile with tons of emojis.😜
I know Mom and Trey have already talked about being IN India, but nobody’s talked about getting TO India!🇮🇳 This trip was a little different for us, because dad had arrived in India three weeks before us. So, no travel dad to guide us!😝 But, mom was great and did awesome putting up with Trey and me.😂
Well, enough with my blabbering. On with the travel already!✈️🇮🇳
For my cousin Gracie’s fourth birthday, she really really REALLY wanted to have a sleepover with cousins.💜 Since her birthday party was on the day of our flight, I slept over at her house the day before. (That was crazy!)
We had a fun night with just us girl cousins, (and of course Aunty Katie and Anders!) and the next morning, people started to arrive for the party.
The party was fun, and when it ended Mom, Trey, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunty Tiffy, Jaxon, Layla, and I all got into Grandma’s car and we drove to the airport. When we got there, we all said our goodbyes and then Mom, Trey and I headed inside the aiprort.
Security lines weren’t too bad, since it was a Saturday afternoon, so we got through that pretty quickly. After that we got to our gate in really good time. Mom and I both have gotten into adult coloring books and we like doing them when we travel, but mom forgot hers at home! So we went into a Hudson News shop and she got a cute little book with Bible verses and little doodles on the sides.🌺
Here’s a pic of us at the gate.😋
A bit later, we finally got in the plane! I got the window seat, (yay!) Mom was in the middle, and Trey had the aisle seat.💺 We hadn’t even taken off yet, but I wanted to see what movies they had on the little tv things they have on the back of seats.📺 I was scrolling through and found that they had “Finding Dory”! I was soooooo happy because when the movie came out, we weren’t able to see it because we were in Germany.🐟
Finally, at about six thirty, we took off. Lately, I’ve been really into taking time-lapse videos on my phone, so here is that.
The whole flight to Dubai was fourteen and a half hours!!😱 It was the longest plane ride I’ve ever taken by far. It was so weird, because of the route we’d taken, we saw the sun set two times and we even saw the moon rise!🌅
We landed in Dubai and the layover there was a couple hours, and we ate and just chilled for a while because we were sooo tired. Then, the flight to Delhi from Dubai was about four hours.✈️ On that flight I finished up the BFG movie, (I had started it on the Seattle-Dubai flight) and then slept the rest of the time.💤
Over all, we spent about exactly twenty four hours traveling and we were POOPED.💩😴 I’m pretty sure Mom covered the rest of the events that happened that night, and you can read that in her blog, “The first 24 hours in India, a deliriously tired brain dump.” I’m still not over jet lag on our fifth day, but I’m grateful to be here.😊
Have you heard of the Indian cash crisis? I had read a little blurb last week on The Skimm, my daily sassy news blurb, but didn’t think a whole lot about about it.
“At the root of this chaos is the fact that India is an overwhelmingly paper currency country: some 90% of the transactions are done with cash….The two scrapped denominations – 500 and 1,000 rupees – account for more than 85% of the value of cash in circulation.” *
Basically much of India’s economy runs on cash and many people who operate in cash never pay taxes. In an effort to force the issue, make more people pay taxes, and register the money they currently have, the government declared the two biggest bills, 500 and 1000 rupees, worth just over $7 and $14 respectively, to no longer be legal tender. They gave 4 hours notice for this.
Can you imagine? Suddenly most of your money, say all your $20s, is completely worthless and ATMs only give out $1s.
There will be new bills coming at the end of December, but until then, the 100 rupee note, worth not quite $1.50, will have to be exchanged for at banks with ID and only those notes are available at ATMs.
I hope I didn’t lose you yet!
Blah, blah, blah…right? But this is significantly affecting our stay in India! Anywhere we can pay in card is fine…but those places are very few and tend to be the relatively expensive restaurants and shops. Most places operate in cash only. The cash that Paul had obtained from an ATM before this announcement is dwindling and it has proven very difficult to exchange the last big bill he has. The banks have gigantic lines spilling onto the streets long before they open every day.
Why don’t we just get more at another ATM? They are all out of cash. All of them! There are long lines or crowds around all of the ATMs and banks in the area until that machine is empty, then the crowd rushes to the next one only to have the same experience repeated. Not to mention, there is a really low weekly amount that can be withdrawn anyway. We have visited multiple ATMs multiple times a day since arriving with no luck yet!
We have been in countries with interesting government and bank situations happening before, but it has never affected us quite this directly. When we visited Athens, Greece last year we knew well ahead of our arrival of the bank crisis and were able to stockpile Euros in preparation. Unfortunately, the demonetization in India occurred while Paul was already here, and since there are no new bills yet, I couldn’t even order money ahead at home.
Yesterday and today, as the kids and I went in search of a place for lunch that would accept credit cards, we were told no at several establishments. As we walked around, we passed about 4 banks/ATMs with lines/crowds around them. All of us felt the frustration of the men there. That isn’t to say that I feel unsafe…I just don’t want to hang around any longer than absolutely necessary.
In a classic example of Indian culture and not telling someone “no,” the manager of our apartment has told us every day that he will exchange our big, now worthless bill at a given time or part of the day and then never shows. We will see! Today he says he will be here “post lunch” for the exchange…I’m not holding my breath!
In the meantime, one of Paul’s co-workers has kindly spotted us some cash and another is working with a reputable agency to help us exchange at a reasonable rate some American cash we brought.
Until we get more cash, we will continue visiting a little “provisions” store that sells some western grocery items and accepts credit cards. Lunch yesterday ended up being an Indian version of Top Ramen with some eggs and Coke. It works for now. Just don’t tell my mom that I didn’t have any vegetables with that meal! 😊
Thankfully, this story is not going to end on a sad note.
Late in the afternoon, the apartment manager came to the door and exchanged the 1000 bill for us. Yay!
The Thomas Cook agency that exists only to exchange money is all tapped out. So, they won’t be of help to us yet.
But late at night, Paul went to three ATMs. He was the 26th person in line at 11:30 at night. 30 minutes later the machine still had money and we are thrilled to have some cash in hand!
Today, this is what victory looks like: brand new bills in serial number order.
Getting here from Seattle took almost exactly 24 hours: arriving at the airport 3 hours before the flight, one 14 1/2 hour flight to Dubai, a couple hours in that airport, and a 4 hour flight to Delhi. Arriving in New Delhi you could see from the air the dichotomy of big nice buildings next to shanties as well as the pollution which lay like a big blanket of thick fog over the city.
Leaving the airport took about an hour: winding our way to immigration, finally finding and filling out the official arrival forms which were in short supply, standing in line and passing through immigration, walking straight through customs, locating our bags on the luggage carousel, and making our way through bunches of people to meet up with our fearless leader and our ride. The forms were the weird thing for me. Why were the forms in short supply? This seems so silly as there are large planes arriving often. An old man made the rounds, carefully placing on the tables a few forms at a time from his ample supply. It struck me as funny that these would be so carefully rationed. Then the sour faced immigration officer barely said a word other than, “go”. He was the same with my daughter who almost always gets a kind or curious smile at these official desks. The baggage area was clear and efficient, but we had to make our way through an entire plane load of returning Indian army men …a touch intimidating! Then through the maze of exits, through the third crowd of people holding signs to meet incoming foreigners, just a moment, and then seeing Paul. We made it! Three weeks was a LONG time apart. Hugs all around. 🙂 https://www.instagram.com/p/BM0jXFdFNcw/
From the baggage claim area to the parking garage, the air seemed to get thicker and stinkier with each step. By the time we were all the way out, our eyes stung a bit and we talked about making ourselves breathe through our noses. “Should we get our masks out?” asked my very sensitive-to-change T. Not yet, let’s let our bodies make some of the adjustments. The cigarette smoke and car exhaust was amplified in the covered airport pickup area. You could see the haze in the air, even just looking from one door to another. (For an insightful article on the pollution of New Delhi, read http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160425-new-delhi-most-polluted-city-matthieu-paley/)
We were met by a car with a driver and guide. This feels so luxurious! We make our way to the car which is a Toyota Innova; not available in the US, but almost just like the Kijang we rode in Indonesia and a seating arrangement like a slightly miniaturized minivan. Seat belts in the front and middle seats, upper belt but no connection/bite to be found for the back ones. If this ends up being the same car we ride all over in a couple weeks, I will have to dig around and find them, I am sure they are there somewhere! I don’t want to go for long drives without that safety feature.
The roads themselves are pretty bad. Huge potholes and (completely unnecessary) speed bumps abound. As we get on to the main road it gets a little better.
“Don’t even worry about them driving in the lanes,” Paul comments as I am looking ahead. I think he misread me. I’m not worried even a bit. At home I would be concerned about driving anywhere like we are (I really like knowing and following the rules), but somehow I am comfortable with the fact that lane use is not a thing here. Drivers move fluidly all over the road to avoid ruts, potholes, or each other, usually on the left side of the road, but not always. Sometimes, a couple times every minute, a high beam flash or a horn communicates that someone wants someone else to move. It is just the language of the drivers.
There isn’t a ton to see as it is totally dark and in the middle of the night. We can see that things are just different…cars are parked an odd spaces on the edges of the road, empty shelters which I guess might be a restaurant during the day, a couple abandoned street food stands, and several wild dogs just standing in the road.
The kids and I are taking it all in and Paul announced that we are just about here. We turn off the main road (about the size of a four lane highway) and onto a side road. This road is about as wide as a nice residential street, but both sides have cars parked, squeezing the driving space, but the road is deserted now at 4:15 am.
We climb the stairs to our apartment. Paul did a great job scouting out the place. We think the manager may have read the blog and offered him an upgrade to a bigger place. We are in a huge, newly renovated, 3 bedroom apartment! We enter at the foyer and remove our shoes. The clean marble floors are nice and cool. Off to the left are a kitchen, living room/dining room, bedroom with attached bathroom, and a powder room. To the right are two more bedrooms each with attached bath. (There is actually a 4th bedroom there too, but it is shut off and under construction.) The main hallway is about 6 feet wide and extends from K’s bedroom door, along the length of T’s room, through the foyer and door, past the powder room and my bedroom on one side and the kitchen on the other through to the living room. The living room has three comfortable couches. Wow, this place is great!
Apparently they don’t install plumbing with p-traps here. As a result, the sewer smell comes up through the drains. To combat the smell, 2 marble-sized urinal cakes sit on every sink and shower drain. The resulting strong camphor smell permeates the place. When you close the bathroom doors for a while, then you can instead smell the smoky garbage/sewer from outside. Potayto-potahto.
We picked our rooms and set our bags down. I do some unpacking. We brought beef jerky and protein bars for snacks. Paul picked up some tea, coffee, cookies, and bread at the market before we arrived. The management has stocked the fridge with several liters of bottled water and a liter of milk. We munch on some beef jerky and drink some water. Flying that long definitely dehydrates you and when you only have short naps on the plane for that long, you body clock is all messed up. We are excited to be here, but exhausted, hungry and can’t stand the thought of food!
Then we decide it is time to sleep. We all slept from about 5:00 to about 9:00 I thought. Later K told me she got up at 7:00, talked to us, and then took a shower. Hm, I totally missed that, apparently I was tired! After three weeks without Paul and then traveling, I was ready to be “off-duty” for a few hours!
The Seahawks game started at 7:00 am our time. We missed most of it, but awoke in time to see most of the fourth quarter. What an ending! Go Hawks!!
After a semi lazy morning of sleeping in, showers, and some work/school work it was time to get out, walk around the neighborhood, and find some lunch. The kids and I are pretty dazed, but Paul guides us along as we see things for the first time. This is so much like Indonesia! The roads with cars, scooters, auto rickshaws, and bikes all weaving in and out of each other. Sidewalks that are molded cement pieces placed on top of deep storm drains that are mostly in place between uneven driveways and trees.
We made our way to the Green Park Market, a strip mall of sorts about a 5 minute walk away. We walked up and down the two blocks checking everything out. There are store fronts with lots of little shops selling everything from underwear to groceries, hair salons, and cafes. There is a broad sidewalk in from that leaves lots of space for vendors to set up shop selling food, flowers, vegetables, scarves, or henna. We found a shop where we could buy some peanut butter and Nutella to go on our bread and a few other supplies. Then we got momos from one of the three stands selling them outside. These delicious dumplings are stuffed with chicken, paneer (a kind of tofu consistency cheese), or vegetables. I imagine we will be buying these often.
Back to the apartment. It wasn’t a hugely long outing, but we want to break the kids in gently.
I notice that there are many men about, but very few women and no children. Men are wearing long, dark pants and any variety of shirt you can imagine, most long sleeved. Women are dressed in everything from full saris, to colorful jilbab/hijab, to slacks and button-down dress shirt, to jeans and a T-shirt (though this last is much less common).
It did not seem that anyone noticed us at all! I know that even though we tried to wear clothing that would somewhat blend in, we stick out like a sore thumb. While traveling in other areas of Asia, we were stared and pointed at on a regular basis, but here we received only fleeting glances. If we made eye contact with someone, we may receive a half-hearted smile in return for ours. Interesting.
We are in a good neighborhood in the “nice” part of town, but most people we know would still be shocked at what is here on our block. Next to our nice apartment building is an old, broken-down brick building in which several people live. Across the street is a park in which people bathe out in the open, their clothing hanging on the fence while not needed. There is trash all over the place. Men lay in carts on the side of the road most of the day. (Still trying to figure this one out. Maybe they work transporting things in the morning and evening and just wait the main part of the day?) Stray dogs wander or lay where they like until some car honks at them to get out of the way. Cars honk constantly, I mean constantly! Sometimes I get the giggles hearing how incessant they can be during the day, though, thankfully, they quiet down at night because the road is theoretically closed from midnight to 6:00 to through traffic.
In the afternoon, the kids did some homework and then we all crashed asleep. “Just 20 minutes” easily turned into several hours. Oops!
We woke, watched some tv and munched on beef jerky and dried mango. We intended to go out again for dinner, but we started watching a movie and then had a nice long video chat with Michaela, our dear friend, in Germany. Mid-way through the call the kids said goodnight. My eyelids were getting very heavy, so we said goodbye to Michaela and fell into bed before 10:00.
I slept hard until about 3:45. The first horns started honking outside just before 5:00 and the neighborhood pack of dogs had some sort of barking challenge going on shortly after that. Instead of laying frustrated, I decided to write about these first 24 hours. I can’t believe how much and how little we did and it seemed like the longest 24 hours ever!!
I will leave you with this clip of the street outside our door.