Sunday, May 21, 2006

Welcome to the Third World....

I have been travelling which is one of the reasons for light blogging. I am currently in Indonesia and spent the past week in Western India. This is the first in a series of travelogues which I hope you will find interesting.....

I arrived in Delhi about 9pm off of American Airlines direct flight from Chicago. Immediately coming off the airplane you notice some stark differences from other international airports: the walkway from the aircraft is in poor condition and there are dark stains marking the floors and walls. The international terminal is tiny considering the size of Delhi (13 million+ population) and compared to just about any other airport you have been to. The terminal is supposedly air conditioned, but you could have fooled me as the humidity hits you walking in and the temperature was at least 80 degrees. The bathrooms look like they are 50 years old. Mold stains, broken tile, and dirt spots are everywhere.

The Indian customs agents were extremely friendly and polite and quickly I was on my way to get my luggage. There was no one in the airport but those of us off of the AA flight. I asked one of the Indian passengers from my flight why that was. He said most of the international flights arrive late in the night, around 12-1am, only AA and CO arrive earlier. Once I got my luggage I went out to look for my ride, which had been prearranged. Sure enough, the driver was there with my name on a card.

We walked outside and WHAM! the heat hit me like an open oven. I guess the airport was air conditioned after all! It was humid and hotter than anything I could remember. Even hotter than when I was in Thailand in April 2005, and remember, this is 9pm at night! The air was thick with humidity, exhaust, and pollution from coal fired energy plants. You almost drank the air instead of breathing it. I remember from my travels in Southern China that burning, acrid smell from dirty coal fired energy plants that used to annoy me so much - the same exact smell was here in India, same as I remembered.

They call India a "developing country" but I think that's being a bit over-optimistic. There is extreme poverty everywhere, especially so in the big cities such as Delhi. Entire families, including infants, live on the streets. At every stoplight they rush the cars, banging on the car windows begging for money. You will see large, rich, Indian homes complete with Mercedes Benz and Lexus parked in the driveway and in the empty lot next door will be tents made of plastic garbage bags where the dying poor live. It is a crowded country where the extreme rich and extreme poor live practically on top of each other. While I am sure India has garbage collection services, they either don't get paid much or simply don't work very hard. Trash is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Not just litter scattered here and there, I am talking mountainous piles of rotting garbage just stacked helter skelter. Sometimes you will see children or the elderly sifting through the piles - in bare feet - collecting scrap pieces of plastic and metal to sell to recyclers. Shiny new building structures stand next to broken decrepit buildings. Welcome to the third world.

The drive to the hotel was terrifying. In India it seems nobody obeys any traffic laws, signals, signs, or even lane dividers. Quite the contrary, as most cars simply straddled 2 lanes. Nobody looks or signals when turning or changing lanes, just flashing lights and horns. Horns, horns, and more horns. Driving anywhere in India is nothing but a cacophony of horns. My skillful driver weaved in and out of traffic, avoiding numerous near collissions and completely ignoring pedestrian rights. He cut through parking lots and gas stations with complete disregard in order to avoid traffic.

Finally we arrived the hotel, fully alert and awake thanks to the insane Delhi traffic. The hotel was beautiful - better be for $200 a night and thank goodness my company paid - and I settled down for a good night's rest before I had to work the next day. Unfortunately, my body was still on USA time and I had a hard time getting to sleep.

I woke up very early, got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. The food was wonderful. Fresh tropical fruits, including mangos, my favorite. Fresh squeezed watermelon juice, different kinds of Indian yogurt, etc. I quickly ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel, waiting for my company's Indian agent to meet me in the lobby. While we had been conversing via e-mail for many months, we had never spoken or met in person before. He was a friendly, but quiet man, all business which I preferred, and we were quickly on our way back to the Delhi airport for our first destination, the desert city of Jodhpur.

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