Tuesday, September 20, 2011

India Diary II - Motocross on 7bhp and 100cc

Delhi certainly didn't disappoint, and neither did my hometown of Ludhiana.In the ten days that I have been back home, I have experienced the city like I never did when I was living here while growing up. The pothole ridden roads, roads that literally turn into streams during monsoon, the unruly traffic, the blaring horns from two-, three- and four-wheelers - I was surprised to find myself completely at ease with, if not actually enjoying everything. There is something oddly satisfying about seeing hordes of people moving about in the city - it is not like US where all one sees on highways is fast moving traffic - just an endless string of cars and SUVs going somewhere, and in their own lanes.

I found the chaotic traffic, ceaseless noise, vehicles spewing smoke, and dusty roads etc. oddly therapeutic. One is so engrossed in making it to ones destination that the only way is to keep ones focus on the road and in the now. Everything else is blocked out. Getting from one place to the other is a project in itself, and at the end of it there is that sense of accomplishment that I've made it, alive and well! Atleast it has been so for me. Where else can one experience that always-on-the-edge excitement, and that too daily?!

Friday, September 16, 2011

India Diary I - Delhi didn't disappoint

It will be a week tomorrow since I have been in India. There were a lot many things going through my mind while I was flying from Dallas to Delhi. On the top of the heap was the realization that I am going back home to India after almost six years. The questions utmost on my mind were - how will I feel once I am there, will I be ill at ease with everything or will I be able to adapt to the ways that I was all too familiar with only eight years ago when I first left for the US? To my relief, and surprise, I took to India, my India, like fish to water. And that too inspite of everything that I had been apprehensive about. So I thought it is only fitting that I keep a journal of my experiences while I am here in India. Here is the first entry of my India Diary: 'India Diary I - Delhi didn't disappoint'.

Terminal 3
My flight from Chicago landed at IGI Airport's Terminal 3 in New Delhi. I was definitely looking forward to experiencing the vaunted Terminal 3. There was also something else at the back of my mind while I was getting ready to disembark the plane - there was this sketch that Russell Peters did once in one of his stand-up routines - he pokes fun at the "smell" that hits you when you first step outside the plane upon landing here in India. But believe me, nothing of the sort happens - that jackass is as prone to hyperbole as every other stand-up comic, definitely to an amusing effect I might add. What does hit one though is the heat and humidity, the mugginess in the air - but surprisingly, that didn't bother me either. Probably because I was finally home.
The best part of landing at Terminal 3 for me was that I found the staff at Terminal 3 very helpful and welcoming. The directions within the terminal were easy to understand. The artwork and the decor of the terminal is impressive and inviting. The lighting and the furnishings are very modern.
Terminal 3 is "state-of-the-art" alright, but there are a couple of things that I wish had been done differently. May be it was just this particular flight, but I remember thinking at the time that the walk from the gate to immigration desks was excessively long. To be sure, there were those motorized walkways most of the way. But the purpose of those walkways is defeated when people just stand there and do not move! So I walked from my gate towards the immigration and baggage claim area - it was definitely a good walk as I was able to look around and see the T3 for the very first time. One other thing that bothered me was the wall to wall carpet on the floor in the terminal - I have never liked carpeted floors, especially at airports, so this must just be a personal bias. All in all, T3 is definitely one of the better airports that I have been to. Kudos to GMR Corporation.

Airport Metro Express
The ride on Airport Metro Express from IGI Airport to New Delhi Railway Station has to be the highlight of this visit of mine to India. I mean, in 20 minutes flat one can get from the international airport to the railway station in the middle of the city. How cool is that? The stations, especially the ones at the airport and at New Delhi are expansive, and the systems in place to keep people moving are good, and seemed efficient. If the rest of the metro in NCR is anything like this, this project was and is definitely worth all the hype, the time, the effort, and the investment.

New Delhi Railway Station
The railway station was as abuzz with activity as ever. As I had a couple of big bags with me, the short walk from the airport metro station to the railway station wasn't as easy as I had hoped. Moreover, the pothole marked roads full of water only made things difficult. The most difficult part of it all was to get rid of those touts/self-proclaimed travel agents who promise you confirmed train tickets to anywhere and everywhere. I am certain that my bags must have given me away!
Unfortunately I missed my train out of New Delhi railway station just by a whisker - the airline had misplaced one of my bags and that issue took a little while to sort out at the airport. Moving the bags from metro station to platform 14, then to the cloak room at platform 1, then to Paharganj side of the station was quite a project. So was finding a train ticket at the last moment.

New Delhi
Once I had arranged for a ticket for a train out of New Delhi to Ludhiana for next morning, I went to a friend's place in Dwarka. Decided to haul an auto-rickshaw instead of a taxi - just so I could experience the sights, the sounds, and the smells of Delhi first hand. And I wasn't disappointed at all. It had just rained and the dust had all settled down so the air was still quite breathable. The traffic was as relentless as I had always know Delhi traffic to be, but we still made good time of getting to Dwarka. While the main roads were well kept and tarred, the side lanes were a neglect. All in all, the auto ride from New Delhi Railway Station to Dwarka was interesting and brought back a lot of memories from days past.
Especially gratifying was the hustle and bustle in the city. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere. Most of the people must be going back home to their loved ones for it was late evening then. The engines of two-, three-, and four-wheelers would rev-up when a traffic light turned green. Some vehicles belched smoke as they started, and some would simply groan into life and begin to move. There was no order to the traffic. The smallest of spaces in the traffic was taken, if not by a four- or a three-wheeler, then by someone on a motorcycle or a scooter.
The following day my friend drove me to the train station and the drive was as smooth as it could get. The traffic was sparse at that early hour, and especially so because it was a Saturday I think.

All in all, my first sojourn with New Delhi in years was not nearly as terrifying as I had somehow let myself to believe. Here is to home, and to all those who wish to be back home. Cheers.