[Note: I travel for work. A lot. Probably more than is healthy for someone who does not want to commit suicide. Being one of those people, I asked a doctor for a suggestion on how to make the travel more tolerable. The doctor suggested that I write a travelogue. He then asked for 50 cents, which I gave him before he shuffled off with his shopping cart.
In retrospect, he might not have been a real doctor. But, still, his idea had some merit. So I asked the editors here if I could use their space to publish my musings and they said – and I quote – “who are you again?” But, eventually I wore them down by repeatedly offering to release their children. So, off we go …]
This week I am in India’s capital city of Delhi, which is situated in the north of the country, near Kashmir (side note: do not go to Kashmir. You will be killed immediately. Thus ends the “Led Zeppelin Corrections” section of my travelogue).
India is a fascinating place, but it takes a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, I’m here to help. So, without further ado, here is everything you need to know about traveling to India
Upon Arrival, or “What’s that smell?”
The first thing that you will notice when landing in Delhi is the smell. India smells like a combination of the world’s largest campfire, an incense candle, and a bowl of curry. The amazing part is how pervasive the smell is across the country; regardless of where you land, you simply cannot step off of the plane anywhere in India without thinking that the entire country must be burning.
And, as you explore India you will realize that you are not wrong – the entire country is, in fact, burning. There are fires everywhere – in the street, in vacant lots, inside your plane … everywhere.
I would love to tell you why, but I don’t know. No other country that I’ve been to is constantly on fire, so I have no point of reference. The best I can say is that you should try to blend in by finding something to burn. It could be a piece of wood, a cat, some incense – anything really.
To start with, I’d suggest just burning your carefully prepared itinerary with its minute-by-minute agenda and detailed maps. Trust me, you will not need it. Which brings me to ….
Driving in India, or “You see that lane marker? It’s right there … really, right there … REALLY RIGHT THERE!!”
Unless you were born with a unique combination of total disregard for the law, impeccable spatial awareness, and a healthy respect for cows, you will need a driver in India. Given that one out of every two Indians is killed in a road accident each year, you will literally be putting your life in this person’s hands. So, make every effort to befriend your driver in the hopes of making a deep personal connection. That way, when you do have a fatal accident, he will try his best to steer your fellow passengers into the path of the oncoming cow so that you have a chance to jump out of the car (note: you can safely jump out because the car will be driving only 10mph. Nothing in India happens at over 10mph).
Unfortunately, there is likely to be a language barrier between you and your driver that might get in the way of forming that deep personal connection. For one thing, Indians (or “Native Americans” as they like to be called) tend to have very long names. This is a result of the Great Letter Shortage of 1870, when the Indian alphabet came dangerously close to extinction. In reaction, parents now hoard letters for their children, which is completely understandable given their country’s relatively weak social support system. However, it does make deciphering your driver’s name quite difficult.
In my experience, though, most drivers will respond to “Steve” if you just yell it loudly enough.
With the driver situation now sorted out, you need to focus on the difficulties of the road trip that you and Steve will be attempting. You will hopefully be in an “automobile” equipped with at least one “gear” and a “brake.” But, it is worth noting that:
a) Those features are optional in India
b) No one else on the road will have access to such advanced technology,
c) Neither the cow, the tut-tut, nor the tractor you pass will be impressed by your advanced technology. In fact, they may be annoyed by your ostentatious display and intentionally run you over. Thankfully, they will likely be driving a cow and will be going 10mph, so they can’t really do too much damage.
In addition to “legacy” technology, you will immediately notice that everyone in India drives as if they are in the world’s largest bumper car game. There are no rules, lanes are optional, horns are used as navigational tools, and medians are two-way lanes.
So, my advice is this. Go to sleep. Take whatever combination of barbiturates and alcohol is required to allow you to reach your destination … and then let your concern fade away. Or, just stay awake and die. Look, I’m not an estate attorney, so I can’t tell you which path you should take – but those are your choices. (As an aside, you really should consult an estate attorney before you fly to Delhi.)
Speaking of death – if you do reach your destination alive, you might want a meal. Before you do, there are a few things you should know about:
Indian Cuisine, or “How to avoid Delhi Belly”
Do not eat while you are in India.
If you need to eat – and, again, you should avoid doing so – stick with bottled soda and pre-packaged potato chips.
While this might mean that you miss out on the beauty of the authentic local cuisine, don’t worry. You can still experience the most important culinary benefit of a trip to India, which is that when you are back in the United States you can immediately take your colleagues to the local Indian buffet and spend the entire meal telling everyone how unauthentic their chicken tikka masala is.
(Again, though, don’t eat anything. Seriously. This is not a joke. It’s called Delhi Belly, for God’s sake.
You’re going to eat something, aren’t you? Well, it’s your life. Again, consult an estate attorney before departure.)
Local wildlife, or “Whose Cow is This?”
India is a lush and beautiful country populated by many exotic species of wildlife.
You will not see them. Instead, you will see dogs. Dogs are everywhere in India, and they are all the same dog – a boxy little mutt with protruding ribs, one torn ear, and a tail that goes straight up in the air. On the plus side, these dogs apparently don’t bite and generally will move out of your way as you approach. On the minus side, those tails up in the air create views that you might not find pleasant.
Of course, dogs aren’t the only animal roaming the streets of India. There are cows, stray pigs, and the occasional goat. Though it is tempting, my advice is not to eat any of the above. But if you are going to eat one, I would recommend the pigs as the cows can be a bit tough. Also, some people still view them as sacred, which is odd because they are, in fact, just cows. But, that just leaves more hamburgers for you and me. In fact, I would suggest having a nice hamburger as you take in a movie – which brings me to …
Indian Culture, or “Why are they singing again?”
As one of the world’s most ancient cultures, India has a tremendously rich tapestry of history, culture, religion and traditions. Or, it had that until about 1970, when it discovered how to make movies. Now it has Bollywood.
As a connoisseur of Bollywood, I can heartily recommend that you watch the movie with the dancing, elaborate dance numbers, and overacting by a lovelorn woman and her rugged yet sensitive fiancée.
Also, you should probably see the Taj Mahal. I hear it’s nice.
Next week: Shanghai, or “FOR THE 20th TIME, NO I DON’T WANT A MASSAGE! [also, how much?]”