I was in India since only a half day yet, but already my whole life was turned upside down. From the safe and very boring, stressing, colorless ordinary life I suddenly jumped into the unknown, and had more amazing experiences then ever before. If after this half day I had to go home, it would already have been a life changing experience. Yes, just a half day in adventure, at a crazy, faraway land already changed my life. But this was only the beginning.So, with Chloé and Adam we were walking in the Main bazaar of Paharganj. First of all I wanted to exchange money. Since none of the exchanges I found in Hungary had Indian Rupees, and I was sure nobody knows Hungarian Forints in India, I exchanged my Forints for American Dollars at home, the currency that is known and sought after in every part of the World. I only exchanged a few at the airport, expecting the airport exchangers to have a bad rate, and I wanted to exchange the rest now. Soon I found a man wearing a turban and a big beard, sitting inside a carpet shop who seemed to be an exchanger and carpet merchant the same time, and he gladly exchanged all my Dollars on a rate I think was alright.
A bit later my friends successfully found a hotel room, and retired for some well deserved rest. I bid them farewell, and headed back to the streets. I was thinking about renting a room too and sleep, so I can decide what to do next day, hopefully in better shape, but the room prices were extreme, and I wanted to get out of the city as soon as possible. So I decided to find a ticket office right away.
Tired and weakened by the climate, I set out into the busy bazaar. Soon as I walked, a short man approached and joined me, walking alongside. He greeted me which I returned, and started asking question like where I am from, where do I go, and so on. At this point I knew the scheme already: everyone trying to selling me something did this, trying to start an innocent discussion before getting to the point. Most tourists usually just walk away, waiting for them to get lost, but I just hate to be rude or ignoring people, so I alway get into the conversation, and rather kindly refuse. (And to be honest, now, thinking back, I think many merchant seemed to value that I am not acting like the typical arrogant tourist they are used to, and being less forceful, or even proposing me better deals than for others.) So we talked for a while but I kept walking and looking for the office, trying to make it clear I have important business to do, but somehow this little man was more interesting than others. Also, he didn’t look like the other locals, he had a different face and skin so I suspected he was from the North (and as turned out later, I was right, he was Ladakhi, or at least part Ladakhi). When I mentioned Hungary he said he ha friends there, and in many other countries. He said he would like to invite me to his little shop, to show me his photos of his friends from all around the World, and I really don’t have to buy anything. This sounded like a clear trap, but for some reason he seemed honest. I had an inner feeling I can trust him. I still don’t understand why, but for some mysterious reason, I decided to go with him.
He led me to a nearby building in the bazaar, and through a shop – I realized that shop was simply built into the entrance of the house so all residents had to walk through it, and we were going somewhere else. Behind, there was a small, narrow stairs leading up where I could barely fit with my big backpack. We went up one floor, and another… and suddenly I realized this might have been the stupidest thing I did! Fear struck me. I realized that I have no idea where we go or why, that I can barely move in these narrow spaces, and nobody can see us here – and was weak as I described before. If two friends of his were waiting on the next floor to beat me up and take everything I have, I couldn’t have defended myself. I was totally vulnerable, and even though I practiced martial arts, right there in those conditions I couldn’t have stood a chance. Maybe the little man alone could have taken me down with ease. But at this point I couldn’t turn back…
We went up the third floor, he opened a tiny room, and we entered. I was delighted to see that there were all kinds of souvenirs hanging from the walls and scattered on the floor. I thought, maybe he didn’t cheat me then and this is his shop… I might get out of this still… but I must be on alert.
We sat down on the floor, and some children appeared in the door behind me, technically closing my way. I really didn’t know what to think. He quickly said them something on his own language, and one ran away. This could be bad… or maybe not. Either way, I have to deal with whatever comes now. We continued the discussion we had on the street, but I was all nervous, watching the door from the corner of my eye. He said I can put down my bag, but I insisted it’s good on my back, not uncomfortable (although it clearly was). He then took a big, heavy photo album and handed it to me. I opened, and inside it were trekking photos of him, with all kinds of people from many nations, along with carefully collected handwritten letters from them. I even found one written by some Hungarians. Most letters were thanking him for the travels and expressing how they enjoyed it.
In the meanwhile the dispatched child got back with two cups of fresh hot masala chai. I started to calm down, and think that maybe I was right to trust him. It looked like he was honest to me all the time. But he clearly saw my frustration, anyone with an eye could have.
– You think I am a bad man? – he asked.
I felt cornered, didn’t know what to say… I of course said “No”, and tried to blame everything on being tired, not eating and so on.
– Oh, I see. – he said with a low, calm and somewhat sad voice, tilting his head down. I could have said anything, he clearly understood what I really felt. Now I really feel bad for this. He was all nice and honest, and only hoped to earn some money to feed his children – he hoped I would go with him for trekking in Kashmir. That’s what he did: organized treks for foreigners like me. And I was so scared of him, thinking at some point that he might lead me to a trap. He didn’t deserve that. If I could go back there now, I would apologize to him and thank him all the honesty and respect he treated me with.
But there and then, I just wanted to leave… that room, and then that city.
In another post earlier, I explained my mind works different from most people, and that I am likely to have Asperger’s Syndrome. To people with such disorders social situations, even ordinary ones can easily give a hard time. Over the years I mostly learned how to overcome this weakness, but still every day I face situations that are hard to deal with properly, even though they may seem easy and ordinary for most. And one needs a safe place to retreat, a known environment to ease up, and some friends to talk to. Now, in this light, imagine that I was several hundred kilometers away from home, in a totally different culture and atmosphere, in a world I didn’t know at all, surrounded by strangers, with no safety to retreat into, and no friends to talk to. I was totally alone, and this was frightening and much more than that – I faced one of my greatest fears: being totally alone.
But I was there for just that reason.
I undertook this journey to face my fears and my limits, and find freedom beyond them. I had to leave the safety and the known behind, I had to be out there in the unknown alone.
We all have our fears, and our “demons”. And the only way to find true freedom, to free ourselves is to find them, face them and – embrace them. If you never do this, you will flee from them through your whole life. And once you stop running, and embrace them, they are not that fearsome and dark anymore.
After some more talk I left the sad little man’s shop with chaotic feelings. I promised him I will go look for him if I decide to go trekking in Kashmir, even though I knew I won’t. I was out on the busy bazaar streets once again, finally relieved from the frustration I had minutes earlier, but still pretty frustrated about the city in general. He continued to roam the streets, trying to find potential customers, and I was once again concentrating on my goal: finding a ticket office.
Soon I found one that seemed to have tickets to the North. Inside a big smiling man waited. I told I want to go to Manali, and that I want to go with the cheap, local bus. He took a few phone calls, and soon informed me that there is no ticket left for the regular bus, but there is one for a tourist bus, which is much more comfortable, and only slightly more expensive – but then, for just a little bit more, I can go with an air conditioned one. I was thinking a bit, but as I hated to breath the hot and humid air, I thought the price difference worths it. All in all, the most expensive bus was still not that expensive. So, I agreed. He made more calls, and told me to come back at 4 in the afternoon, and his man will take me to the bus. He gave me no any receipt but a piece of paper he wrote the time and a number on. Things go different in India so I wasn’t surprised about that.
I left the office and decided to spend the rest of the waiting time in a nearby cheap restaurant. I think I went back to the hotel Chloé and Adam stayed to talk to them once again, but I don’t really remember any more. In the restaurant, I decided to write into my journal, making a harsh contrast with my previous, calm and positive entry.
1 in the afternoon
This city is totally crazy! Much worse than what I expected. The whole city is dirty, trash everywhere, ruined buildings. People sit and lay on the dirty streets, often on piles of rubbish, sewage flowing everywhere and the smell is unbearable at most parts of the city. [...] Traffic is pretty dangerous, everyone keeps blowing the horn and rickshaws and autoricksaws leave no moment of peace, always offering their service. Most at least understands after the first or second “No, thanks” but some are hard to get rid of. In the bazaars everyone wants to sell everything. I have a feeling that in Delhi everyone wants something from me. I start to get paranoid and don’t feel safe anywhere.
After half day of Delhi I decided it was enough. One day I come back when temperature is bearable, and with only a few things, so I will be able to see all the interesting places in Delhi.
At least I could see Gandhi’s memorial, and now I sit in a kind of restaurant. So far I feel the safest here, in Paharganj there are lot of foreigners, even right now there are six sitting in here, and four more out on the “terrace” area, and there are more guest houses.
If it wasn’t this unbearable hot, and I hadn’t 15 kilograms of load, maybe I would take on Delhi, but now this is too much. In a few hours my bus leaves to Manali, and I get out of here. My stomach spasms, I’m nervous and didn’t get enough sleep. I get out of here, and go to Ladakh. Anyway, I came here for that in the first place, and not for Delhi.
Just have to survive this few hours and then the 16 hours of bus trip which I will most likely sleep through mostly. I’m so tired I could fall asleep even inside a concrete mixer.
Sitting here, in this restaurant in Paharganj, Delhi isn’t that frightening anymore, there are many other foreigners here, and the guest houses. Just it weren’t not the lack of sleep, the 15 kilos of stuff and this unbearable heat…
But this is it, I knew this trip will be a trial. And I don’t expect either that it will be a child’s play from Manali. But now I have to get out of here.
The good warrior never runs away from the fight, but tries to chose the battlefield himself.
After few hours that I felt to take forever, the time came to meet the ticket broker. I headed to the nearby office, where he told me to take a seat until his man arrives, and then took a phone call. I waited, and waited, very nervous, wanting to get out there as soon as possible. Every time someone walked towards the office I hoped it’s my escort. I grew impatient and asked about it, but the ticket broker just said he is on his way. I worried about missing the bus, but he said worry not, I won’t miss it. This continued for a while and I started to really worry. I felt terrible,my stomach spasmed terribly, and I started to lose my self control. The man saw that, so he tried to convince me everything is alright, but I was sitting there for like almost an hour and my escort didn’t arrive yet. I asked if I should get a ticket I show the driver, but all he said was “don’t worry”. I found this pretty suspicious, but thought that he couldn’t just trick me, I could come back and find him if he did. I asked him more questions but he always just repeated “Don’t worry”.
When the situation just started to become unbearable, at last he arrived. He quickly exchanged a few words with the broker, and then set out the street and the broker told to follow him. We walked in the bazaar, and suddenly he asked:
– So you have the ticket, right?
– Erm… no. He said I don’t need – I replied shocked and scared. I tried to figure what the hell is going on.
– Didn’t he gave you a paper? – he asked.
– All he gave me was this piece telling when to come back – I handed him the piece of paper.
He seemed to think for a bit th just said: OK, don’t worry. This “Don’t worry” again! OF COURSE I WORRIED! But he just told we go to the bus and everything will be alright. He stopped the next rickshaw and we headed to the station. When we arrived, my escort phlegmatically told me to pay the rickshaw, which made me angry, but I didn’t object, I was too weak to argue about anything.
The station was along a long road, and very crowded. My escort told me to wait there, and headed off into the crowd. I didn’t trust him, so I decided to keep my eyes on him, and follow him if necessary to keep him in my sight. He boarded a waiting bus and talked to the driver for a while, heavily gesturing, then left and talked to the next driver. It was very strange and I grew more and more suspicious, until suddenly I lost him in the crowd.
Damn! Maybe he just distracted me and escaped? I paid for the bus and now he just leaves me here? But then I go back and get that ticket broker for sure! Alright… I have no choice now, but to wait and see of he comes back, I thought.
About 15 minutes later I was already considering leaving, when he suddenly appeared again, and waved to follow him. I did so, making sure I won’t lose him once again. He led me to a bus, and said that’s my bus, let’s put my backpack in the luggage trunk. I did so, when suddenly the ticket inspector of the bus appeared and started a quite harsh argument with my escort in Hindi. After a while my escort said everything is OK, I can board, wished me a good journey and left. The inspector led me to my place, and I fell into the seat.
I felt a bit relieved, but was still very nervous, seeing that something was not straight with all this. It looked like that they didn’t have a reservation for me for my money at all, but my escort made a deal right there with one of the drivers. Later I noticed all the other people had tickets, just I had none. I was still worried something may happen, but decided I try to sleep instead, I really needed it. But all the nervousness didn’t really let me. The bus filled up, and at a point left the station… I was at the borderlands between sleep and wake: not everything happening did ever make it to my mind, it was like a series of more-or less connected images, sounds and short moving scenes, and reality mixed up with dreams, creating a hallucination-like experience. The next time I was conscious, the bus was parking somewhere else, the sky was darker and the ticket inspector was talking loudly to me in Hindi, heavily gesturing, waving to follow him. This scene scared me very much. I didn’t understand why he wants me to stand up and go with him – he wants to drop me out? I slowly stood up and tried to follow him without collapsing – I was even weaker than earlier, hungry again, and my mind was still not clear. To my relief, he only led me to another seat in the front of the bus and told me to sit down. I didn’t understand what was the sense of this, maybe it was because of the fact I didn’t have a legit ticket, but either way I found it pretty stupid.
New people boarded the bus, and at one point, the inspector led a white woman there and told her to sit down next to me. At last, life helped me out once again! I was so scared and lost on the bus, not even understanding what is happening, but not anymore. It is hard to find words to express how happy I was for her, especially when I asked her if she speaks English and she said yes.
I’m not sure my clouded mind recorded her name well, but I think it was Hannah. We started talking and I finally started to calm down, now that I had someone I could talk to, and ask for help. She told me she lives in India for like seven years, which made me feel much safer knowing she knows her way around. I was even happier when I learned that her profession is Waldorf school teacher! One of my good friends at home was also working in a Waldorf school.
Waldorf education is a humanist approach to education, founded by Rudolph Steiner. It is a wonderful way of teaching, and even living – they use imagination, inspiration as main elements in education, employing games, music and art, and providing the children not only the general education itself but an introduction to humanism, philosophy an art in a playful, interesting way. Waldorf schools not only teach how to use maths or grammar, but also how to live a fully, happy life in harmony with nature and each other. I wish all schools in the World would be like this, because then much more children would grow up happy and balanced, and with inspiration and dreams to live a wonderful life.
She seemed to know India well, but when I told her how I got on the bus, she found that very strange. Out of curiosity, I asked her how much he paid for the ticket. 650 Rupees – the price the ticket broker said is for the cheap local bus, while I pad 900 for a better one. So he tricked me. But I was too weak to be angry, and I thought getting out of this city worths me anything. I looked out the window, and started thinking about that I am on my way out of this city, on my way to the Himalaya, and to my destiny.
Sorry, no photos this time… I was barely able to walk and breath, not to mention taking photos. But the next post – which hopefully will come much sooner than this did – will have many photos.
- Reviving memories
- A honest "coming out"
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 1: Leap of faith
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 2: Culture shock
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 3: Leaving the city
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 4: Into the mountains
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 5: Vashist
- [India & West-Tibet 2011] Part 6: A new life