It’s been one week since I landed at New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport and a lot has been happened since.
No Money, More Problems
Unfortunately for me, my debit card suddenly stopped working while I was in Brazil. Although I brought an extra credit card as to ensure that I could get cash anytime and anywhere, I sadly encountered a major issue with this card ….. my payments would not go through! As a result, I called the Visa Hotline (following the advice of my Bank of America’s banker) and a representative assured me that I would receive a replacement card in the next 48 hours. A week later, I called back the Visa’s hotline to inquire why I still have not received my replacement card. To my biggest disappointment, the representative told me that Bank of America refused to authorize the issuance of my replacement card, arguing that I was “unreachable,” when in reality, I provided the first Visa representative with my contact information. While I was able to use some of the cash I had left in both Italy and Tanzania, I did not think that my money woes could turn my biggest dream of traveling to India into my biggest nightmare!
The Unfolding of My Worst Nightmare
After a two-hour connection in the Sultanate of Oman, I finally arrived in New Delhi. While I was greeted by the warmth (and the humidity) of the city, I could not help but think about the fact that I only had $10 in my pocket. Nonetheless, knowing that my mom wired me some funds via Western Union tamed my fear of remaining stranded at the airport. I decided to look for a taxi driver who would drive me to the closest Western Union agency before driving me to my hotel in Jangpura. I found two taxi drivers who appeared to show some understanding and offered me to drive me to the closest Western Union location. They offered to carry my luggage to the car while I kept asking them how much they were going to charge me for the ride. After putting forth the argument that the Western Union was “right by the airport,” they ensured me that my ride would be extremely cheap.
After finally getting in the car (after both of the drivers showed me their taxi driver ID cards), I soon realized that I had just embarked on a crazy journey. As I kept asking them to give me a definite price, they finally told me how much they were going to charge me for their services: $80 for the ride to the “nearby” Western Union and $200 for the ride to my hotel in Jangpura. As I kept calling into question their lack of honesty and integrity, the driver sped off as the other taxi driver attempted to calm me down. As things were getting out of control, I told them to drive me back to the airport, where I planned to seek the help of a police officer—something I should have done as soon as I arrived in Delhi. They then proceed to accost a man who was riding a motorcycle and tried to make me believe that he was a police officer and that I could talk to him. I adamantly refused to do so and in an act of utter despair, I decided to stuck my head out of the window and screamed for help. Panicked, they finally turned around and drove me back to the Delhi international airport.
There, I walked to the police station and a nice police officer who walked me to the prepaid taxi booth located where I met an Indian man who kindly offered to exchange my American dollars for the local currency. Having received 500 rupees, I finally was able to secure a cheap and most importantly a safe taxi to go pick up my much-needed money at the closest Western Union location before heading off for my hotel in Jangpura. In total, I ended up paying 500 rupees (approximately $10) for the whole ordeal, which as you can see was undoubtedly cheaper than the $280 I would have had to pay if I would have listened to the first two taxi drivers.
*Moral of the story* Do not be fooled by the artificial kindness of fake taxi drivers! Instead, seek the help of a police officer and/or find a taxi at the closest prepaid taxi station!
As I was on my way to the Western Union, I quickly became overwhelmed by Delhi’s massive traffic jam. Cars, pedestrians, stray animals, bicycles, motorcycles, tuk tuk bikes and rickshaws were everywhere and I soon came to the realization that most actors showed a blatant disregard for traffic rules. As a matter of fact, I was quite impressed by my driver’s ability to hit the brakes in an abrupt manner whenever it was necessary. After siting in the taxi for four hours, I finally made it to my hotel in Jangpura and was relieved by the quietness of the place. Having experienced Delhi’s traffic put me in a state of shock and as a result, I took some time off from the Delhi’s scene and remained in my hotel room the following day as to recharge my batteries.
Getting Around in Delhi (the Good and the Bad)
Despite being in Delhi for well over a week, I have yet to adjust to this fast-paced city. In truth, Delhi’s overcrowded streets, motorcycles, cars, rickshaws (and their unabated honk), coupled with its overbearing smell of incense, spices, urine, food and garbage have been THE culture shock of my circumnavigation thus far! Nonetheless, I still managed to get around the city to visit its incredible historical sites, and of course to deepen my understanding of women’s land rights and food security in the country.
To move through the streets of Delhi, I heavily relied on the city’s rickshaws and on the bicycle taxis (both pictured below), which are available on every single street corner and are not very expensive if you are lucky enough to find an honest driver. Indeed, 99.9% of the rickshaw drivers (according to my own experience) overcharge tourists (sometimes up to 50% of the real cost) and often refuse to turn on the meter when you ask them to. As a result, my short stay in Delhi helped me to hone my negotiation skills since I had to bargain every single ride with the drivers. In one particular instance for example, a rickshaw driver wanted to charge me 150 rupees to go from my hostel which is located in Greater Kailash 1 to Nizamuddin East. After negotiating a fare with the driver (who by the way was not willing to yield, I went back inside the hostel and asked an employee (a Delhi’s native) to hail a rickshaw and negotiate the fare with another rickshaw driver while I hid inside. As expected, the rickshaw driver offered him a much lower fare (he asked him to pay 60 rupees) and was fairly disappointed when he realized that the ride was for me…. a tourist.
In other instances, I also utilized Delhi’s brand new Metro subway system because of it gave me the opportunity to move around Delhi easily, fairly cheaply, and most importantly, stress-free. The first time I took the Metro, I was not aware of its “Women Only” car so I made due with a crowded mixed car, and it was not a pleasant experience. Thankfully, I was beyond elated when I heard about the “Women Only” first coach car and I had since been able to escape the intruding male-gaze. 🙂
Metting Dr. Bina Agarwal
Despite these few uncomfortable incidents, my stay in Delhi has been a blessing for my research! Indeed, besides meeting with important knowledgable key stakeholders at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Food Security Institute, the Human Development Institute and Landesa, I had the immense pleasure of meeting THE most knowledgable person in the world on the issue of development economics with a specific focus on women’s livelihoods. Before coming to India, I sent an email to Dr. Bina Agarwal (the author of the ground-breaking book called A Field of One’s Own) in which I asked her whether we could have a face-to-face conversation on the linkages between women’s land tenure and property rights (or lack thereof) and food security in India and in the developing world. I was not expecting a response from her since she’s extremely busy traveling around the world and teaching in the U.K. but she did! She apologized for the delayed response and offered me to come to her apartment for a sit-down later in the afternoon. I took a rickshaw to her apartment and after going through Delhi’s notorious traffic jam, I finally met Dr. Agarwal! At first, I was bit intimidated by her presence but she was extremely nice and offered me some tea with some delicious biscuits! Having Dr. Agarwal’s perspective on my research truly was a blessing from above since she gave me a lot of pieces of advice on how I could approach my research and structure my paper. Namaste!
Beware of the Pickpockets!
Yesterday, I finally decided to venture around Delhi in order to visit its rich historical and cultural heritage. Another woman traveler at my hostel decided to join the party and we first took a rickshaw to the closest Metro stop: Kalaish Colony. From there, we went on to visit the Kashmere Gate, the Red Fort, the Jain Red Temple & Bird Hospital, the Chandini Chowk market, the Rajghat: Tomb of Mahatma Gandhi, India Gate, the Lodi Garden, Humayun’s Tomb and the Lotus Temple. While we got quite accustomed to men openly staring at us (and following us in some instances), things went from bad to worse when we first were surrounded by 30 men who were obsessively taking pictures of us before three ladies attempted to steal my wallet. The ladies who were in the 40s approach us we were talking to the rickshaw driver and pretended to be interested in his services. Then all of us sudden, I noticed that the lady to my right was giving my wallet to the lady who was to her right and and then all hell broke loose. I grabbed both of the ladies by their arms and shook them up (just a little bit) until they finally dropped it to the ground. I shook them up one more time (just a little bit 😉 ) and looked for a police officer but unfortunately there was no police officer in sight so they managed to escaped without be brought to justice! I any case, I was beyond thankful to the Man above for helping recover my passport, which was in the wallet.