Back in Alaska I have hosted several travelers over the last few years through a website called Hospitality Club
. It's basically a couch surfing network, connecting travelers with each other for free places to stay and people to meet while traveling. While hosting a lot of people in Alaska, for some reason I usually forget to use it while I
travel, (plus accomodation is usually so cheap anyway).
One Hospitality Club friend I've stayed in touch with the last few years (the wonders of Facebook) is Iryna from Ukraine, who came to Alaska to work in a cannery for a couple years in a row. Iryna is living in Delhi now so I figured it was time to cash in on some traveler's karma. I wrote Iryna a few weeks ago and she was gracious to help arrange accomodation. Though Iryna was not able to host me, she put me in touch with a friend of hers named Kaushal, a 32-year old lawyer from Delhi. Kaushal let me stay in one of his offices, which is basically a converted apartment with two bedrooms and a domestic servant. Kaushal doesn't even use this office much (an insight into the difference between the have's and the have-not's in India), so I was able to crash in some unexpectedly posh digs.
Which was a great respite from New Delhi. Goddamn can this place wear on you. It is the most chaotic, noisy, smelly, sensory overload I have been a part of. I thought I would be braced for the experience the second time around, and even though nothing surprises me, I often ask myself "Why?" As in, why does this place exist, why do people live here, and why would I come here. A place like Delhi definitely changes your perspective of the world, but like a good medicine, it only needs to be taken once.
On the second day in India there was an unexpected knock on the door and in walked in a fellow named Ruben from Spain and his friend Elina from Latvia. Apparently Elina had helped Ruben arrange accomodation at Kaushal's office as well (Kaushal is part of a similar site called www.couchsurfing.com). I switched from guest to host and we all popped open some beers and talked about life in India. Elina is going to university in Delhi and Ruben is on vacation from Belgium, where he works for the European Union.
For a Spaniard, Ruben is a damn cool guy and we ended up being instant travel buddies as we checked out some of the sites in Delhi and maintained our sanity by having a laugh at the Indian situation. It's not politically correct to say, but Indians are some peculiar, quirky people who live in a strangely divided and repressive society, one in which the caste system is still firmly in place. It takes awhile to get used to the constant assault from aggressive Indians who view you as a walking ATM, or the crowds who have zero sense of personal space, or the seeming complete lack of manners between Indians as the push, shove, honk horns and shout their way through life. But they don't seem to mind, so maybe it is just me.
One day we sat on the balcony of Kaushal's and witnessed an arguement below. A truck driver had nudged a car in a narrow alley, and even though the car had a cover on it and no damage was done, a nearby man decided to defend the honor of the car (I don't even think it was his car) and a huge conflict took place. The man kept shouting at the truck driver and even struck him with his fists a few times. A crowd assembled and Kaushal translated the events. "He's calling him a sisterf***er and saying 'What if that was a child you hit!'" The man did not stop yelling and this went on for an incredible two hours. All over nothing. Kaushal mumbled that it had something to do with the "passion of the Punjab."
So while I didn't have a real good reason to come to India, it didn't take much of a reason to leave. I found a cheap flight to one of the best places on the planet: Thailand, where I have just arrived after spending an overnight flight on New Year's Eve, during which I might add all of the Indian passengers spent the whole flight running up and down the aisles like it was neighborhood pub.
Ruben has decided to hop on over with me, where he will spend the rest of his vacation before going to Europe. It is always a breath of fresh air coming to Thailand, where the people are so welcome and warm and traveling is so easy. Sometimes it feels like the world's biggest Hospitality Club.