Welcome to India – Possibly the ‘Friendliest place on earth’
The airplane was sprayed with a disinfecting air-freshener before we landed in New Delhi. Sitting in front of us during the five-hour flight were a young scruffy New Zealand couple arriving from Thailand – stinking with unwashed hair and neglected long toenails. I wondered who was going to benefit from our superficial cleansing, thinking our travelling couple were the least of India’s worries.
The airport was like any other international airport, although it seemed quite acceptable for some locals to skip the passport cue, if the appropriate nod was given. Outside the terminal, we were so lucky to be greeted by our wonderful friend Amneet, who offered to pick us up at 11:00pm and host us in her family home. We will be indebted to her for the kindness, warmth and generosity she showed to us, during our nervous transition to India.
In this greeting zone, there was a hustle and heave of taxi drivers requesting us to prepay the taxi fare at a concealed hut. Our taxi joined the sea of other drivers at midnight scrambling for some road position. I tried not to feel unnerved by the tight positions our driver was squeezing in to. The roads went bumpy and dark after we left the main rivers of traffic, the outdoor fires along the road seemed strange, but were later explained by the ritual before Holi day (pronounced ‘holy’, this is a national festival where people sprinkle coloured powder on each other to break down barriers and rejoice the arrival of spring).
When we arrived at Amneet’s home in Old Delhi, her father and mother gave us a warm welcome, offering us chai(tea) and biscuits at 12:30am, we chatted enthusiastically for another hour, our host in no hurry to retire, graciously giving us her bed. When we finally did lie down in India at 2:00am for the first time, It felt pretty amazing to have arrived, after all the time imaging and thinking about this journey – I couldn’t believe we had actually got there. As I struggled to sleep with the excitement, I heard in the distance the chug of trains, dogs parking, but overall it was unnervingly quiet.
The streets were full of activities for Holi- drumming, dancing, laughing and cruising on motorbikes
Laughter, drums and music vibrated from the street the next morning, opening the shutter doors of the house, revealed India in the light. This was the Holi day Festival in all it’s joviality. Families stood on balconies, while children tried to aim at unsuspecting targets. They even managed to get a water balloon within a metre of my feet. The neighbours dusted me with some Holi paint and welcomed me to India, a lovely gesture of universal fun.
India being revealed for the first time
We received such warm welcome from the Kaur family
Our first Indian breakfast was wonderful paratas (flat potatoe cake) yogurt and masala Chai (tea). After being sick for three days in Bangkok and nervous about this journey, it was fantastic for my appetite to return and enjoy the taste of food, especially home cooked.
Typical scene in old Delhi, the sacred cows mingling with people
We set off on our first adventure nervously and with trepidation to the Metro to begin our explorations of Delhi. On the short car trip to the station, our heads hit the ceiling, as we bounced over potholes on the road. We saw cows wandering along the road, skips full of rubbish, bicycles, rickshaws, public urinals, markets, all these new sights but my senses on edge. As it was Holi day, there were very few people moving about, making Delhi and the metro stations feel exceptionally quiet. We expected the metro to be jammed with people, what awaited us was a vacuous tunnel of empty seats and poles. After a few stations, families surrounded us, all curiously looking at us because we were celebrating Holi with coloured marks streaked across our faces.
The unusual scene of an empty carriage in Delhi
The typical scene in the crowded ladies carriage
A round middle-aged boxing coach wished us Happy Holi and asked where we had come from, we had a brief conversation about boxing in Ireland before the train got to the next stop. This type of impromptu conversation would never have happened in China. We exited to an almost empty train station – this was not what we expected from Delhi. As we emerged from the underworld, three men covered in iridescent coloured powder greeted us. They wanted us to join them in the celebration and marked us with yellow and pink powder and gave us another warm welcome to India. Meeting these people and feeling the warmth of their spirit really put me at ease for our journey through this magical country.