I take the bus, despite the scoffing of my fellow tourists, to the Almaty airport and feel relieved to be travelling on my own again. I can do things as cheaply or expensively as I wish, and can be alone with my thoughts. I fear that I am reaching new levels of introversion by dropping myself into strange land after strange land with no contacts, but 80+ countries--I believe--officially makes me a “seasoned” traveller. I spend the rest of my Kazakhstani tenge on a weird deli burrito-thing before I begin my travels to India.
An hour and a half in the air, four hours in the Tashkent Airport (crowded with towel-cloth-clad Mongolians on Hajj en route to Jeddah), and another three hours in-flight sets me down in Delhi a little after 2 am. It is still very late, and not yet early, so I take the shuttle to the Delhi airport city bus hub, then take it back to where I started when I realize there’s no bus going my way. Regardless, I have nowhere to go and no way to get there. The metro isn’t running yet, and cab drivers annoy me the minute I step outside into the early morning Indian humidity. I hide in the KFC and drink Pepsi by the swamp cooler while I wait for nothing.
I long for a bed, I long to sleep, I long for permanent air-conditioning and lifelong protection from mosquitoes. I also long to find oneness with the Indian subcontinent, which has fascinated me since my first childhood bite of a potato samosa with tamarind chutney. Despite my endless love for all foods Indian, I know this will be a difficult week, the first half of which I am to spend alone, killing time until my dad meets me as he flies from New York. Among country counters and globetrotters alike, India gets mixed reviews. The cities are supposed to be among the dirtiest in the world, and the scammers and manipulators are supposed to be the most prevalent in this country of a billion people where most struggle to survive.
Finally the metro opens, and as I buy my ticket a cab driver counts aloud every bill I pull from my pocket to place in the machine. In our thirty-second interaction, he tells me the metro is down, his cab will be cheaper, and that the machine will not give change. None of this is true. Talking to him, or rather being talked at by him, takes me from exhausted to completely enervated, and I feel as if I will collapse on the train then wake up missing my phone, laptop, and a piece of my liver. Despite my fears, I am never pick-pocketed, only subjected to con after con as if my skin is a sign that I just won the lottery and will throw my wallet at anyone who asks me where I am from, where I am going, or if I need a cab. What I need is space, but it’s hard to get that in a place like Delhi.
The surprisingly modern and safe Delhi metro conveys me in air-conditioned bliss to my destination at Shivaji Stadium, walking distance from Connaught Place and my hostel in the Paharganj neighborhood. When I arrive, I do not want to get off. Though the sun hasn’t even extended above the horizon, the air is hot, humid, and endlessly insufferable. My face constantly looks as if someone threw a water balloon at me and sweat drips into my collar for hours, offering little relief. My first stop is a visit to Bangla Sahib, a gurdwara near the station where Sikhs come in the mornings to pray. The gurdwara also has a “langar” (which translates to “kitchen” in Punjabi) where a free vegetarian meal is served to the community each morning, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or caste. Each morning, this gurdwara serves prashad, a ball of dough made of flour, butter, and sugar and--after visiting the temple--I stop by to try this sacred meal as my first in India. Though I feel strange as the only white person in the hall, wearing an improvised head covering and shorts in the holy temple, no one looks at me twice and the volunteer in charge of serving the prashad hand-rolls a ball for me with a smile. Feeding the hungry as a mandatory part of religious doctrine? That’s something I can get behind.
A tuk-tuk driver follows me for ten minutes on the streets near the hall, trying to get me to accept a ride. My rapid loss of fluids only makes me more stubborn, and ultimately he leaves me alone (I can only assume) because I look like a wax sculpture that has just been placed in a bonfire and pulled out after a couple of minutes of bubbling and melting. Connaught Place is quiet this early in the morning, so I jump between hotel lobbies, restaurants, and convenience stores to avoid the heat before check-in time. When I finally arrive at the hostel after being awake all night, I collapse on my dormitory bed and sleep clear to the next morning.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.