I don’t really consider going from a five star hotel to a business office to a high end mall seeing the real India and although those experiences were not without their challenges I didn’t feel like I had really seen anything. The last thing I wanted was leave this place without seeing the old part of the city, but I was too afraid to do it alone. I could have hired a driver for the day, but that would have been a stranger as well so I was incredibly grateful when a couple guys from work offered to take me out for the day. This was no small offer as the guys were working 7 days a week and were working 6:30pm -3:30am.
They wanted to meet early though which was fine by me and everyone was running a little late. I was absolutely thrilled though when Abi brought Shreya who is one of the young women who work in the office. She was an absolute delight and absolutely made the day. The guys were there mainly to guard us and for logistics…yes they felt a guard was needed…but Shreya was there to have fun!!
Because it was a holiday weekend we had a little trouble finding a cab but finally we were on our way. The first place they wanted me to see was an Old Fort and we gathered with a huge crowd to get in. It is only 25 rupees for Indian people but foreigners cost 300 rupees. I didn’t mind paying the extra, but it was another example of outdoors being less welcome. The fort was pretty cool but I’ll be honest since we got a late start it was HOT. The stairs were steep and after walking around a little bit I was ready to call it and move onto the shopping.
Next to the fort there was a temple and I would have loved to go in, but my three hosts just looked uncomfortable. I don’t know why exactly but I picked up on the vibe and didn’t push the issue. Instead we started shopping and that was really fun. Shreya went into hi gear and we were looking for 100% cotton in XL which by the way is “big girl sizes” which more than one vendor told me they didn’t carry. Despite that Shreya’s enthusiasm was infectious and I found myself buying stuff to make her happy. It was all very inexpensive but I will say that most of the 100% cotton clothing didn’t feel like that and other items when I brought home just didn’t feel right. That being said it was all really inexpensive, but I had better luck in the actual stores in old town. Yes the price jumped up (better than mall prices) but those items after washing were much better. Just my two cents.
I was prewarned it would be crazy crowded but with the guys and Shreya it didn’t really bother me at all. I did the best I could to stay in the shade and it was a really awesome experience. Since it’s setup on both sides of the street crossing back and forth was a bit tough (Abi held my hand every time) but I loved seeing the real India. Also talking to them all about their lives was great and they shared several things about the culture with me. Shreya, for example, actually got a text from her Mom with a possible marriage match and her Auntie called while we were in the cab. She’s a strong independent woman though and isn’t really interested in marriage right now which I commend her for since this is really pushing the norms. I asked if she liked a guy could she get around the match maker and they confirmed a work around was to say you found a guy on a matchmaking site and no one really checked. At a certain age they just want you to get married and look the other way on how you get there. I thought that was awesome.
We also went to the Gold store and with Abi’s Indian phone number I actually got my pair of earrings. They charge based on weight not designer so that was interesting. We also went and ate lunch and went to the 2nd best non-veggie restaurant in the city. I learned that the population is 50% veg (as they call it) and 50% not and most restaurants specialize in one or the other. Since Jax and I are non veg we went to a non veg place but I actually liked the veg options better. Once again we talked through different foods choices and I particularly liked that everyone shared. Actually that happened at both of my meals. The portions are so big and they don’t like waste so they shared. I got my own meal but didn’t eat it all and that really bothered Shreya and Abi, ultimately they decided to package it up and the next time we were approached by a beggar on the street they gave them the food.
Speaking of beggars, I was approached a few times but it was much less than I expected. First of all most people were working and almost everyone has what we would call a side hustle of some kind. I was approached by women on two separate occasions and once by a little girl and boy which was hard. I was prepared for this though and had brought power bars with me so instead of money I gave them a power bar. In all the cases they seemed pretty annoyed that I gave food instead of money but Shreya said that is what they did and didn’t have a lot of patience for it. It wasn’t great but as I said I was resolved and had a plan in advance so that made me more comfortable.
After dinner we had one more place I wanted to go and that was recommended by one of the hotel drivers. I really wanted to get a nice shawl for my mother and we ultimately went to a VERY nice store. I was the only one there and they showed me shawls ranging from $30 US to $140. They explained the difference in the type of goats hair used (baby versus mature) and the intricacy of the hand weaving and embroidery versus machine. Not only did I pick out a beautiful shawl but I bought some other items for myself spending more than I had spent anywhere else. Loved it there and they made me feel very special. This was by far my favorite shopping experience and I was more than happy to spend my money there.
It was such a lovely day and to make it even better this group and others gave me presents on my last day of work. My favorite was a collage Abi made me with pictures from all the things we had done. That kindness truly brought tears to my eyes and I told them sincerely that the real gift was the opportunity to spend time with them. I meant that and am so grateful for their generosity.
I think that to sum up my trip I would say that I experienced the highest of highs and some very lows. It was terrifying at times and I was way out of my comfort zone, but I am incredibly grateful for those people that allowed me into their culture and guided me through it. In general the times I spent with people from India who knew me were amazing and the times I was out on my own were not so great. But I am glad I had the courage to experience a little of India both ways. I know for many people traveling alone internationally is not that big of a deal but for me it was a real shock to the system and I think it was in a good way. I am looking at things very differently now and I really hope those emotions don’t fade over time. When people ask me how it went I simply say it was truly life changing. I hope reading these blog posts you can see why I feel that way.
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