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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Erik - Delhi

Namaste, everyone!

Greetings from India to everyone checking out this blog!  For everyone I've already told about this blog, you know I'm supposed to write weekly to talk about my experiences as an intern/volunteer in India's cosmopolitan capital.  The second week of my stay here is about to end, and this is my first entry, so I would like to apologize for this being so late.  I'll write enough for two blog entries here.

After getting bounced around for almost eight hours in the US before my connecting flight from Newark to Delhi, I finally arrived the Sunday night of two weeks ago at the guest house where I'm staying.  The next day, I decided to explore a little bit in the area around me.  My first impression of Delhi is that it was an ENORMOUS city - I had read so much about various monuments in Delhi, but after looking through a map a bit and talking with the lady who runs the guest house (she's my "host mom" for my stay here), I realized that all these amazing, exotic things I had been dying to see for weeks were in different corners of a huge city I had no idea how to navigate!  I've been trying to get out to see some things, but it's been hard trying to find someone to go with me, being the only non-Indian in the guest house.  With no volunteers here to show me around the city a bit, I've been struggling (with success!) to go out on my free days and find interesting sites (and sights) to see and photograph.

                                                The view from my guest house's balcony

Last Sunday, I decided to go alone to the Qutub Minar, a five-story tower finished in the 14th century, located in the middle of a beautiful historical complex south of where I live.  To get there, I decided to test out the Delhi Metro, my one travel lifeline connecting to almost all parts of the city.  On my way in a shared taxi to the nearest station, I met a young Indian woman of around 25 years who was curious about me, my background, and what I was doing in India.  One thing that surprised me about coming to India was just how friendly the locals are to foreigners, and she definitely proved it - we were both going to the same station, and she helped me figure out how to navigate the metro (it was my very first time in a subway!), helped me get a rechargeable card for fare, and saw me off to my destinationI'm not sure how much longer it would have taken me to get through the metro without her help!  Anyway, as for the Qutub Minar, it's a fascinating monument of the region's history under the Delhi Sultanate, when Persian and Muslim cultural power became dominant in the region.  Here's some photographic proof that I arrived there safely and confidently navigated my way back home alone:

                                                 Some of the lush plant life in the complex

The 17th century tomb of Quli Khan, related to the Mughal
Emperor Akbar

The famed tower itself (it's a UNESCO
World Heritage Site!)

Today I met with Olivia and Maira, two other Ubelongers staying in Delhi (I think Olivia blogs on this very site, if you're interested), and we decided to go to one of the malls in Delhi.  These buildings, like the city, are absolutely enormous, and with three of them lined up right next to one another, we did quite a bit of walking.  We decided to get something to eat at an Italian restaurant, and all craving American tastes, decided to get individual pizzas - I got a meat pizza, the first time I've had any meat since arriving in India almost two weeks ago, and it was delicious!  Afterwards, I suggested we check out Connaught Place, an area with more malls and a nice place to walk that's only open Saturdays, and since we had a free day today (yes, lots of Indians work Saturdays, and I'm expected to as well), I wanted to check it out.  Confident in my new ability to navigate the metro, I decided to help them get to our intended destination.  It turns out that I was given incorrect information, and we ended up at the wrong (but close!) metro station.  We decided to check out the map to see where we needed to be, and noticed a lot of historical monuments concentrated around this one.  Long story short, we found the India Gate, another huge historical monument in Delhi, dedicated to fallen Indian soldiers in World War I, whose names are carved into the memorial arch.  All in all, it was a really fun day, and I'm glad I met some new volunteers (these are the first Americans I've met in Delhi!).

At the first mall; if you look closely, you'll see
Starbucks to the right

Me in front of the India Gate (wearing my
"rc everywhere" tee-shirt)

A little over a week ago, there was only one thing being talked about on the Indian news channels: a major election took place on Friday which would ultimately determine the new Indian Prime Minister.  India has a parliamentary election system, which means people vote for parties to have their seat in Parliament (the Lok Sabha) and the Prime Minister is chosen by the party with the most seats.  Usually, in such a system, parties have to form coalitions with one another to get laws passed by teaming up with each other to compromise on important issues (any polysci experts, feel free to correct me if I've made any mistakes with this explanation).  But this time, the BJP (a Hindu nationalist party) dominated the elections, achieving majority all by itself with its charismatic leader Narendra Modi, who will be sworn in some time next week as PM.  Although I know little about Indian politics, I have seen saffron banners with lotus flowers on them all around Delhi, and I look forward to seeing how this unprecedented political situation transforms Indian society.  One observation about the voting I made is that voting is often region-based.  India is a greatly diverse country, with almost all of its states speaking a different native language, having different cultures, different food, different dress, etc.  And while most of the northern, central states (politically dominant, with Hindi as the main native language or a commonly used and studied language) tended to vote for the BJP, a lot of states in other regions, like the South or the Northeast voted strongly for local or oppositional parties.  Additionally, Muslims (a big minority in India) also tended not to be swept up by the "Modi tsunami," voting instead for the now principal opposition party, the Indian National CongressIt's interesting how these voting differences reflect key cultural differences between Indians of different backgrounds, and how their perceptions of national and local issues are so different from one another.  Hopefully things will work well out for everyone!

A TV still as the votes are counted, showing clear BJP dominance
in Uttar Pradesh, a northern state which is also India's most populous

Well, I think that's about the most interesting stuff (not including work) that's happened to me over my first two weeks here in India.  I'll write more about work once I take more photos at my workplaces.  I'll keep you posted!

Until then,


1 comment:

  1. Erik,

    What a great post! I'm glad that you arrived safely and everything is going well for you. Trying to get around on your own is quite the experience! It seems like you have been mostly successful. It sounds like the Metro is a great resource for you. Hopefully you can get to all of those monuments and attractions all around the country. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to go anywhere!

    It's great that the locals who you have interacted with have been so accepting and helpful. The young woman you met in the taxi not only helped you accomplish a few tasks, she also helped you become a little more familiar and comfortable with navigating the city. It is also good that you were able to finally meet up with some fellow U-Belongers. I bet it was refreshing!

    You seem to be very politically-minded. It was really interesting to read about the election you were able to experience. I don't know much about politics in India, so this was eye opening for me. Are you thinking of majoring in Poli Sci? It seems that you have the mind for it!

    Nice RC everywhere shirt! Get some pictures with the "Block M" as well. I look forward to hearing about your job and your experience at work. Pictures would be great. How's the food, by the way?