*Full picture gallery below*
“Delhi Belly,” the “Montezuma’s Revenge” of India, is greatly feared by travelers. In the best case scenario, it can ruin your trip. In the worst case, you’re going to the hospital. Maybe you don’t even leave the hospital. This is definitely something to be feared as a traveler in India and should dictate your eating, drinking, and hygiene habits while here.
But lucky for us, we managed to avoid getting this kind of “Delhi Belly.” What we did get, however, was premium balcony tickets on opening day for the new Bollywood movie “Delhi Belly.” This was much more enjoyable I think. I have to say, the moviegoing experience in India far surpasses that in the U.S. For starters, they sell tickets with assigned seating, so there’s no BS hunting around for a seat. Also, they sell “premium” tickets that are on a balcony with maybe only four rows and your own separate food area and ushers that show you to your seat and bring food/drink if asked. Also, the seats up there are huge plush lazy-boy type with big armrests and cup holders. All the patrons up there were dressed very nice for the occasion. Altogether it is a really classy setup, with everything in nice looking polished marble and ebony handrails. It was like an old time theatre, except the place wasn’t old. Those first class tickets ran about $5 U.S. and the regular seats below are about $3. The movie we watched was in “Hinglish” (it even said that on the ticket) which mixes enough English words in the dialogue that you can follow the story and get the jokes pretty easily. Besides, gastrointestinal ailments as comic relief pretty much cross all cultures I think. Some of the action scenes were shot in the market we went to yesterday near the large mosque, which was pretty cool. They even had a clip outside the actual theatre we were watching it in! They have very tight security at the movie theaters, and no bags (or purses) are allowed at all, so of course we couldn’t grab any pics of the inside of the place =( Altogether it was really fun though, I definitely recommend catching a Bollywood premiere on a visit to India.
Here we are though, at the end our time in this bright, incredible, sometimes beautiful, sometimes revolting, often scary, and always memorable country. An analogy that struck me in our first few days here was Star Trek. The Original Series, that is. Yes, dorky as hell I know, but bear with me. You know the formula for an episode right? They discover some far off distant planet, beam down to explore, and they discover some alien civilization with practices and beliefs completely foreign to ours. The aliens are always dressed in weird, brightly colored clothes. And…. strangely…. the aliens always speak English. That’s what this country feels like. It is more foreign than anything I’ve experienced. By far. Talking with people we’ve met here (not the predators, but working people and students) and thinking of everything we’ve seen, I can’t help but realize the tremendous gulf that divides life here from life at home. We speak the same language, but we’re rarely saying the same things.
I certainly can’t pretend to have any real insight into this place from the limited time here. There are questions I’ve asked that I haven’t gotten answers for. Some of these questions may not have answers. Questions like: Why do they want pictures of us? There are many questions though that have remarkably simple answers. Questions like: What the hell are these brown stains that I see in nearly every corner?
That’s an easy one. Two words: Betel Nuts. They chew them. They spit everywhere. It stains everything, including their teeth.
Other questions? Yeah…. hmmm… Why the hell do a lot of the old men here have their hair and beards dyed bright orange? That’s also a fairly easy one. One word: Henna. The same stuff for dyed artwork on the skin is used to dye beards and hair. I think there is some religious and cultural significance to the substance and the practice, and I won’t pretend to explain that part. When I found out it was henna though, and not some streak of bad dye jobs like with old ladies and purple hair, it made a lot more sense.
Oh yeah, what about the cars honking? Why does the honking, never, ever stop? Well, it would seem that in India they place a different meaning to honking horns. In the U.S., horns are a somewhat infrequently used aggressive road gesture (or frequently used aggressive road gesture in Latin America). In India, it is a means of gently making your presence known on roads where people do not follow any rules for lanes and where traffic signals can be rare. A lot of cars and tuk-tuk’s actually have “horn please” or “blow horn please” painted on the back of them. Believe it or not, you get used to them. After a few days, it seems kind of normal.
A lot of questions arise concerning hygiene and safety. Really though, these are endless questions. How can your grilled chicken stand stay in business when you’re three feet from noxious, open-air urinals? Do people actually eat cut pineapple being carted around the side of the road by some guy flinging dirty water on the pieces? How many pedestrians get hit by cars here? I mean, surely the rules I’ve grown up with have some benefit. There are almost no crosswalk signals here, and crossing the road is like a game of frogger. And what about all the exposed dangling power lines? Literally dangling over the sidewalk. I mean, there was a power box that had a skull and crossbones and “440 volts” painted on it, and the doors were open and kids were playing around it. Are the kids here just that tough? Who knows? I sure don’t.
Suffice it to say that I’m leaving with a great many things unanswered. Next visit right? We both agreed that we’d love to see some of the other big cities in India: Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Chennai. Maybe on the next big trip.
As for now though, we’re on our way to Bangkok, Thailand for another huge cultural shift.