India – well, we’ve been here nearly 2 weeks. At first, I thought, this isn’t nearly as bad as people warned. Staying with Sasank provided a rather comfortable introduction. Sure, the streets of Old Delhi were nuts, but there is a lot of the city that’s relatively chill. And after Africa, we’ve seen some falling-down towns and poor people.

After a week though, it’s starting to wear on me a bit. The problem here is that people don’t understand the word “no”. Whereas in Africa, if I looked at a kid or a tout or a beggar and said “no” with intent, then they’d leave me alone. Here, that’s not the case. From rickshaw drivers, to store owners, to kids begging for money – you literally have to push them away with force. I’ve found completely ignoring people works pretty well too (almost pretending I don’t speak English). And getting anything done is such an effort. I am starting to understand why people come here and stick around one spot for a week or more, rather than trying to see a bunch of stuff. Booking transport has been a pain in the butt (though it has run smoothly), and just walking down the street takes a significant amount of effort. And the non-stop car horns – that’s gotten real old already.

Bitching aside, this place is fascinating, and the food is SO delicious. Into our second week, we’re starting to understand the India vibe and flow, and this is most certainly a special place. We’ve met some really cool people (this has been the highest density of travelers we’ve encountered so far, overall), getting some advice on how to navigate the transport, hotels, what to order at restaurants, etc. After 3 months in Africa, with a much less developed traveler infrastructure and network (and really just a lot less travelers), India has been a nice reintroduction back to the backpacker scene.

The diversity of this country is also amazing – this is a continent within a country (and its population mirrors that analogy). There are individual states here that have over 80 million people, and have histories, religions, and customs that are drastically different than other parts of the country. So in many ways, the states are almost like individual countries. Such rich history here as well (and beautiful remnants of it everywhere in the forms of forts, temples, old cities, and palaces), and we’re just now starting to learn about the different rulers and the legacies they’ve left behind. Fascinating.

People are initially much friendlier and much more forward than we’ve encountered before, always saying hello, and asking where we’re from (and immediately upon learning, shouting “Obama!”). But so far, I’ve encountered a lack of genuineness – everyone who starts a conversation with me eventually gets to what they want from me – either a ride in their rickshaw, or a browse in their shop, or to go to their friend’s tourist agency, or to stay in their brother’s hotel. I’ve not had one conversation with an Indian person that wasn’t driven by their self-interest, and that’s kind of disheartening. I know (hope) that will change.

So, those are India first impressions. Living up to its reputation of a land of contrasts.

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