Jumping into India

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013 in Featured, India | 2 comments

Many travelers and guidebooks recommend “easing” into India. It’s food, the crazy amount of people, and hectic daily pace can be extremely overwhelming and dictate one’s opinion immediately upon arrival. We had heard about the shirt-drenching heat, the possible side effects that accompany its rich cuisine, and, of course, the perception of women and how that would influence Kat. After talking about our entry into India for days leading up to our flight from Australia, we decided to take it slow. That was until we had another last-minute hotel snafu.

As far as India accomodations go, unless you’re going super budget, it’s hard not to end up in some sort of palace or historical gem that now houses deep-pocketed tourists. The hotel that we (and by we, I mean Kat) had been researching in Delhi was one of the few mid-range options available online. And, just when I thought our booking styles had found a happy medium (Kat likes the comfort of being confirmed weeks in advance whereas I prefer to show up and figure it out) three days before we departed for India, I was totally wrong. Although we had communicated with the potential hotel via email, by the time we tried to book, it was suddenly full. Some anxiety ensued, but it ultimately worked out in the end. This late change forced us to jump right into India.

After some more frantic searching online, we came across the S.B. Inn in a neighborhood known as Pahar Ganj – an area of Delhi where there is absolutely zero chance of easing in. Our ride from the airport was uneventful, aside from horns sounding and bad traffic almost the entire way.  In fact, we were both surprised at how much nicer Delhi was than we had anticipated. The drive took us through nice tree-lined avenues, parks, and some less well-to-do areas, but nothing to shock the eyes. . .until we turned the corner at the New Delhi Train Station onto the Main Bazaar of Pahar Ganj. The number of people multiplied by one thousand, bicycles by one hundred and tuk-tuk’s by ten. And they all packed the streets as if trying to set a record for most people in one place. We had arrived.
A lot of emotions can hit you when seeing a place like this for the first time – nervousness, sorrow, excitement, anxiety. Only in India can all of these feelings mesh together at the same moment. Comfortable or not, we knew we had come to the right place. Tuk-tuk’s, motorbikes, bicycles, walkers, and cows all fight for a narrow piece of pavement. Vendors hawk from either side of the street, trying to persuade us why their clothing, incense, food, water, or souvenirs are the best. It’s easy to avoid the shops because, as with driving, we must keep our eyes on the road at all times, weary of the rush of all the various forms of traffic.  Impoverished children with no shoes, no pants or sometimes no clothes at all, are scattered throughout. It almost feels like we shouldn’t be there, like we’re invading their crazy lifestyle. I’m afraid to take out the camera. But in a way, this is exactly why we came here.
For $16/night, S.B. Inn was a great value. The hotel had just opened a few months before so Pahar Ganj had to yet to take its toll. Although relatively nice, we knew that not a lot of time would be spent in the hotel. This neighborhood has an ability to stimulate the brain, evoke every possible feeling, and leave you wanting more. Stepping out into our alleyway, multiple side streets paved the way for exploring one interesting turn after another. Curious looks and awkward, uncomfortable feelings occurred every few minutes. In the afternoon, we eventually made our way to some historic sites and monuments, all undeniably charming in an architectural style that was very new to us. 
As nighttime rolled around, we strolled more of Pahar Ganj to hopefully find a suitable first meal. We had passed the arrival test earlier that day, but I was concerned the food test would be slightly more challenging. We walked for more than 30 minutes but, after only finding what I considered to be modified street stands for restaurants or vats of boiling “who knows what” on the sidewalk, we finally made our way back to the hotel for a suggestion. The owner had left for the night, but his assistant was excited to point us in what I was sure would be a safe place – Satguru’s. When we arrived, Kat and I looked at one another in concern. We had come across this very same establishment not long before and passed on it without even blinking an eye. I’m not sure whether we just trusted this man or were past the point of hunger and realized it probably won’t get much better in Pahar Ganj, but I quickly said, “Well, we jumped right in this morning, we might as well jump right in with the food too.” With a hesitant nod and laugh, Kat agreed. 
Standing outside, looking confused at the massive, hanging Hindi menu, some guy who appeared to be running the show told us, “English menu inside.” We walked back to a hidden seating area to find an equally intimidating menu. The symbols were at least now letters that we could understand, but it was still impossible to decipher. Kat could pick out one or two words from previous experience, but since I had never eaten Indian food, I was clueless. It was easy to sense that the locals and waiters weren’t used to seeing foreigners here. And for good reason. Similar to how Pahar Ganj probably isn’t the best place to ease into India, Satguru’s is easily a newcomer’s equivalent for the food. We settled on what looked like a house special or a mix of things from a different sign. We still don’t know exactly what was on our shared 70 rupee ($1.40) plate, but it was filled with distinctive flavors. 
Back at the hotel, we reflected on our first day in India. It went nothing like we had planned the week before. Images from the street ran through our heads as Satguru’s rumbled in our stomachs. We had acclimated to Pahar Ganj with ease and surprised excitement, and dinner didn’t cause a single digestive issue. There was no reason to be concerned, we had passed the day’s tests. We had jumped into India and were eager for the next two weeks. 


  1. Most interesting story so far…loved it. You had me chuckling at the thought of the two of you looking for a place to stay. Stay safe. Love you both

  2. PISCOS! I’m sure Satguru’s is a different level of Indian food than New Delhi Diamond’s in Ithaca. Mikey, keep your hair growing (great flow, guy) and the photos coming. Kat, love the descriptions in your posts. Travel safe and lots of love. Cam and Nora

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