From Palaces to Prisons

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The range of accommodations we’ve had so far in Delhi has been broad, to say the least. We’ve stayed in three places, and I don’t think we could have picked three hotels that are more different than each other, or from our experience in the US.

The YWCA, where we spent our first few nights, is under construction. That’s really about the only appropriate way to describe it. There were men hurrying busily this way and that, carrying bricks and mortar, pieces of wood, and homemade looking ladders and scaffolding. Occasionally they would close off the main entrance, or half the lobby.

On our second night in Delhi, after sipping tea in the lobby with our friend Jonathan Singh, I turned around to find that scaffolding had been erected about two inches behind my right ear. It did not look like a particularly sturdy platform. It consisted of a couple of sawhorses made out of logs and a piece of fencing laid across them.

But life went on, even in the midst of all the mess and work. It was fascinating to note how open Delhites (perhaps Indians in general?) are about sharing their process. In America, a building under such significant revision would be hidden behind all sorts of barriers.

Still, the staff was courteous and well-meaning. We got what we needed, and they took good care of us.

After moving out of the YWCA, we stayed for a night in the Baraj Indian Homestay—something of a bed and breakfast. The hotel was absolutely palatial, beautifully and extravagantly furnished. “They have everything you need here,” Jonathan told us, “You can get Wifi, you can hire a car, get room service—anything you need.”

I think that our room was recently a small lounge. It was right off the lobby, a little snug to be a bedroom, and the bathroom had a placard on it indicating that it housed a unisex toilet. A couple of bookcases against the wall were attractively hidden behind a nice set of curtains. But still, it was very tastefully put together. Plus, it was the first hotel room I’ve ever stayed in that has had its own computer.

We had a splendid evening. They took care of us fabulously. We had a nice dinner in our room, they fed us a wonderful complimentary breakfast, and they hooked us up with a taxi the next morning. But we paid for it, too—not as much as we would have paid for the same service in America, but more than we could handle for the long term. We used the wifi to look for a place that had a price tag a little more amenable to our goals.

The view from our window at Ajay's. (or lack thereof)
The view from our window at Ajay's. (or lack thereof)

Our room in Ajay’s Guest House has fit the bill. But if our room in Baraj was a palace, our room Ajay’s is definitely more of a prison. The walls are all cold, hard linoleum. Signs on the walls explicitly discourage the use of narcotics. Somewhere in the distance is the persistent sound of hammers striking metal. The power goes out once or twice a day, and several times a day, particularly in the early morning, someone stops on the street outside of our window to ring a loud, obnoxious bell for several minutes. Our bed consists of a couple of twin beds crammed together, and we’ve had to furnish our own bedding, soap, and toilet paper.

But we’ve got A/C (usually), and our door locks adequately. In fact, when we leave, we get to attach a gigantic padlock to the door. (Don’t worry, mom, we still take all of our valuables with us.) Not only that, this room is the first of the three where the bugs aren’t particularly troublesome. How that is, I am not entirely sure.

Strangely enough, most of the people staying in Ajay’s Guest House with us are Israeli. All of the nearby signs are written in English and Hebrew. I wonder how many people can claim to have run into an Orthodox Jew in India. Well, we’re on that select list now.

What's wrong with this picture?
What's wrong with this picture?

So far as the area is concerned, Wikitravel accurately describes the neighborhood we are in, Parha Gangj, as the “backpackers’ ghetto.” Probably half of the people we see down on Main Bazaar are foreigners. The street is very narrow and extremely crowded: just going outside is an adventure of the first order. Conveniently, however, we can find just about everything we need right down stairs, off the hotel lobby. Of course, none of the amenities are complimentary.

Sarah has aptly observed that this strip the place where tourists who are “above” tourism stay. These are the kind of people who go off the beaten track, who aren’t looking for Western amenities, who don’t mind getting down and dirty in the local culture. But in the course of going off the beaten track, they’ve kind of hacked out their own tourist culture.

The visual styling of foreigners we encounter along the street is a cross between Bohemian, backpacker, and Indian. And the local shops cater to it. I didn’t think you could buy leather in India. But along Main Bazaar there are at least ten leather shops. There’s even one in the lobby of our hotel!

As different as they have been, we have thoroughly enjoyed all the places we have stayed. We don’t know what’s coming next, but surely it will be just as adventurous!

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