After months of paperwork, preparation and packing, our group from SMU finally set out for India. During a brief layover in Chicago several of us took the opportunity to enjoy an “American” meal at Chili’s. After savoring one last delicious, albeit ridiculously overpriced, airport cheeseburger we boarded the flight for Delhi.
The passengers on the flight were split pretty evenly between Americans and Indian natives. It was interesting to be on a plane where the second language spoken during the safety instructions was Hindi, rather than Spanish (as is usually the case on flights out of Dallas).
The flight, although fourteen hours long, was actually pretty pleasant; great service, clean facilities and very quiet, polite passengers. Based on Dr. Alvey’s recommendation, I decided to be a little adventurous and give the Indian, vegetarian meal a try. I REALLY liked half of it; the only problem was that I didn’t know which half! The Indian menu items were in Hindi. I made a mental note to start writing down the names of all the Indian cuisine I liked so I could be sure to order it again.
First Impressions of India
Upon exiting the airplane, I could have sworn that I had just landed at any major airport in the United States. The sleek, modern design of Delhi International was an incredible display of the infrastructure improvements taking place in India’s capital. The only indication that we were in India were the signs giving directions throughout the airport, which were listed first in English, then in Hindi. There were vending machines for Coca Cola and Pepsi throughout the terminal and the duty-free stores were well stocked with a selection of American liquor, food and cigarette brands. “Maybe this place is more developed than people let on,” I thought to myself as we made our way to the baggage claim.
I was wrong! We rounded a corner to go through customs to find a uniformed guard holding an automatic rifle. It was a little unsettling, but given the the terrorist attacks that have taken place here in recent years, the Indian government has increased security measures, to an extreme, in all major tourist areas. More surprises followed as we exited the building. The area surrounding the airport was in various states of construction. Unlike construction sites in the U.S., which are typically blocked by barricades and covered chain link fences, the entire area was open for all who left the airport to see the workers huddled under makeshift tents, and the concrete and rebar that was strewn about the work zone. As we made our way to our awaiting shuttle, we were greeted by four or five stray but docile, dogs looking for a bite to eat. Meanwhile, the airport employees and construction workers paid them no mind and went about their business as usual. As our shuttle pulled away from e airport, we had driven only a quarter of a mile before seeing a cow meandering along the street.
So much for feeling like we’re in the U.S.!