They are admittedly cute as they rush up to you with large eyes, grown-up bargaining words, and big expectations.
In their hands can be any number of items: keychains, snow globes, gum, snack mixes. Next to them are adults selling the same items at a competitive price you’ll never hear because your ears are blocked by the cuteness of the child offering up items for you.
They are the street children of India. Often, they look slightly too skinny, with either tattered shoes or none at all, and clothing that is either to big or too large for their bodies. They look like children who have scuffled and played and been roughed around with a few too many times, but here they are, selling whatever they think you’ll buy.
It all started a little bit more than a year before my second departure to India. A friend inviting me to her wedding that would be the next year. By grace, things lined up perfectly that I was able to go though no plans started getting set in stone until October.
Being the planner that I am, I spent quite a bit of time researching what I wanted to do and see. At first, I was positive I would fly from Delhi to Darjeeling, then to Kolkata for the wedding. Then I thought Kochi and the backwaters of Kerala. Then I started looking at pictures of camels in the desert. Finally, I decided on Delhi (got to see the Taj Mahal, I figured), and the recommended city of Jaipur (which I would 100% recommend). The deserts and backwaters and tea fields can wait until my next trip.
I did have to be careful with getting my e-TV visa. If you know nothing about this visa, it’s basically a document that you print from online that allows you to travel anywhere in India for 30 days, although you can only enter from specific airports. You need to have it a few days before you leave and can’t apply for it more than a month before your arrival date.
I thought that maybe someone would find it helpful to see how long it took me to plan for this trip in case they, too, are worried that they are an over-planner.
I hope this chart is helpful for you in planning your own trip to India! I’m a major budgeting/planner and I love to have an idea of how much money I could possibly spend in a country. This budget is on the higher end with me not wanting to spend more than $1,500. We really weren’t concerned with how much we were spending and were free to shop and go to as many attractions as we wanted (which really isn’t hard in India). We also traveled more for the specific purpose of going to a wedding. As guests, our housing was covered for the days we were there and we spent our free day just relaxing with a movie at a mall.
We shoved our way down crowded back alleys as men lugged crates larger than themselves on their shoulders. Everywhere we turned, there was something bright and glittery to see: the sari or saree, depending on where you are.
A brief walk from Chandni Chowk Station, with large signs to guide our way, the market was filled with the brightly colored garments, along with beautiful lehengas. We started walking the main road before making our way further in.
“Well,” I said as we made our back to the main road, “I guess we’ll need to go in somewhere.”
We passed by more storefronts with mannequins made up in dazzling, bejeweled saris. Some of these were the same ones we went past twice.
Finally we came to a store, took a deep breath and opened the door as we slipped off our shoes.
The faces of a family picking out a bridal gown from their positions on the plushly matted floor stared up at us. Everything in me wanted to turn back out.
“We’re looking for saris,” I told a man who came to ask what he could do for us, “for a wedding.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he said as he ushered us to the back of the narrow room, tip-toeing past the family, with shelves stacked high with saris. He had us sit down, one on the mat, one on a small wooden stool. “Have you ever worn a sari?”
My friend shook her head no, and I nodded vaguely—three years ago, I remembered, being in a friends house being draped in the thick, purple and green sari over my blouse and pants—but did that really count?
“Well, up up,” he said.
I motioned for my friend to follow his instructions and another man came forward with a rope to tie the sari onto her waist. He draped it with expert fashion, pulling it through his hands to make folds once, twice, three times, more times than I could count.
“This is an easy sari,” he said. “The skirt is already draped, so the only thing she’d have to worry about is the piece that goes over the shoulder.”
It was true—a brooch rested on the waist that gathered the fabric into pre-folds.
“It would be easy for me to put on myself back home,” my friend said as she admired herself in a mirror.
I snapped photos and eyed a pile of lehengas in a corner.
The man followed my gaze and I asked, “Could I wear a lehenga to a wedding?”
Through the winding back streets of the spice market, my friend led me to a hidden set of stairs she visited the previous day on a walking tour.
“We can see down into the mosque from the roof,” she said as we climbed flight after flight of stairs with large, open windows overlooking a residential area.
“Are you sure we can be up here?” I asked—I asked the same thing when we entered a hotel a few minutes before for the purpose of washing our hands.
She waved me off, “It’s fine, it’s fine. We did it yesterday.”
On the third floor, a man stood peering out the window and halfway turned to watch us as we continued our journey.
Finally on the roof, we were met with a remarkable view over the entire market, the mosque, the people int he distance, and the rows of spices down below. The man followed us.
A few other tourists milled about with large, expensive cameras shooting the concrete landscape.
One’s guide roughly shoved his backpack into his hands. “Don’t leave this lying around,” he said. “Someone could steal it.”
We climbed onto a huge concrete platform to get an even better view of the city as all left but one man and the man who followed us.
I stood on one side of the platform taking pictures until I heard my friend explain, “Hey! Why is your light on?”
Indeed, the man who followed us was boldly trailing after my friend with the flashlight on his phone turned on—to peer through her skirt.
“Hey,” I said, “Leave her alone.”