When I came to Delhi in 2008 I remember the palpable culture shock. It was overwhelming even for a rather intrepid traveler. I had been in Beijing and Uganda earlier in the year so I thought I would be prepared for anything, but nothing I had ever experienced set me up for India. On the roadway from the airport cows roamed the street. The traffic was indescribable and everyone honked their horns. There were thousands of stray dogs loafing in the sun, then at night they would roam in hungry packs and turn aggressive. Squatters camped along the roadways and children would race up to your car when you were stopped at intersections to beg or perform little tricks in hopes of a handout. It took me about 24 hours to adjust and I still am ashamed of my ugly American moment when I couldn’t get the hot water to work.
Two years later, I see a different city. For all the international ridicule Delhi suffered as it ramped up to the Commonwealth Games, the Indian capitol definitely has on its game face now. The cows and dogs have been relocated for the time being to shelters. There are few squatters and I haven’t seen one beggar yet. Traffic is moving well and things are clean and tidy. It remains to be seen what it will be like in three months when the international spotlight turns away (I still wonder how Beijing transformed once the Olympics were over.) Of course Delhi will be left with the emotional and financial hangover these huge international sporting events leave behind, but for the moment, it is a new day in Delhi. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people. That is the same as it was in 2008. Warm smiles and namastes. Great hospitality to cure the worst case of culture shock.
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