Living with a Local in New Delhi

by Sydney Kahl / Feb 19, 2013 / 0 comments

Travelling to India to live with a family for two weeks in April was not as difficult as it might sound for a fourteen year old. My family in Plymouth hosted a sixteen year old Indian Sikh student in the fall, and we became very good friends quickly, so I knew Manshreya would help me adjust to her culture and country. On Manshreya’s return to India, we used Facebook to keep in touch and plan for my visit.  We soon realized we had more in common than we had differences.  I was surprised to discover we listen to the same music, but it now seems silly to have thought otherwise.


Reading Local News at the Taj Mahal

Reading Local News at the Taj Mahal


Arriving in India, I quickly realized that being in a city as big as New Delhi is unlike anything I had experienced in the States.  I’ve been to Boston, Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles; they don’t compare.   More memorable than the number and variety of vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, tractors, carts, bikes, and rickshaws) was the noise. Using a horn to navigate through the crazy streets of New Delhi was the norm and second nature for the residents.


It was also common to see a variety of animals pulling carts and scavenging for food. Combined with the approximately 17 million people that live in the city, were elephants, goats, horses, donkeys, camels, wild boar, monkeys, bats, lizards, lots of stray dogs, one cat with kittens, and cows hanging out in the median strips everywhere. To the millions of Hindus, cows are sacred animals that can’t be harmed. So, although you will find McDonald’s, don’t expect to order a hamburger.  Instead of beef, be prepared to order chicken.


Most of the monkeys we saw were hanging out at the monkey temple, not surprisingly. Hanuman is the monkey deity worshiped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance, and devotion. The Indians pay tribute with bananas and peanuts. They enter the temple barefoot, being careful not to slip on a banana peel. They ring a bell to pay respect and for good luck, before exiting and returning to pick up their shoes from a caretaker who watches over them for a few rupees.


The mother of my host family asked about my impressions of India before my trip. She wanted to know if I associated India with elephants and snake charmers. Actually, I didn’t know anything about snake charmers before going to India. However, while I was there I learned about a new policy to regulate snake charmers by inserting microchips in the snakes - like identification cards confirming the snakes and their masters are officially approved for the business. Now, not just anyone can grab a snake and go to work as a snake charmer.


I am happy to report that in spite of all the warnings, I was not affected by “delhi belly”- the intestinal problems caused by bacteria in the tap water.  A report came out while I was there that these “bacterial bugs” are resistant to most medicines, making them superbugs. I followed the Center For Infectious Diseases (CDC) advisories- I only drank bottled water; I used hand sanitizer frequently; and I didn’t eat food from street vendors.


People often ask me what was my favorite part about travelling to India, and I have trouble choosing. I loved the vegetarian Indian dishes prepared by my Indian mother. Now that I have a “second family” in India, I imagine I’ll return one day and maybe see a snake charmer, or better yet, a tiger.





Sydney Kahl is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.


Photo courtesy and copyright Sydney Kahl