Sameer wouldn’t let go of my hand. An introductory handshake had somehow mutated into a full blown hand holding session. I knew this was a part of Indian culture but after a couple of minutes I began to feel decidedly uncomfortable. I had been in the country less than a day and, after meeting two Australian friends at Delhi airport, we had rocked up at our couchsurfing hosts humble abode. Sameer had a mosquito infested room smelling of damp which he kept “especially for couchsurfers”. His wife seemed less than thrilled at the prospect of having three bedraggled travelers rock up on her doorstep and kept shooting daggers at my Aussie friends, Beth and Gabbie. The girls were absolutely exhausted and crashed out straight away but Sameer was keen to show me around the city and although I was knackered I wanted to make a good impression. Wearily I clambered onto the back of his motorcycle and we began a rather haphazard tour of various Delhi street food stalls and warehouses. Sameer seemed more interested in taking me via as many of his friends and contacts as possible in order to ‘show off’ the fact that he had western friends. I was too tired, or maybe just too polite, to complain and shook fifty odd hands in a whirlwind tour of Sameer’s neighborhood I was keen on seeing the red fort which I had heard was pretty impressive but instead I was taken to a restaurant nearby. Karim’s is one of Delhi’s best kept secrets. It is run by a group of chefs whose ancestors used to exclusively serve the Mughal royal family and their courts.
The recipes and cooking techniques had been handed down from father to son and had supposedly changed very little over the last couple of hundred years. The quality and the sheer variety of the food available were staggering. The price was extortionate by Indian standards, nearly three quid for a meal, but the food was incredible. Feeling rather full I eventually convinced Sameer to take me to something I actually wanted to see. Hannuman’s tomb is a much smaller version of the Taj Mahal but since I hadn’t seen the Taj yet I found it impressive nonetheless. I climbed up a small rise and stood to watch the sunset illuminate the white marble building a pleasant shade of pink. The sound of a fountain in the background helped me relax and for a bit I even forgot about the stifling heat. A small gaggle of Indians wheezed up the path and bought out their camera phones to busily click away at the sunset. Within seconds of spotting me however they were all trying to shake my hand, asking “what is your good name sir” and busily posing for photographs with me. All thoughts of admiring the sunset in solitude had to be forgotten as I was forced to pose with thirty odd Indians who wanted various styles of photographs. One man tried to sit on my shoulders, several ventured to put an arm around me and two terrified children were forced to hold my hand by a stern looking woman who must have been at least a hundred years old. I felt almost famous.
That night I was sleeping restlessly in the muggy room when I was awoken rudely by Sameer grabbing at my chest and offering me a massage. It was three in the morning and he stank of whiskey. I told him I would rather sleep but he kept clawing at me whilst thrusting forth a bottle of oil. The two Aussie girls shifted next to me uncomfortably. I could tell they were awake and so could Sameer, within seconds he had moved further into the room and was trying to get the girls to take their tops off so he could massage them. We all stayed put and refused politely again and again, sensing defeat Sameer finally stumbled out of the room and slammed the door. Seconds later we could hear his wife shouting angrily in Hindi. It was time to go. For the most part couchsurfing is an amazing experience but there are definitely those who attempt to use the site to pick up western girls for ‘easy’ sex. We had only been in the country for a few days and staying with Sameer had been a pretty shitty introduction to the country, the girls no longer felt safe around him and I was finding him to be a real pain in the ass. As well as constantly insisting on us paying for stuff, I was fairly certain he had stolen a couple of hundred rupees out of my bag. He had said numerous things which were clearly lies and I simply couldn’t figure him out. The next day we said a hurried goodbye to his wife, shrugged on our packs and quietly left.
I am a huge fan of couchsurfing, it has on numerous occasions provided me with incredible experiences. India, however, would not be the couchsurfing goldmine I had hoped for…