“But that’s the glory of foreign travel… Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
I am obviously just too polite. Or at least that is how I feel in Delhi. Multiple times everyday I have found myself waiting in line for food or to board the metro, and right when it became my turn, someone would walk up and take my spot. I have quickly learned that being polite won’t get me anywhere here, since India is a place with no rules.
Delhi is one of those cities you’ll never forgot. There are 17 million inhabitants crowded into this busy metropolitan, and there are people (predominately men) absolutely everywhere. People line the streets, either waiting for a bus, sleeping, or just sitting there. There is a constant ringing in your ears from the cars who honk incessantly, because the beep signifies, “I’m coming through, get out of my way.” On top of the pressing humidity and horrendous air pollution, there is a strong and unpleasant stench from the rotting garbage that bakes in the sun, the obvious lack of toilets, and the river of sewage that flows through the city. It is chaotic, pushy, unorganized, and in many ways a full 360 to the western world I come from, which is exactly why I am here. What better way to experience a culture unlike anywhere else on earth than from the seat of a bicycle. It will be hard, both mentally and physically, and I have no idea what to expect once I am back on my bike (in another few days). India is a country that people either love or hate, and I have a feeling I’m about to fall head over heels for this one.
I have spent the last few days staying in a very nice apartment in Delhi with an absolutely wonderful (American) couple who has been living here for the last year for work. They live in the Defense Colony, a wealthy and safe part of town, which made life easy as I transitioned into the Indian culture. They introduced me to Indian food (which really is as good as they say), taught me basic Hindi, and helped me get set up for my trip to Leh. I was also able to do some sightseeing of temples and of different parts of town with interesting markets and shops.
The Lotus temple is a Baha’i place of worship that has become very popular with tourists and locals alike due to its calm and meditative environment and beautiful architecture.
Lodi Gardens is a 90 acres park in Delhi that contains many temples and tombs, and is a great place to take a peaceful promenade.
Here are a few more pictures from Old Delhi (check out In Black and White for the rest).
Delhi, though considered the most expensive city in India, is dirt-cheap from a western standpoint. For an enormous plate of rice and chicken, which is more than enough for two people, it is only a dollar. To travel five km, an auto rickshaw costs less than a dollar, the metro costs ten cents, and the bus only costs a penny or two. One of the things that has surprised me in Delhi is the level of security at the metro and in nicer stores. There are metal detectors at every entrance, and before entering into the metro station they also frisk you and run your bag through a metal detector. While riding in the metro there are announcements asking you to check for unattended baggage, and warning you that a toy, thermos, or bag could be a bomb. Another thing that surprised me about the metro was how nice it was. It is extremely clean, and the fact that they have a girls only section makes it very safe as well. Though it would only cost fifty cents to travel clear across town, only the wealthy can afford it. Everyone else takes the bus.
Though one of India’s official languages is English, it is obviously not the language of choice. Though I was aware Hindi is the predominately spoken language, especially in rural areas, I have realized that no one speaks English amongst their peers, and a surprisingly small percentage of people speak more than a few words. What feels unacceptable in the west, such as pushing others put of the way to get to the front, starting rudely, and driving three inches from the cars and rickshaws around you (while honking obnoxiously), is perfectly normal here. And that’s why I love it.