The one thing that I will remember most about Delhi is the crows.
I stayed in an area of the city called Turkman’s Gate. It is largely Muslim and dirt-poor. My hotel, boasted as a nice middle-level hotel, is right in the middle of it. This, I find is a good and a bad thing. Everywhere you go in that area is covered with garbage. Crows are omnipresent, picking among the heaps along with the poorest of the poorest. Both are looking for anything that will sustain their lives for even a day longer. The homes are makeshift hovels or crumbling brick and mortar places of undeterminable age. Many of the children are there no matter what time of the day it is. They are friendly enough, but really don’t know how to react to a blue-eyed white guy in their midst! There are a number of Westerners at the hotel, but I never see anyone else on the street more than 100 feet from the hotel. Dogs, donkeys, horses, goats, cattle and even an odd camel or two add to the fetid smell that greets you each and every morning. Everything, including many of the people, seems to be covered in dirt and grime. Homeless sleeping wherever they can. The markets surrounding the area are cramped along muddy pathways. (At least you hope that it is mud.) As I walk over the railroad overpass that separates Turkman Gate from the rest of Delhi, I saw about 15 crows cawing away over a meal of 4 rats. The garbage not enough for them. That’s the strange thing about India. It makes you want to search out and write about details like that. Things better left out of conversation with “polite society.” India forces you to really look at the human condition. You almost feel like a voyeur. It is chaotic, a “train-wreck” of a place, but irresistible.
Although you have to take care with where you eat, the places we did stop are phenomenal. There are so many healthy Indian dishes to choose from. Many with a variety of meat if you wish, yogurt, various kinds of beans and other vegetables. The sauces and spices are perfectly blended to compliment not overpower. I didn’t east one Western meal the whole time, and didn’t miss it, either!
One of the nice things about traveling alone is that people are less inhibited about speaking to you. More than once as I walked back to my hotel from one spot or another I was greeted by someone and invited to sit on the bench and talk. I was offered water, but not knowing where it came from, I did not actually drink it. As poor as the area is,one of my hosts, Hussein, is studying hotel management at a nearby college and his brother, a rather gruff individual who is constantly sizing you up, is a union leader for the local trucking company. It is a singularly interesting area of the city, but you would never venture out alone at night. From what I saw, this is probably the worst area of the inner city Delhi. The rest is chaotic, but seems very livable and relatively clean.
By the end, I am glad I was staying where I was. You want to have a certain experience in India, and Turkman Gate filled the bill.
When we arrived in Delhi it was already evening. As with most places, you have to allow yourself a little time to acquaint yourself with the currency and ask around about appropriate cost and prices for things. One taxi driver tries to get me into his cab for the low price of $45 to go to the hotel…… As I head for other taxis, the price goes to 40, 35,30, 25, 20……. I get one for $18, but this is probably too much as well. Can’t imagine Indians paying that much even for a 45 minute trip! But never mind, close enough.
Another thing to know about India is that, if you are a tourist, most people will negotiate prices with you in dollars, but insist on payment in rupees. That old scam is played out every day, by everyone you meet. The rate they quote you is perhaps one or two rupees below the official rate, so you are spending more than you think and working against all that price negotiating you’ve been doing! I find it better to allow this to happen, but when they get to the exchange rate, I insist on the daily rate or even a half rupee or so above if they want to close the sale. It is a fun game!
As my time in India is a short 8 days, I opted to hire a car and driver. It was all-inclusive and included a tour guide for both Agra and Jaipur. The cost was $250 for seven days, but that was going and stopping wherever I wanted. Although I had been looking forward to the adventure of India’s rails and travel, ultimately this was the best decision. I covered much more ground and stopped at more places than I would have been able to do otherwise. Next time I’ll know better to give India more time!
My favorite place of all in Delhi had to be the Lodhi Gardens. A British viceroy’s wife thought is would be a splendid idea to move two whole villages of people to create the gardens in the 1930’s. They are in the middle of Delhi and very quiet. They are the remains of the tombs of the Lodhi kings of long ago. People are everywhere exercising— jogging, doing yoga, walking, meditating, stretching……… All to the sound of multitudinous exotic birds chattering away. I meet a lawyer who tells me he meditates here every morning. “I can then work to 11 o’clock at night with no problem.” (An old remedy practically used for modern living!) I think at first that he is missing the point…..then I realized that I was missing the point!
Driving is an interesting experience in India. Cars, tuk-tuks, trucks, pedicabs, bicycles. motorcycles all vying for the same place on the sometimes rutted road. There may be two lanes painted on the roadway, but the Indians soon make it at least four. Strangely, but very few times in all the driving we did, I felt apprehensive. Like in Vietnam, there are few driving rules, and everyone blows their horns constantly. Zebra-crossing? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The India’s have no clue as to what that oddity really means. Pedestrians have no rights whatsoever! COWS, however, being the sacred animals that they are, have all kinds of rights. Many times we were caught in a minor traffic jam because a cow had decided that the road was a good place to settle down for a little rest. Drivers have to negotiate around, you can’t try to move it. It just wouldn’t be allowed! My dead body would be little more than a speed-bump, but you can’t even honk the horn at the cow!
Time in Delhi is your “classroom” for the rest of your trip. You realize that there is just so far you should go to engage some people in conversation. So many people will “help” you and then ask you for a “tip” at every tourist stop you make. You learn the tricks, tactics and maneuvers very quickly and you use them well for the rest of the trip. Saying “No” to the relentless hawker is just “Maybe” to them. I learned that I had to make eye-contact and say, “Please stop now” in a quiet voice. And they did. Like in most countries, you learn who is genuine and who is out to scam very quickly. You learn that even as much as it pains you, in certain areas giving money to one beggar will draw more like flies to honey. And they will relentlessly pester you for the New York equivalent of 2 blocks. The same goes for taking pictures. You learn to do it on the sly (which I prefer anyway) because they will ask you for a “tip” if they see you taking one of them.
Visited too many places in Delhi to report here—Cannaugh Circle, a touristy shopping area, but with some great bazaars that web off from the area; Qutab Mina with its wonderful tower; Humayum’s Tomb the inspiration for the Taj Mahal; The Lotus Temple (Be’hai); a number of other bazaars, scouring them for the best Indian classical music. Sadly, my only free day on returning to Delhi from Agra and Jaipur is a Monday when all the monuments and museums are closed. I missed the opulent Red Fort and the museums, but that will give me something to see when I return someday. I also miss going to a fascinating Hindu temple because I saved it for the last day and it is closed for religious observations to non-Hindus at 12 noon to 6 o’clock.
The weather in India was supposed to be hot and humid, but I was lucky in that there was little rain and most days were tolerably humid.
Next report on Agra and then Jaipur………………………