Arriving in Delhi, and my first day

New Delhi Travel Blog

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On my first night in Delhi I sit cross-legged on my bed in my room at the guest house, typing this.  There is a very large flat screen TV in the room, which is switched on to a program (in Hindi) about Delhi.  Overhead, an electric fan spins crazily, clicking and whirring and projecting cool air down onto me.  I have turned off the AC, which was also quite loud.  My room is tidy and clean, not cramped, well-equipped with a fridge filled with chilled bottles of water, a small safe, bedside lights, a clean little bathroom, etc.


I’m still feeling slightly disoriented and bewildered to actually be here.  The journey was terribly long, more than 24 hours.  I woke up in Seattle,  at 5am, the skies not light yet.  Quickly got ready and Han drove me to the airport.  Part of me still couldn't believe that I was about to fly across the world to India, and I felt nervous enough that I had to remind  myself that this was an adventure to enjoy, not a trial to endure.  


The flight to Newark was tedious but manageable, except for the end of it when it became extremely bumpy/turbulent due to the stormy weather (hurricanes on the East Coast).  Luckily I was sitting next to an older woman who happened to be quite friendly, and told me that she had been born in Berlin but left as a baby “under troubled circumstances.”  She told me how she had been back recently for the first time in her adult life, and that it had been an emotional, but satisfying trip.  She was very curious about me going to India on my own, and said that she wouldn’t do it herself.  “Not brave enough.”


A very long wait in Newark, my stomach churning with nerves, and rain slapping against the huge glass windows of the terminal, skies completely obscured and shrouded in mist, clouds, rain.  I kept wondering if the flight to Delhi would be cancelled.  It wasn’t, but got off to a slow start due to the rain, as traffic got backed up and apparently even the interior of the cabin was getting drenched in the preparatory phase.


When it was time to board, I walked over to the gate, to find a huge crowd of people pushing up against the flimsy cord barriers of the boarding area.  A frustrated CO representative kept getting onto the PA system, demanding that people move away from the boarding area and only come up when it was their turn to board (they were doing it by rows) but this didn’t seem to have much effect.  Instead, the scrum of people simply shifted slightly back a few courtesy steps, then gravitated back into a knot of people and bags right there in the center of the gate.


On board there was a similar feeling of people pressing into one another, the usual zone of personal space that I’m accustomed to seemed moot.  Flight attendants went around, herding people into their seats and demanding, often ineffectually, that they be seated.  Bags were spilling out the overhead compartments, passengers unwilling to move their personal belongings too far away from their seats, despite the protests of the flight attendants. 



My nerves probably reached their highest pitch when we landed, and it was time to disembark.  I couldn’t quite imagine what sensations would hit me in leaving the safety of the airport.


It was all a bit dreamlike, as if I wasn’t totally there in mind, but was seeing things from a deep sleep.  The brightly lit concourse and the hordes of other passengers pressing up to the luggage belt to look for their bags, the curt and unsmiling gestures of passport control and customs, the money changer who smiled to attract me to his counter, but who became suddenly annoyed when I asked for a receipt, and downright irritable when I asked him to break one of the 500 rupee notes he gave me (he refused, “I already gave,” he said stonily, ending the interaction), then the crush of people on either side of the barrier as I left the main terminal.  I walked slowly down the center of the large aisle formed by the barriers, and when I saw a man (dressed in a tidy grey uniform) holding a sign bearing my name I almost wanted to cry with relief.


The driver led me away from the terminal, into a huge sea of parked cars and motorbikes.  It was cool and damp outside, and smelled smoky (the pollution?).  The sky was a smoky, impenetrable bowl above us, a dark nighttime haze, impossibly thick with mist or smoke or pollution.  Occasionally bright flashes of lightning lit up the sky, rather eerily. 


In the small car, which was tidy and air conditioned, I sat in the back and gazed out the windows.  There was not much visibility to begin with, and it soon began to rain, then pour, and my window fogged up, so what with that and the haze I couldn’t see very far.


What I did see was the road, and the tuk-tuks, tankers, trucks, cars, bicycles (!!) and even pedestrians who shared it.  As I had read in other travel blogs, the lane markings appeared to be used as mere suggestions only.  My driver straddled two lanes most of the time himself.  People drove with their hazard lights flashing, and sometimes no lights at all, and wove in and out as the mood struck them.  Horns were used liberally by everyone and sundry, oftentimes as a sort of “here I come” warning or as indication (maybe?) that the driver wished to overtake or change lanes.  I didn’t feel frightened, I think because we were not actually driving very fast.  It was comparable to Greece and the crazy Greek macho driving.


I stayed up until 1:00 am, reading, writing, and even used my cell phone to call home, and by 5:30 am Delhi time I was awake again, ready to start the day.


After a cold shower and sorting out my things, I emerged from my room to find the gentleman who helped me last night bustling about.  He offered breakfast, which I ate sitting outside.  There are two little garden patios here, both with tables and chairs.  Sitting out there in the warm morning air, listening to the screech of birds (they sound like parrots, but I'm not sure if they really are) I could hardly believe that I was in the middle of one of the busiest, most crowded cities in the world.  Except for the fact that I can hear car horns honking in a never-ending chorus, and it's sort of hazy and smoky-smelling outside.

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New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra