Breakfast in Delhi

New Delhi Travel Blog

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Red Fort, inlaid marble ceiling of one of the palaces.

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.

Red Fort
  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.  Flight attendants went around, chivvying 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.

Red Fort
  I sat in between a middle aged man and a woman about my own age.  Towards the end of the flight, the man asked me to fill out his landing card -- I think perhaps because the landing card was in English, which he only spoke a tiny bit of.  Somehow he communicated his wishes more by gesture and a sort of osmosis than by stating them explicitly -- the wonder of communicating across language barriers.

 

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 crowds 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.

Red Fort
  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 and “Yatri House” 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 an 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.

Red Fort
  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.  The 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, seemingly as a sort of “here I come” warning or as indication (maybe?) that the driver wished to overtake or change lanes.

Red Fort
  I didn’t feel frightened, I think because we were not actually driving very fast, and because I had my introduction to death-driving in Greece, which was  worse still.

 

Arriving at the guesthouse, the rain was still pattering down.  It was late now, past 10pm, but one of the guesthouse staff was there, waiting for me.  After the driver left, the staff person -- a very friendly, middle-aged man about a head shorter than me -- showed me quickly to my room and explained all its amenities.  It was all very tidy and clean, just the way it had looked on the website.  There was even a flat screen TV showing about a dozen channels of programming (Bollywood movies, news in English and Hindi, shows about Delhi, dance competition shows, etc.), and there was AC, a small safe, even a little fridge with chilled bottles of water.

 

I stayed up until 1:00 am, reading, writing, and even used my cell phone to call home.

Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, built during Mughal Empire

 

By 5:30 am 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 neverending chorus, and it's sort of hazy and smoky-smelling outside.

 

I've decided to go to Khan Market today, and perhaps Humayun's tomb and Connaught Place.

Jama Masjid
  Will catch up later! 

jennapx says:
TAB!
I'm here! I'm reading you!
Don't worry.
I felt your panic at the crush, the curtness, the traffic. I felt your relief at the airport pick-up, the reliable room (thoughts of our vile mildewy Bangkok rooms came to mind, and I'm glad the hotel delivered as promised.).
Go explore. I love to hear about it all, but don't worry about spending too much time with us. Go live it!
love,
Jen
(now, jennapx on this site.)
Posted on: Sep 08, 2008
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Jama Masjid

To finish up my description of Monday's activities:

 

I decided that yes, I would like to hire a car and driver for the morning.  This was all arranged by the people at the geusthouse, who said I could have a car & driver for 4 hours for 500 rupees, or about 15 dollars.  In retrospect, having the car for my first morning made my entry into Delhi easier and not quite such a shock on the senses.  (That came later.)  

 

The driver came shortly before 10, and I asked to go to Khan Market first.

Entering Sikh house of worship
  In the car he asked me what I wanted to go to Khan Market for, and when I answered that I was intending to look at clothes in FabIndia he softly suggested that he take me to some other better shops later on.  I had already read about how drivers will try to persuade tourists to go to shops of the driver’s choice, because they can then earn commissions on whatever the tourists buy, so I wasn’t keen on the idea, and didn’t take him up on it.

 

The drive to Khan Market was easy, and we passed through streets that were bordered by large, lush green trees and beautifully manicured fresh, green lawns.  The driver said that this area had been developed by the British before Independence, and that their bigwigs and politicos had lived in it, and that after Independence it was taken over by the Indian government and its officials.

Humayun's tomb
  It was certainly beautiful, even peaceful and tidy, though there were still poor people in the streets, men stretched out on the lawns, and one solitary beggar women tapped insistently at the window asking for one rupee at a stoplight.

 

At Khan Market I managed to find FabIndia and spent about an hour looking at clothes, finally buying two pretty tunics (one short sleeved, one long), as well as a dupatta and a stole to go along with them.  The shop was practically empty, it was quiet and air-conditioned – all pluses.  By the time I came out I was in such a dreamy state that I spontaneously slipped into a Café Coffee Day (a Starbucks-type café clone) for a latte and very nearly forgot the other major errands I needed to accomplish there; namely going to a bank to get some rupees and getting a SIM card for my phone.

 

After Khan Market, I asked to go to the tomb complex of Humayun, which was breathtakingly beautiful.

Humayun's tomb
  It was set in lush green grounds, with huge stretches of beautiful, perfect lawns and bursts of colorful, perfumed flowers under large trees with gorgeous foliage.  The tombs themselves were also beautiful – square buildings with arches and minarets, and teardrop shaped domes, with carved marble and remnants of mosaic patterns on the roofs, and carved quotes from the Koran.  It really did feel like something out of a fairy tale, with those delicate, palace-like tombs and the tranquil gardens.

 

One of the security guards followed me around the first part, wanting to give me a little tour for a spot of money, natch.  He was so friendly and smiley that I didn’t want to brush him off and accepted that he'd by my paid companion for the first bit of my explorations there.  He led me into the first tomb in the complex – small but exceedingly pretty, with what looked like a dozen teardrop domes on the top.

easy riders
  Inside there was a narrow and quite dark stone staircase leading up to the roof, and he shone his tiny flashlight on it so that I could clamber up safely.  On reaching the top I was slightly out of breath and dizzy.  Not that it was high, but the weather was so terribly hot and humid that my heart was pounding away.  (Walking around Delhi today I was literally drenched in sweat the whole time.)  At one point, showing me the mosque beside the tomb, I smelled the wonderful scent of flowering gardenias, and he snapped on off and gave it to me.  I couldn't have been more enchanted with the place.  He said that there was a staff of over 100 people working in the grounds of the tomb, mostly male builders and workers and security guards, but also a team of women who swept the ground, or “coolies.”

 

After the tomb my time with the taxi was just about up, so I had him drive me back to my guesthouse.  After that I decided to take the metro to Connaught Place to do some shopping and have a meal.  That was when my sensory experience got a bit more extreme.

 

Walking away from the guesthouse along the main road towards the metro, I was unprotected from all the elements that I had been able to look at remotely from the safety of the car:  crazy traffic zipping by me (trucks, tuk-tuks, bicycles, cars, the works) with their horns going frantically, and exhaust spewing out behind. Lots of men squatting along the street, or cruising aimlessly up and down it, looking like they were sniffing around for something to break the tedium of the moment.  Naked toddlers sleeping deep as the dead (and looking it) on cardboard on the sidewalks, beggar women and their children – little wild things covered in grime with their hair standing on end, demanding alms from passersby.  Urine and (probably worse) on the pavement and in the street corners.  The occasional drunk or mad-looking person; street-dogs sleeping in patches of shade; rickshaw drivers calling out for custom; street vendors hawking snacks, posters, bags, belts, jeweled fabrics, and so on.  I felt quickly overwhelmed by it all, and it was the just the same in CP.  In between ducking into another FabIndia and having a bite to eat, I found that I was having sensory overload, and feeling vulnerable and exposed in my nervous walk around the area.  I was just waiting to be approached by an unwanted tout, or shoved, or touched or grabbed, and I didn’t feel relaxed or comfortable with it.  It was a relief to get back to the guesthouse, though the Metro was incredibly crowded on the return trip (evening commute?) – people were crammed in like sardines in a can, Tokyo style.

 

 

Sign at the metro station:  Please don’t spit here.

tabs_sea says:
Hi Jen!
The metro is actually pretty nice and easy -- it's the auto rickshaws (i.e. tuk-tuks) that are literally wild rides. Goggles and a mask would be useful...
Posted on: Sep 16, 2008
jennapx says:
Very brave taking the Metro on your first day. Very brave indeed. Tab... if this ends up being a reconnaissance trip for our future travels to India, I owe you. Reading you.
-J./
Posted on: Sep 09, 2008
Red Fort, inlaid marble ceiling of…
Red Fort, inlaid marble ceiling o…
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Red Fort
Jama Masjid, Indias largest mosqu…
Jama Masjid, India's largest mosq…
Jama Masjid
Jama Masjid
Jama Masjid
Jama Masjid
Entering Sikh house of worship
Entering Sikh house of worship
Humayuns tomb
Humayun's tomb
Humayuns tomb
Humayun's tomb
easy riders
easy riders
New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra