New Delhi : Early Indian Daze

New Delhi Travel Blog

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Stevie & Nick in Auto-ricks! :D

I'm not sure when I actually arrived in India.  Or whether indeed I have yet arrived.  When can one fully and finally declare 'Yes I am here.  This is India.'?

My flight touches down at Indira Gandhi International Airport at 4.00am.  An arrival of sorts.  I collect my backpack and calmly sit in the baggage reclaim hall chewing biscuits and learning to count to 100 in Hindi.  I've bundled out into the bewildering night blackness of a few of the world's major cities now - Kathmandu, Bangkok etc.  It's a disorientating way to arrive in a new city.  A new country no less.  I'm used to this, but am not going to do it in New Delhi.

Truck (abstract) 1
  A delayed arrival.  Partly out of fear of the chaos that legend would have it awaits me without - monsters and mayhem magnified ten fold and bold by cover of dark - and partly out of a desire to be introduced to the city in fully lit splendour (and squalor).  I sit tight and await daylight.

It's at 7.00am that I gather myself and step into the hazy early morning light, 10 Euros worth of Indian Rupees hastily exchanged and stuffed into my wallet.  The benevolent grin of Gandhi beams out from the infinitely rumpled and begrimed bank notes.  The sky is blindingly bright in an unusual, impenetrable manner.  Hot light.  My eyes fail at first to fully adjust.  I am only gently propositioned by the posse of taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers that wait to snatch rich pickings from inexperienced and disorientated new arrivals.

Paharganj
  Politely declining such approaches without a moments thought is second nature nowadays.  I hook bus number 729 for RS50 (£0.60) to the North Westerly corner of Connaught Place's outer radius and stroll down Chelmsford Road to the two street Bedlam that is Paharganj.

But I don't know.  I don't think I've arrived in India yet.  And again, when might it be said that this has occurred?  Is it by the time of your 3,000th rickshaw proposition (that's about half a day in then!)?  Your 5,000th invitation to be directed/ taken to 'The Government Tourist Information Office'. (Pull the other one mate, it's got bells on).  Is it when you've been offered your 7,000th belt, bag, henna tattoo, hand shake or watch?  The third or forth time that Arthi, a young dark skinned beggar woman with large gold nose stud and earrings clutching one of her (apparent) four children to her shoulder follows you the entire length of Paharganj despite your persistent polite refusals? ( 'M'baby no milk milk Mista.

  Mista baby baby small milk.  Jus' small milk.  Chapatti.  Good chapatti. Rice?  Mista no money.  No money.  Milk chapatti Mista?' )  Is it the first time you almost run head first into a cow's butt as you careen out of your hotel late for an engagement, managing only just to side step this inglorious disaster only then to nearly surf across a slippery green-brown slew of its excrement?  Or are you finally aware of your presence in India when returning home from dinner, progress for all in Paharganj is slowed by the presence of an elephant blocking the way as it ambles towards the train station, indifferent to the pigmy toots of the rickshaws below?  Perhaps when you watch your first televised cricket match with The Boys?  The ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa.
Waiting for business.
  Pakistan Vs India.  A loss for my host nation.  England doing ok so far.
 
Or actually is it when you have your first experiences of those two qualities of suffering India is sadly so synonymous with?  Pain - both personal and external - and poverty. 

I had arrived in India quite consciously smuggling two grossly arrogant assumptions about myself that India loses no time in slapping down.  One : that I have, if not 'guts of steel', then a fairly sturdy immune system that I am proud of and that I hope and suspect may be able to see me through six months in India without too much loss of face (or bowels).  But more of that in a bit.  Two : that over a decade of consuming literature, information and images about, and on occasion campaigning against the causes and consequences of poverty will have immunised me psychologically against any 'shock of the real'.

Golden Glory : India Gate at night.

This is not so.  After a long day of strolling up to and around the insanity of Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk and its attendant ‘must see’ sights (India's largest mosque, Jama Masjid and The Red Fort - both of which fail to make an impression on me) I am inflicting bad Hindi on people by way of practice ( ’Metro station kathaang hai?’ ) when I spot an upsetting family tableau.  A young lady (girl?) sprawled in a crumpled, emaciated ’S’ shape on the pavement of SP Mukherjee Marg encased in dirt - almost as if her body were absorbing the sidewalk via a process of osmosis or vice versa - and covered in flies.  They dance across her closed, unflinching eyelids, play a thousand kisses upon her lips and congregate in large numbers upon her backside, she having freely defecated for sometime.

'Propelled by Clean Fuel' (through crappy air)
 

Truly she strikes a repose of death.  ‘Is she?  Isn’t she?‘ You can’t tell.  Poverty in such extremity has a way of garbing its victims in the aesthetic of terminal decay when - unbelievably - life trickles on.  Beside her another girl (a sister?) in a likewise state.  An older man too sits slumped and folded in upon himself, hands clutching ankles, utterly static, head bowed right down like a large, scraggy teddy bear who’s cotton-wadded spine is unable to support the weight of its sorrow-filled head and so sags in perpetuity.  A clock work guardian for the girls who’s run out of wind and juddered to a halt.  India moves on from such sights.  So you do too.  India sweeps you along.  A part of the patchwork of everyday existence here.

Jama Masjid : Constructed by Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) and modern India's largest mosque
  But this snapshot of abject suffering gives me my first real psychological ’wobble’ of my travel life.       
  
My personal ‘pain’ earlier alluded to?  Well, the much vaunted Weselby immune system lasted all of four days!  Not too impressive.  Following a murderous one hour plus auto-rickshaw ride out through the worst traffic imaginable, and sat in the foyer of the Saptagiri hotel awaiting an impromptu mini TB Meetup with Anna (Delfijn) and Jos (Jos-nijenhuis), I realise that not all’s well down below decks.  Nope, I’ve definitely been here before.  Listening to those distant jungle drums of an immune system fighting a losing battle on your behalf.  Irony of ironies, I'd actually purchased some 'just in case' Ciprofloxicin antibiotics for my trip earlier in the evening.
'The Railway Children'
  The first of my life.  Jinxed?  Yes.  And it’s all too late.  As my innards start to collapse and Anna, Jos and I finally manage to find each other, the stage is set for probably one of the more surreal TB Meetups in the annals of the site and an unusual end to Jos and Anna’s one month adventure in India.

Basically as the guys kindly fight on through heavy fatigue (having flown in from Varanasi and only hours away from a night flight home to Europe) they have to put up with me constantly disappearing; yo-yo-ing from table to toilet and back again as Round One of Stevie Vs Delhi Belly gets underway!  The guys (now dubbed ‘my TB angels’) kindly continue to ply me with both survival goods for my present (Imodium, re-hydration sachets, water, Pepsi and sweets) and my future (a long list of travel tips, anecdotes and recommendations).

:))))
  As we part I explain to the guys that ‘I must go as one thing that happens to me when my immune system goes down is a tendency to get emotional.  To cry.  So I’d better get going before this likely symptom of my illness manifests itself!’  It was wonderful to meet them once more... even under such... um?... challenging circumstances.

Yes, India requires adjustments at various levels of the self.  First Physical.  I daren't even begin to consider what menagerie of molecular malevolence constitutes the unique 'quality' of air that permeates New Delhi.  Whatever it may be, 'it's got body' as those of an oenological persuasion might say.  A thick vegetal-chemical soup that the tin-can battered Delhi Transport Co.

"Yey!" mini-mii TB Meetup with 'TB Angels' Anna & Jos :)
buses ladle their way through with their 'Propelled by Clean Fuel' slogans painted upon their sides.  It's true.  Apparently Delhi is greatly improved with regard 'breathe-ability'.  My kind New Delhi contact 'S' explains 'Five years ago the air was much worse.  You would not believe it!  The air was thick with petrol fumes.  Since the buses and auto-rickshaws changed to CNG [ Compressed Natural Gas ] things are so much better!'  That may be true, but I struggle.  A long term former asthmatic, it's no exaggeration to say that my entire respiratory system regresses and takes at least 5-6 days to get used to processing and filtering the cr*p that passes for air in this city.
My view for a day, recovering in hotel from Round 1 of Delhi Belly :(
  It's 30% dust at least!  Half-snatched breaths, the unseasonably hot weather and humidity ( 'This is global warming my friend.  Climate change!  Never, never in my 30 years has India been like this at this time!' Bophal businessman Vejay declares over one breakfast ) all make my arrival draining work.  My body,  my will and even my camera flag under the onslaught.  A disappointing clutch of first photos from my debut week in India.  Hard to compose a picture when your own composure's so blurred and addled.  But I can breathe now.  I can think now - just.  I and they shall improve!   

Psychological adjustments.

Reunited with my good travel pal Gray!!! :)
  Some already mentioned.  And for me at this time, emotional gear-shifts too.  Nothing'll make you miss home more certainly than a whole day alone lying on your back in a 'strange' new country staring at the ceiling fan and neon tube light whilst your kidneys ache like they're being skewered by stilettos and the virgin waters of your toilet are more viscous than what you bring to them by way of painfully drawn additions.  Definitely 1- Nil to India so far in the Battle of the Body.  Make that 2 - Nil.  A day or so post-recovery I have to shirk off a 48 hour cold too.  A life of fluctuating between the hot 'n' sweaty outdoors and A/C and fan frozen coffee bars and subways bringing this little treat on.

So it's all been good fun!  No, seriously.

Some of the kidz at 'Good People'
  I'm enjoying myself.  Mostly.  Now ;D  A little bit of everything already in Week One.

I've met good people.  My TB Angels.  Been offered great generosity and insights into the pressures of life as a young New Delhi lady by 'S'. ( Please 'S', please be here next year!  If you're reading this, ya know what I'm sayin' ).  Reunited with my former house mate of 7 years Nick; a professional historian out here for 6 weeks to do archival research on the last British Governor of the Punjab, and to present a revisionist thesis of the context of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh or 'Amritsar Massacre' to a classroom of keen New Delhi University students.  He holds his own well although many of them (and I) don't buy it all.  Beers to celebrate nevertheless.

Khum Khum and her dress.
  Oh yeah, I'm gently back on the wagon after over 30 days of zero alcohol in Turkey.  The longest 'dry' stretch of my life since the Devil's juice first past my lips at 16.  A very late starter in Britain :) 

Reunited too with my great South Korean travel companion (of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam provenance) Heung Chan or 'Gray' who's been doing NGO (Non Government Organisation) work for 3 months trying to elevate the spirits and, to some extent, education of street kids in the Dwarka Sector of the city under the auspices of a large Korean Christian church body.  I'm invited to their celebration of one years work in the city.  Fun is had by all. 

The dizzying British civic planning vortex of Connaught Place; currently a nightmarish mess of lacklustre regeneration (read demolition) ahead of New Delhi's role as host to the Common Wealth Games in 2010.

  The more successful and graceful open stretches of the Central Secretariat, parliament area of 'British' New Delhi.  The golden appeal of India Gate, floodlit and surrounded by happy families after dark.  My first outing to see a Bollywood movie at an Indian cinema.  Dil Bole Hadippa!, a movie designed to resuscitate the standing of 'Once-upon-a-time Queen of Bollywood' Rani Mukherji (Hindustan Times), but one that has failed to do so.  I thought it was great fun!  And, no, language barrier is never an issue with the painting-by-numbers approach of Bollywood narratives.  In the meantime the Big B (Amitabh Bachchan), The Godfather of Indian cinema continues to pump out the movies whilst smiling benevolently down upon us all from a hundred advertising hoardings hawking any product he can put his now silvery age-grizzled face to.
'World Remains' (of Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi)

And I've followed the final 200 yards of the footsteps of the Mahatma and shed a tear or three at the rather sad collection suspended behind glass and marked 'Worldy Remains' that sit in his final rooming in Berla House.  A 144 day residency attempting to assuage inter-communal post-Partition bloodshed ending with his death at the hands of a Hindu zealot, 30 January 1948.

It's been a crazy week or so.  Adjustments.  Arrivals of the body and the mind.  Six months to go.  That's a long time right?  Arrived.  Here to stay.  Where to go?  I don't know.  But should be fun! :)  

Stevie_Wes says:
Cheers J, Hahaha, boy it was weird re-reading this! Quite a depressingly written start to a 6 month appraisal of a country I always had, and continue to have a love affair with :D So you're off their again soon dude? I think it's only a matter of time now before I make my own inevitable return. It's gotta hold on my soul and no two ways about it. Best wishes to ya pal!
Posted on: Feb 21, 2012
James1985 says:
I always seem to come back to your blog when planning my next india trip. Awesome entry mate!
Posted on: Feb 19, 2012
wandafromtexas says:
soooooooooooooo correct on India's esp. Delhi's air...plus building of new metro lines.. 1great idea and wonderful system so far, but does add a bit of dust! Are you still there? Am coming in March...again...#17 See you somewhere!
Posted on: Feb 15, 2010
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Stevie & Nick in Auto-ricks! :D
Stevie & Nick in Auto-ricks! :D
Truck (abstract) 1
Truck (abstract) 1
Paharganj
Paharganj
Waiting for business.
Waiting for business.
Golden Glory : India Gate at night.
Golden Glory : India Gate at night.
Propelled by Clean Fuel (through…
'Propelled by Clean Fuel' (throug…
Jama Masjid : Constructed by Shah …
Jama Masjid : Constructed by Shah…
The Railway Children
'The Railway Children'
:))))
:))))
Yey! mini-mii TB Meetup with TB…
"Yey!" mini-mii TB Meetup with 'T…
My view for a day, recovering in h…
My view for a day, recovering in …
Reunited with my good travel pal G…
Reunited with my good travel pal …
Some of the kidz at Good People
Some of the kidz at 'Good People'
Khum Khum and her dress.
Khum Khum and her dress.
World Remains (of Mohandas Karam…
'World Remains' (of Mohandas Kara…
Imperial Hotel (abstract)
Imperial Hotel (abstract)
A very posh car at the very posh I…
A very posh car at the very posh …
Entry to the Bedlam that is Paharg…
Entry to the Bedlam that is Pahar…
Road blockage! :)
Road blockage! :)
Hmmm... probably not a top selling…
Hmmm... probably not a top sellin…
The moviiiiiiiees! :))
The moviiiiiiiees! :))
Paharganj : cables & guitars
Paharganj : cables & guitars
Truck (abstract) 2
Truck (abstract) 2
Salim and his clothes shop (one of…
Salim and his clothes shop (one o…
Welcome
'Welcome'
Street side Gods.
Street side Gods.
Entrance gate to the Red Fort.
Entrance gate to the Red Fort.
New Delhi railway station (abtract)
New Delhi railway station (abtract)
Paharganjs best lassi maker (poss…
Paharganj's best lassi maker (pos…
Metro.
Metro.
World peace gong housed at Burla H…
World peace gong housed at Burla …
Good People NGO window
'Good People' NGO window
Water Butt Boys
Water Butt Boys
NGO
NGO
Gray, his ever-faithful camera and…
Gray, his ever-faithful camera an…
On looker of the party.
On looker of the party.
Dancing
Dancing
Stevie & some of the students take…
Stevie & some of the students tak…
New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra