Dehli, India – 2003
We were quite scared about Dehli. Loads of people had told us how horrible it was, and how we’d want to leave as soon as we got there. Well, we did want to leave. But that’s mostly because any time spent travelling in India is hard work, and we were a bit India’d out.
We had a twenty-three hour train journey from Udaipur. It was supposed to be nineteen hours, but you always have to add at least three hours for a more accurate figure. The train hitting two tonnes of water buffalo didn’t help. Very messy. We felt the train jolt from about seven carriages down. Then of course everyone had to get off to have a look for 45 minutes. Meat and bone everywhere. It didn’t particularly bother us but then we eat cow, and we don’t think they’re sacred.
The approach to Dehli is an experience. There’s an overpowering smell of excrement, and the unpleasant sight of people squatting by the track. The shanty towns are amazing; hundreds of shacks made of sacks, plastic sheeting and bits of metal, all stacked up against each other, with children, cows and dogs sifting through the rubbish and women collecting cow poo to burn. Fascinating but not nice.
The rest of Dehli is fine though. It’s very, very busy. More traffic than we’ve seen anywhere else. It’s obviously a wealthier city than Calcutta and the gap between rich and poor is huge. In the nice part of town the lush green parks are fenced off so that the cows can’t get onto the grass. In Pahar Ganj, the cows live on the streets with everybody else and eat rotting veg and plastic bags. We stayed in Pahar Ganj. With the sacred cows.
Our overwhelming memory of Dehli, however, will not be the city or the Red Fort or the temples or the shops in Connaught Place. It will be the people. Amazing, fascinating people who just don’t seem to be able to tell the truth.
The “no change” lie is a particularly aggravating one. Everybody does it. Nobody has change of any description. Except they do, of course. A whole drawer-full in one internet cafe which we saw after we had been sent down the road to buy something from his mate’s stall.
We went to the cinema. Dez had been desperate to see the new James Bond film for weeks but we couldn’t find it in English. We got a rickshaw to the other end of Dehli, very excited. The rickshaw driver had no change. We found the ticket office.
“Is James Bond on tonight?”
“Excellent. What time?”
“And it is in English, isn’t it?”
“And you are sure that this is James Bond and it’s in English?”
“Right, two tickets for the seven o’clock showing, please.”
We waited around for two hours and ate a very ropey meal in a very dodgy restaurant. We weren’t allowed into the cinema till 6.30, and then they refused to let us take our bags in. We had to leave them in the “security” hut after Dez had finished arguing with the “security guard”. Then after hours of adverts, the film started. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I suppose we should be grateful that it wasn’t in Hindi.
Our five days in Dehli were filled with similar experiences and to be honest, we couldn’t wait to leave. Dehli is a huge, busy, diverse city but we didn’t feel threatened at all during our stay. And the touts and shop owners actually seem much less persistent here than in other places. The streets and markets of Old Dehli are fascinating to walk around, and there are also modern shops and businesses in Connaught Place and New Dehli.
In many ways we were ready to leave India and were genuinely happy to get on the plane to Hong Kong, however we’ve had an ace time in India and in two months have only scratched the surface of this fascinating, colourful, frustrating subcontinent. There are loads of places we would like to go back to, and many more that we didn’t get the chance to see. Maybe next time….