“New Delhi will overwhelm your senses!” all the guidebooks say. This is true. What they don’t say is that mostly it overwhelms you with incessant honking and the reek of urine.
God, the traffic! I thought Istanbul’s traffic was a little wild, but Delhi makes Istanbul look like Orderly City, Iowa. Complete chaos. Cars, autorickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, ox-drawn carts, guys on camels, all fighting for space in a single crazed vehicular melee extending past the horizon. I’m surprised the rickshaw drivers don’t put spikes on their wheels and saw blades on their fenders. Get properly Mad Max up in here.
As a pedestrian, you skirt along the edges of this madness, trusting in the ultimate goodness of the universe and trying to inure yourself to the horns blasting in your ear as drivers warn you that a single wrong move will leave you maimed. Really, the only reason there aren’t corpses lining the streets is that the density mostly prevents anyone from gathering too much speed. Mostly.
And the trash! Come on, India, pick up after yourself. Trash in every gutter and sidewalk, trash literally lining the street, trash piled right by the stairs to the metro, plastic bags, food scraps, dog shit, human shit, unidentifiable small animal remains, it’s all just left there. And the aforementioned urine stench, sometimes so strong you feel like you should be able to see it, distorting the air like faintly yellow gas fumes.
Guess what I’m trying to say is, it ain’t much of a city for pedestrians. That didn’t stop me from spending basically all of yesterday walking, because walking is what I like to do. I don’t think you can really get to know a city without first getting good and lost in it, and that’s just what I did.
First, though, I went by the New Delhi Railway Station to buy a ticket to Varanasi on Friday. I took the metro there, which unlike the chaos of the streets was fast and easy to understand. The B and B manager, Raju, walked me to the station himself (my hosts have been amazingly kind and helpful – more on that later). Finding the official Tourist Information Bureau at the station was an entirely different matter, and in fact I circled essentially the entire station before finally finding it. True to reports, some helpful individual did tell me that the bureau was closed, no doubt intending to direct me to some very helpful travel agency, but I ignored him and pressed on until I found it. This was the first of a long series of well-wishing souls seeking to hustle me into one place or another as the day went on.
I had hoped the bureau at least would accept a credit card, but no such luck, and there went another 1500 precious rupees. Meanwhile I had already seen, and would see more, of the long queues assembled at every functioning ATM and bank entrance.
Having obtained a train ticket, I started walking in the general direction of the Red Fort. I had no particular interest in the fort per se, but when you want to wander, one destination is as good as another. Periodically I would stop and look at my phone to be sure I was moving in the right general direction, and one of these times a helpful young man asked me where I was going. I told him and he pointed me in that direction. Fair enough.
For a while he walked beside me, explaining he was going to exchange some money somewhere and making conversation. Fair enough. Then he said goodbye, and I kept going. A few minutes later I was a bit startled to realize that he was there beside me again, when I thought he’d gone. Was he following me?
Maybe so, but soon enough he vanished for real. At another juncture I again checked my phone, and another helpful fellow again asked where I was going. He, however, discouraged me from going there, saying there were protests there right now and suggesting Connaught Place as a better destination. He also warned me about the touts, and that I shouldn’t take my phone out so much, because someone might steal it.
A few points here: first, I actually don’t think this guy was pushing anything. He really was just being helpful as he saw it. Which shows that there are two types of helpful fellows in Delhi: touts, and guys warning you about touts. Also, everyone kept telling me to not take out my phone too much, which is ridiculous, because everyone else was holding their phones all the time. Like, is a white person’s phone somehow more attractive than an Indian’s phone? Methinks not. Maybe the touts just didn’t want me actually consulting information on my own?
Also everyone wanted to ask about Donald Trump. God, that man is just fucking inescapable. But in a country with a huge Muslim population, the concern is entirely understandable.
I found Connaught Place to be… well, nothing much, really. A bunch of shopping, a whole lot of traffic. But I stopped somewhere for a lunch, pulling away from four child beggars yanking on my sleeves. Lunch was dal makhani and naan: delicious and very buttery.
More walking. Now I really did get lost. I found myself by an enormous Sikh temple, having headed in entirely the wrong direction. Giving up, I took an autorickshaw to Lodi Gardens, no doubt paying three times the regular price (but still only about two or three dollars US, so whatever).
Lodi Gardens was really the highlight of the day. In stark contrast to the hubbub and demands of the rest, the gardens were free, quiet and serene (although the mynahs could be pretty raucous). There were ruins of a mosque, five centuries old, and some very vocal green parakeets, and some random teenager asked to take his picture with me, for some reason. I found a bench and sat and breathed it in.