Dilli´s chilly but never chilled
The Indians we met tend to say: “Delhi is our capital, but it is not India.” As the question, what India actually is, may it be on political, cultural or religious level, is a very complex and controversial issue, we preferred not to enter into this discussion too deeply.
For us, New Delhi was the port of entry for our trip through India, where due to overbooked trains to our subsequent destination we spent five full days. A time lapse which allowed us to adapt both our brains and our senses to the new and in so many aspects overwhelming environment.
It is not about the size or the population density as a such, since Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Hanoi or Saigon don´t stand behind Delhi in those pure aspects. The same applies to traffic, noise, smells and diversity of people around. Delhi is just a little more of everything, an overload of the senses and when we went to bed the first days or heads hurt so much that they seemed to explode.
As most budget tourist, we stayed in Pahar Ganj, a quite old district next to New Delhi Railway station, famous for the Main Bazaar and the multitude of shops and restaurants around. When talking about restaurants, don´t think of Western style equivalents. Most of them are constituted of an improvised open kitchen, installed directly next to the street, and a bunch of small tables in a narrow house entry. In most of them a little shrine or at least a picture of some god or ancestor, adorned with orange flowers, isn´t missing and if you come at the right time you can see the restaurant owner giving prayers to it, while enwrapping the addressee in incense.
Pahar Ganj is a very busy district, with its narrow streets packed with street vendors, cars, public busses, motorbikes, Tuk-Tuks and Rikshas, fighting their way through in an absolutely audacious and chaotic manner for the foreign eye. A pedestrian has to concentrate 100% to distinguish the deafening honking coming from all sides to evade all kinds of vehicles which come cross your way. No respect of any Western style traffic rules, the strongest or most audacious comes first.
Finding your way in the chaos is not the easiest task. While guides and city maps nicely indicate all street names as orientation, we haven´t found a single proper street name sign in Delhi. Asking people around for the way is generally a bad idea, as the risk of being – intentionally or unintentionally – mislead is quite high. Additionally, getting lost in the tiny, angled lanes of Pahar Ganj is not uncommon, so safe orientation is done best by remembering your walking pattern… and not daring any experiments, as according to our experience short cuts normally don´t lead where you expect.
As Taxis are relatively expensive and Tuktuk or Riksha drivers don´t always take you where you´re heading at, the New Delhi metro is a very good and cheap alternative to get around. The metro system covers a wide spread area of the city, is quite new and modern, with large stations and a high security level – which means cameras everywhere inside the station and trains. Before being allowed to enter the platforms, one has to pass through an airport like security scan, with separate rows for gents and ladies.
While Delhi is generally renown for its hot climate, we arrived in the coldest – or as the Indians say, most chilly – period of the year, which implied temperatures of 10-15°C with mostly fog and rain. As in most hot countries, houses are more prepared to prevent the entering of heat than of cold, so that many times the temperature inside the rooms was lower than outside. To warm themselves up, people lit small fires all over the street, so that throughout the whole district you´ll have the smell of burned wood, mixed with all different types of bread prepared on the inner face of an upright standing stone oven, diversities o vegetables fried in soy oil and undefinable spices, cow shit, urines, exhaust gases, incense and who knows what else… in any case a very exotic cocktail to our European noses.
It may certainly be a very loud, crowded, chaotic and often tireding place, but Delhi definitely has its magic and when it comes out it is often unexpectedly, as a marvelous Sikh Temple (Bangla Sahib) in the middle of no name grey concrete blocks and a noisy main road.