Wednesday, 1 February 2017

I have forgotten how to 'India'

It's been three years since I was here and I can't remember how to 'India'. Stepping out into the smog at New Delhi station, forgotten memories are resurfacing and I am both excited and fearful as I remember how magical, and how relentless, this place can be. First, there is the subtle smell, which becomes not so subtle as we walk, a symphony of exhaust fumes, incense and urine, with hints of damp dog and shit. There are countless rickshaw drivers smoking and touting for business, with no obvious system for who should get the next fare, scooters and taxis speed past in seemingly every direction to drop their passengers off, and there are people crisscrossing our path as we make our way. Travellers, porters, official looking people, beggars, and then a few people who seem to just be watching the world happen around then. The occasional ball of spit flying through the air and landing on the pavement and the hatching throaty, wheezy coughs from numerous directions. Then there are the people sleeping on cards and curbs. We have to make it from the Metro station to the other side of the main train station where the hotels are in the Pahar Ganj. We have both been here before, but neither can remember the best route. And then we recall how 'helpful' Delhi locals are, like the two men who told us we couldn't walk across the bridge as we didn't have a ticket, or the guy who told us all the hotels in the Pahar Ganj were closed and we would need a doctor's clearance to get somewhere to stay. No doubt he would have been able to help us with that, for a price. 

One we had successfully negotiated the shortest route to the Pahar Ganj and had a crash course in crossing New Delhi roads, we then had to run the gauntlet of the Main Bazar itself. 

I am reminded why I find travelling in India so hard. I walk remembering why I love this place but I am also driven to recall why I hate it too. 

Shops spilling out onto the street, selling clothes and fabric and tat, constant beeps from the scooters and rickshaws zigzaging past inches from our bodies warning us to GET OUT OF THE WAY,  hunched old men pulling carts laden with fruit or cloth or any number of things, filthy dogs scavenging for food on the even filthier street. And the the procession of people falling into step beside us ready to help with our every wish. Saying no thank you whilst walking with purpose came easily to me, whilst Michael was much more polite and easy to fall into conversation with. There is not a moment's peace and nowhere to escape the crazy. We visited 5 or 6 tatty and tired hotels before we settled on the Hotel Naskar, too hot and exhausted from our short baptism of fire into travelling in India again to look any more. 

We shared the most delicious aloo gobi for an early dinner, and managed to sort out a SIM card for the month, then we couldn't stay awake any longer. Michael was coming up on 36 hours with no sleep, so it was in with the earplugs to try and drown out the hum of chatter and bangs and crashes on the streets below.