Arriving in Delhi
We landed in Delhi at an airport that looked like a bus station. I would never say that the airport of the capital of India would be so small, and it really isn’t. It was being renovated and the new airport was scheduled to open this year (2010). But my feeling there was that we were arriving in the middle of nowhere, if it wasn’t for the huge crowd squeezing around the baggage carousel to see who picked up their bags first, and even after hours the carousel was still not moving, and people squeezing. Welcome to India.
Deep down I really wanted that my brother had come to the airport to pick us up. Knowing so many dodgy stories of people who came to India and had troubles I would not take any chances. But he didn’t. Instead he gave us instructions on how to find him and my only peace of mind was having his phone number in case something happened, then the first thing we did, still in the airport, was buying an Indian mobile phone card.
We followed his instructions: “In front of the airport you’ll see a ‘Pre-paid Taxi’ stall. Take the paper and give it to the driver. Tell him to go to Paharganj or Main Bazaar. It should cost about 300 rupees. Ask him to drop you off near Hare Rama Guest House, as it is well known. Arriving here give me a call and if we do not meet I’m in a hotel called Mother Palace.”
Everything worked out fine and we even paid less for the taxi – 250 rupees (USD 5.40) – I like to think that the trick to pretend it was not our first time here was working. hehe
Once you leave the airport with the little paper in hand all the drivers come to you wanting to take you in those old black cars that seem to have come from some retro movie.
The taxi driver took us direct to Paharganj but stopped long before this Hare Rama, saying that the car could not pass that street and we would have to drop off by there. The crowd on the street was such that we were absolutely lost.
All the way from the airport we tried to call Duda’s phone and nothing. With no communication it would be difficult to find him, but ok, worst case scenario we knew the name of his hotel. Once we left the taxi we had our first and absolute Hindi lesson: “sab kuch milega” – the expression that means “everything is possible” is almost a slogan in India and every minute you stay there it testifies itself.
Lost amidst all that crowd, cops, cows, motorcycles, rickshaws and far away from the hotel, the very first person we saw on the street: my brother Duda. Even before we had the opportunity to put on the backpacks he appeared out of nowhere. No, he did not know we’d be there, he was going to have lunch with a friend. Write this down: India is the land of coincidences.
We headed to Mother Palace with him, the hotel he was staying, so we could leave the bags there and go out to have lunch.
Paharganj is a suburb in central Delhi, also known as Main Bazaar due to its numerous shops. It is super close to New Delhi railway station – there is an Old Delhi station too, which is far away – and has a large concentration of budget hotels and restaurants. A room with bathroom at Mother Palace cost us 525 rupees – about USD 11. It is a place full of backpackers from all around, but if you’re the kind of person who travels with a suitcase with wheels Paharganj is probably not your place (I’ll explain: there is a lot of garbage, cow poop, many many people on the streets; several of them don’t have car access and the majority of the hotels are located in old buildings with no lift; the suitcase will not be happy here).
Hi Delhi, bye Delhi
We left our itinerary in India on behalf of Duda and he’s always told us that big cities in India are hell, that we would spend as little time as possible in them. And that’s what happened. On the first day we didn’t even spend the night in Delhi. Duda had already bought bus tickets to Pushkar, where Drica would be waiting for us. It was a “bed-bus” and we’d leave at night, so we had only one afternoon in Delhi and left straight away.
It was a big rush, Duda had to buy some stuff in another suburb, we took a taxi but with that nonsense traffic we dropped off halfway and walked. During this walk, almost a run, we realized what was going on and had our first real shock.
Several times I was walking very fast next to my brother when I suddenly missed Felipe. I looked back and there he was, standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring, stupefied, without any reaction, looking around and trying to absorb so much information.
While the traffic in itself is crazy enough, in a huge avenue, extremely busy, you cannot tell which side people drive here. In theory it is supposed to be on the left hand – like in Britain – but in practice everyone drives on the side they want to. The horn is vital and they use it all the time. And it works. In the middle of that avenue there are also cows, and everyone drives around them. There are people sleeping in between two avenues, a place that barely fits the body of a person, while cars pass at full speed just beside them. Who would choose such a place to sleep? If this person is dead he would be just another one, and there was a case that we weren’t quite sure if he really wasn’t. These are just a few examples of the countless scenes we saw there.
Back to the hotel, we reorganized our bags, we took with us only two small backpacks with summer clothes and left the winter ones stored in the large backpack at the hotel. We went to the travel agency where Duda had bought the tickets. The bus does not leave from a station, but from some street and the meeting point is at this agency where someone would pick us up and take us to the bus, walking, in this case running, because we were late.
Remember when I said that we could not communicate with Duda by phone? Well, the night before he had come from Pushkar and had lost his phone in the bus. In the travel agency he asked if the guy could try to contact the bus driver to see if he had found the phone. Felipe and I said: “Impossible! No way you’ll find a lost phone in India“. Unsuccessfully we headed to board the bus, the driver was a different one and after a lot of back-and-forth conversations there comes a kid with my brother’s phone in his hand. Sab kuch milega! And the most impressive? As my brother picks it up the phone it rings, it was my mother calling from Brazil, it was her first attempt. Did you write it down? India is the land of coincidences. Or maybe it’s the land where things actually happen.
Second stop and the mail
We stopped again in Delhi when we returned from Pushkar, one week later, before heading up to the mountains. Again it was a big rush, we arrived in the morning to leave on another bus at night.
We had to send Duda and Drica’s stuff to Brazil and wanted to use the same box to send more stuff, then we ran from shop to shop in the Main Bazaar buying everything we wanted to send. Mail in India is a case apart, the package for international parcels is made of cloth, stitched and sealed with hot wax. The address is handwritten with a permanent marker. Now you can imagine, it couldn’t look more official! 😛
We got a room at the hotel to take a shower and rearrange our stuff. We paid 275 rupees (USD 6) for the day. We swapped summer for winter clothes, after all we are going to the Himalayas, each of us with a small backpack, while the large one continued stored at the hotel in Delhi.
Last stop – a walk in the city centre
Returning from Varanasi, we spent our last two days of India in Delhi. With a little more time we got to know a bit more of the city. The train stopped at the Old Delhi station which is a very different region and extremely poor. We also went to the city centre and had dinner at a nice restaurant, which actually served meat and beer (!). The centre of Delhi is the most modern thing that we saw in India, it’s just like the city centre of any other large city in the world, traffic is (slightly) more organized, there are tall buildings and designer shops. We also met some Brazilian friends who were here too.
We used the subway and noticed that the amount of people in Hong Kong’s subway system is pretty easy compared to Delhi. While in Hong Kong there was an officer literally pushing people into the train so the door would close, here in Delhi it is much worse. Once you enter the train, you’ll only drop off when the block of people around you goes too. Do not ask me how they do it, I just know that we were lucky, people around us left right where we wanted to go and carried us along. 😀
It was the last day and all I wanted was to stay close to my little brother. In the hotel room we did a photo shoot of their new collection of clothing, which was quite complicated, we could not close the curtain because we needed the light and there was always some nosy guy spying from the surrounding buildings. Our flight left at 2am, heading to London. Near midnight a taxi came to pick us up from the hotel – 250 rupees to the airport that had already been agreed in advance. I was sad that I had to leave, all I wanted was to stay here for a long long time.
Tips and facts
- The pollution in Delhi is bizarre. At first we thought Bangkok was polluted, then it was Hong Kong, but now we realize that nothing compares to Delhi. At noon you can look at the sun without sunglasses, and it is an orange ball, as if the sun was always setting. It’s not only air pollution, is also sound pollution, besides the huge amount of garbage on the streets.
- Paharganj is a nice suburb to stay, but as I said before it is the budget kind of place and is not for those who are looking for a lot of comfort.
- Clothes: I knew I should cover up when I came to India. Trousers and a top that would cover the shoulders, even if it was 35 degrees outside. Well, I got lectured by my brother and got all sorts of looks in the street because I was wearing jeans and a tight (normal) t-shirt. So covering up is not enough, clothes must be loose, they cannot mark the body. Of course, this rule applies only to women, men can go out naked if they want.
- Food: everybody talks about the famous “Delhi-belly”, referring to how every foreigner coming here has stomach problems. We ate at “dhabas” (small local restaurants), street stalls, and we had nothing at all. The food is very spicy and we found everything delicious!
- On the streets there are heavily armed policemen and metal detectors, you’re walking on the sidewalk and when you realize you are undergoing one of them. There is a high risk of terrorist attacks here.
- Indian men are dressed as if they were still in the 70s, short-sleeved shirt and mustache. All of them. While women still wear saris, exactly the same model seen in Parvati images from thousands of years ago. Not all women, of course, but they wear it even in the streets of a big city like Delhi.
- Yes there are places to visit and a lot of nice things to do in Delhi that we did not go/did. On Wikitravel you can find several of them.
- Before going to Delhi, pay attention to the seasons. Summer there is ridiculously hot – 40 degrees is very common – and monsoon season is from June to October. We were there from October to November and I’d say it’s a good time, it’s no longer so hot, it doesn’t rain and is not as dry as it gets during winter, when the pollution is greatly increased.
Next stop will be the Rajasthan Desert and the beautiful Pushkar, one of my favourites.