2 July, Delhi, Travelling around old New Delhi and life here
I met two travelers Kate and Dave who came home around 3.30am and I said a quick ‘gidday’ from my sleeping place on the floor. I hadn’t gone to sleep as the noises in the house kept me awake and I was feeling the heat.
The next day we had a wonderful breakfast of eggs, chutney, roti and chi tea with Vasneet and his wife Priya and I met her brother and Priya’s parents. A really wonderful welcoming family. I was informed many in the family were lawyers and the area we were staying in was a wealthy area. After my first introduction to Delhi I have to say it was a relief.
Kate and Dave invited me to go to the old Delhi. We caught an auto rickshaw to the train station for 120 Rupees and then we bought tickets on the underground. The underground was the most sophisticated I had seen. You can touch screen your station then go to another station it forms a link then it tells you how many rupees. The train was airconditioned and it was interesting observing the Indian people in their turbans, suits, casual clothes and sari’s. It is a very diverse society those nouvre rich (new rich) and contrasted with those on the streets and vendors. Not unlike the extreme dichotomy in Bangkok where cities are modernizing and living still within traditions.
We surfaced at Chowdi station and it was like emerging in another time zone. We came into what Dave called Piccadilly Circus but of an ancient time. Narrow streets were partially sealed, with old buildings closely packed that were quite run down yet there was a charm as you looked closer at the buildings noticing ornate carvings a little like an Arab design. The overhanging lines were very dubious and I wondered if you reached up and touched one if you would be hit with 1,000 volts and a new hair style. I saw a few police around armed and wondered about instability in the country (I found out later there were car bombs mostly internal problems). The area we were in was Muslim and we saw the Red mosque a very long and ornate building. So for women, wearing appropriate dress would be more important, I did see a few fully covered but mostly Indian women in sari dress working there or passing through with other women or simply catching a rickshaw. As westerners and part of the minority on the street, Kate and I stood out. We found our way to a small shop that makes little wheat bowls with chick peas but quite sweet, we were recommended to go there. As we stood there many bicycle rickshaws went past. I decided to show a boy my juggling balls and before I knew it people were looking with interest at this unusual westerner. I found I was able to make eye contact, break down barriers instantly because of the novelty of juggling. There are very few entertainers that go on the streets and just walk around juggling. The men really liked it and some were perplexed by it, others may not have reacted, sometimes it is hard to read what their expressions mean. What I did observe was that I made more friends and typically they were impressed. I actually felt safer on the street receiving positive attention.
Kate and Dave noticed the change on the street towards us and they also enjoyed the positive feedback. We did a lot of walking and I found my feet were starting to cramp. I stopped and looked up and saw a mask shop (holy grail for a clown), it looked very clowny, turns out there was clown suits in there and wigs (yippee). I did buy a traditional Indian clown suit which would be suitable for Muslim countries and a wig and floppy jester hat for 850 rupees which is not too bad (by western standards), the guy put the price up as I thought he would. I told him a little about Gandhi and giving I could see his mind close down, he just wanted the money. I also came across children begging and tried to teach one child to juggle and place the idea of earning more money, but I could see he was too young and really didn’t know. How vulnerable children are I thought and so innocent. I tried to connect by waving as I left and kept on looking back, I wanted to somehow make him feel special and play with him, it seemed to work. I saw people with disabilities on the street, I tried to make myself accept this is their way of life. I had to try and step out of traditional western mindset of comparison, this is a country of over 1.3 billion people and it is making a huge transition to modernization. I did think about the British legacy and the resource rich aspect of this nation and how it appears they didn’t receive much of the benefit of colonization. The advantage from my end was English speaking however I noticed the poorer people don’t speak English, they speak Hindi.
As we walked through the dusty streets, it did feel dirty, there were ponds of stagnant water and tiny little industrial shops selling pipes, taps, metal, locks, paper products, it was light industrial but small and hand made items were evident. We saw machinery that would be turn-of-the-century that was used to print and very old sewing machines on the sidewalk for making clothes or shoes. Kate said to me ‘ooh look its raining’, so the two of us started singing and dancing in the rain, then she said, ‘no its not it is a pipe’. I laughed as we must have looked so silly dancing away when we were under a pipe. I said to her bloody lucky it wasn’t someone’s urine being tipped out and two crazy westerners celebrating.
Another funny part was the ricksaw ride. The three of us got in to it. It is a bicycle rickshaw, so Kate sat on the back. This guy rode through the busy (crazy) streets pulling the weight of three people. I was amazed at his energy and thought about my flippancy about price without taking into account we are buying his energy. He had some attitude about the price which I liked as I felt some pride there. Kate was practicing her bargaining skills but really when we are asking 40 rupees instead of 60 we are really saying two dollars, yet somehow we get a bit lost in the real value of what we are buying and become more focused on what we perceived as fair. I don’t disagree with this as I am not into being ripped off as a westerner, but I guess there is logic in it and it is the order of things. Anyway at the end of our trip with this guy I asked him if he gets tired, he said never. He must be so fit but what about the fumes he takes in by the millions of vehicles on the road. Then Kate asked if she could have a go as she is a cyclist (and character) I suggested the rickshaw guy get in the back and get the westerner to take him. I like the idea of serving the servant. Others on the street were laughing as they took off, Kate side swiped a car and then stopped 20 metres up the road. It was funny to watch, she said the rickshaw was lighter then it looked. She went up to the guy whose car she swiped and shook his hand apologizing. She is a really sweet British girl, full of spunk and good manners. I could really see her transparency as a person in her eyes. Really honest.
It’s definitely a different experience and whilst there were so many men on the street I didn’t feel uncomfortable as a westerner. I saw that making money is the big issue and survival, so many extremes in income. So many different types of people from all walks of life.
We ended up at a restaurant that was like an oasis from the heat and dirt. I keep forgetting that I have to bring my own toilet paper, fortunately I had something but it is something I have to adjust to. We sat and had some dinner. I am vegetarian so omelet was the go for me at 110 rupees, most of the dishes were around 250 rupees. It still seems expensive but I think I am adjusting to converting back into AUD and I get a more realistic feel for value. Anyway, it was nice there a refreshing water fountain, air conditioning, trees and foliage and a musical group playing tablar, harmonia (keyboard) and a singer. It was beautiful to take in this setting. It was a place for wealthier people but you do find yourself seeking out refugee in places familiar to home. I didn’t fancy staying in the heat. It will take time to adjust. Dave, Kate and I had a great chat about their lives. Dave is a lawyer who actually fights for equal opportunity in the workplace. It was interesting discussing discrimination in the UK and my recent study into women’s issues at the local council level. The issues remain the same. Kate is an English teacher first year out of teacher training, so not on a lot of money and facing challenges. They are friends and met in China. I noticed how polite and considerate they are to each other. I really enjoyed their company and felt I wouldn’t have been able to venture out without them, I was warned it is not safe for women alone. When we got home it was after 1am and I was pretty exhausted, my feet swelled up. Another traveller Marion was around and we talked more to her. She is French and working at a hospital as part of her medical training. Really interesting learning a little about her.
At this place we are staying at there are dogs upstairs behind gates, they are quite vicious so when you go to the toilet, they are barking like crazy. It is hard to ignore the aggression but I try to practice peace. I thought maybe they don’t bark just protect, so felt easier.
Had a bucket shower, felt clean again tucked myself up in my silk sleeping bag and fell asleep on the floor, just grateful to finally rest.