Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Delhi district - hazy sunshine, high of 32'C.

This is the first time I've connected to the internet since Monday 24th October, mostly because we've been more than adequately busy, and a little because because I've been happy to have a break. For those interested, I brought the Macbook, and have blogged the journey off-line.

There's quite a lot to tell, and I can honestly say that this has been a major experience. Those who read regularly or have read the 'warning' on this side will know that I tend to say what I think, except where it needs to be moderated for the sake of others. In this situation I have recorded my feelings and thoughts about things, pretty much as I felt them, and make no apology for it. Some, indeed quite a bit was written while travelling in a coach over bumpy roads, and that may have coloured the descriptions. If you'd walked in my shoes & eaten my food, slept in those beds and seen those sights then you would very likely have felt differently: we're all entitled to our views, and these were mine.

I'll try to post each part of the the trip as if it were 'live', and where possible, add some images. There is still a bit of catching up to do, and as the journey has gone on I've tried to become more descriptive and thorough, and there hasn't been sufficient time to write stuff up.

Without further ado, here's day 1 although day 2 may be a couple of days in posting because we're flying back tomorrow.

Delhi airport is new, apparently specially built for the commonwealth games in 2010, and is like an Indian take of a modern airport: large, clean, reasonably shiny and with the occasional statue or artefact that suggests an asian influence. There is little to give the new arrival any hint of what lies beyond it’s doors.

We were quite groggy after our flight. Leaving Heathrow eventually at about 9.10pm, we watched a film, had dinner and then (in my case) watched a second film because sleepiness wasn’t happening. Finally rolled over for an hour or so before being woken by Chris and then breakfast. We landed about 9.45 local time (4.5 hours ahead of the UK = 5.15am).

When ever I fly some where new the first thing I do on disembarking the plane is to sniff, to smell the air in the new place, although often airports don’t smell the same as outside. In the terminal I catch a strong hint of what seems to be cigar smoke mingled with a little incense. It’s not strong, but it is everywhere, and that provides the first hint that it’s not from just a single cigar.

After the visa antics I am not surprised that there is an entry form to fill in, and not surprised either that no-one has warned us in advance. Approaching the immigration desks is a slow business involving lots of queuing, and our nerves become increasingly frayed as we saw many people being delayed, questioned, having to produce additional documents etc. Indian beaurocracy requires careful and accurate paperwork. It seems that there is a benefit to having been trained to survive US customs, because when it came to it, our forms were examined, passports returned & we sailed through.

We are met outside immigration by Junaid, our guide for the trip, and then lead out of doors. As we approach the exit I could see what appeared to be crowds of people standing looking in, all apparently waiting for new arrivals, and for a moment it looks like a mob waiting for the losers of a siege to emerge from their stronghold. The crowd WAS large, but mostly made up of people holding signs for friends and family, and rather than fight our way through, we are led across the face of it and to the coach park.

And breathe in.

The smell outside is just like inside the building, but enormously stronger and more complex. The cigar scent became more clearly a mix of clay (presumably from the dust that’s all-pervading) and woodsmoke, plus a strong background of incense and joss sticks. But there’s no consistent or single smell, so much as a constantly changing and swirling mix of odours, from intense clay smells of freshly moistened soil, through cloying-sweet perfumes and incense to sweaty bodies, drain and sewage smells. It is also misty everywhere, with what looks like smoke: apparently this descended about 5 days before we arrived.

In the coach on the way to our hotel there were some large mosquitos. One landed on my leg, and I killed it, only to smear a large amount of blood across my trousers.

Delhi itself IS a bit of a blur, not least because we were seriously tired. The hotel is in a ‘nice’ bit in Green park extension, and made with lots of marble. The beds were comfy, the bathroom semi-functional (forget about showering easily). This is probably at the ‘nice’ end of Indian-style hotels, and we could have done much worse by all accounts.

My lasting impression of central Delhi is poverty and squalor. Everything was covered in dust, all buildings seem to be crumbling, rotting or peeling and there were men in rags and stained clothes everywhere. Chris and I were discussing just now how people live & make a living, and the simple answer is that, by western standards, many don’t. One of the first things the guide said to us was that every other problem in India stems from there being too many people.

We had a pedal-rickshaw ride around the narrow streets of old Delhi, then visited a large red-sandstone mosque where we were watched by men with hot, angry eyes dressed in robes and skull-caps, while women laughed and children played. In the mosque we seemed to be interesting enough for a small crowd to gather and photograph us! The mosque structure itself seemed in much better condition than the terrible, mouldering houses around it, although it too showed signs of deterioration despite being heavily used (we were assured by Junaid that it was full every Friday with 25,000 moslems). The main floor area was rough on our bare feet, and also covered in bird droppings. A permit to take pictures was 200 rupees, and frankly it wasn’t interesting enough to make me want to pay.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the India Arch. Modelled on the Arc de Triomphe and Marble Arch, it is a prominent landmark in Delhi and commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the Indian Empire, or more correctly the British Raj in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The arch was impressive, however one of our party got lost, catching a cab to the hotel, and we spent over half an hour trying to find her!

Dinner in the hotel was (inevitably) curry, and probably because it was a hotel for westerners, even though it was Indian style, it tasted very much like something one might find in a UK restaurant, or even a Pataks jar.

And so to bed.

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