Traveling across Europe into central Asia, we thought, would be a gradual adjustment in terms of cultural differences, road traffic conditions, food etc. and I guess that’s been the case. But, arriving in Delhi has been a whole new ball game. From the start, in the shuttle from the airport, we were dicing with death. Our driver must be on a reward for fast delivery, as on the crowded road he weaves for side to side, our battered Suzuki micro van was rolling alarmingly; Clare’s bike box threatening to fly off the roofrack. Vehicles weave across the road trying to fill the smallest of gaps in the blocked solid traffic. Bicycles, scooters and motor bikes (women usually side saddle on the back), a selection of motor vehicles, all palm wedged on the horn, accelerate in every direction regardless of any perceivable traffic regulations such as, travel in the direction of the traffic or pavements for pedestrians. Certainly, the ‘Look left, look right , look left again, use your eyes and ears before you use your feet’ applies on both sides of a dual-carriageway as much as anywhere else.
Stark evidence of poverty is very present in the city. There are not only beggars, as in many countries, but also shanty towns along the streets just off main highways together with debris piled high. Loads of people bedding down in the street (where do they go during monsoon?). Dirt and litter is almost everywhere.
There are so many warnings in the media, on tourist/hotel notices, and in guide books about the ingenuity of Indian people to rob, one way or another, unsuspecting tourists that it has made us uncomfortable talking to the locals, especially when we recognize some of the opening gambits or stock phrases such as, ‘I don’t want any money but …’ or ‘I just want to practise my English …’ . After a week we knew the pick up points and phrases but still got gulled a couple of times; not so badly though, as these fellows were just trying to steer us into their favoured establishments. An auto-rickshaw driver (tally: 3 ok, 1 maniac) told us that some of the big tourist shops reward drivers with a 1L fuel voucher (about $0.70) for each tourist delivered.
The general atmosphere is one of hectic bustle and over crowdedness. If there is a space someone or something will fill it rapidly. Amusingly, dogs have cracked the system. Whilst we’ve already seen a starving horse who had a broken or deformed leg and just enough flesh to stretch over it’s bone structure, the dogs look fine and seem to find a safe place to hangout or kip. Cows roam about, apparently eating garbage. Some folk keep a few goats. In Delhi, ox carts aren’t uncommon; later in more open country, horses were preferred. A few donkeys seem to be used for riding or carrying loads. But small motorbikes and scooters dominate the transport sector, at least, numerically.
This is good fun…
I got 26 out of 30, a pass. But some of the questions seem a bit unrelated to real road practices here.
Delhi has been a place of many firsts:
-first time we’ve seen oxen pulling carts in the centre of a city,
-first time we’ve had to call reception to get our water heater turned on for a shower,
-first time I’ve watched people washing their clothes on the ground in the streets (a few had bowls most didn’t),
-first time I’ve seen ladders up to dwellings on the first and second floors above shops,
-first time I’ve watched a man tapping off the drips in one of the many recessed ‘toilets’ along the streets, which leave an ever present stink of urine,
-first time I’ve watched a man spit three metres out onto the street (I wonder what the world record is?),
-first time I’ve seen so many electric cables draped along outside of the buildings and spewing out of a sub station.
Gradually we have got used to the chaotic nature of Delhi. Like chrysalis slowly emerging from our hotel room, we have now been out and about seeing the sights and still have all limbs intact, despite a few close shaves.
Mughal architecture in white
Cycling out of Delhi still fills us with fear and trepidation. To conquer this one we took a cycle tour of old Delhi – their bikes, our helmets and gloves. A definite plus was that I lowered the saddle so that I could comfortably touch the ground. A real plus when constantly stopping in the many tight, crowded situations. The tour itself was fantastic. We frequently ‘whizzed’ along streets and passages wiggling in and out of traffic, people and other obstacles, initially waking people from their slumbers. Nerves of steel were required for the ‘Russian roulette’ or ‘balletic’ interactions between traffic. We soon cracked the rapidly repeating bell manoeuvre to add to the constant cacophony. The main tip, though, was “start at dawn”. And later on, going out of Delhi, it worked well.
At times, modern sky scrapers graced the sky while at ground level they seemed precariously close to the decay, detritus and dirt of the old town, despite, we were told, that the government having cleaned up the area by removing the slums.
Our tour took us round the back streets, starting with a visit to Jama Masjid, on to Delhi’s traditional bread making industry, next to a lofty view of both the Shah Jahan’s wife’s mosque and the spice center of the world, inside a Sis Ganj Sihk Temple, further on to one of the four remaining city gates and a number of other notable land marks and sights. All jigsawed in and around a four kilometre radius.
Deteriorating pockets of ornate architecture amidst the hotch-potch of cables, crumbling brickwork, faded signs, patched repairs, mark, we were told, India’s rich heritage and are left over from the Mugal society, dating back to 1857 or earlier.
Under our own guidance, and mostly in search of cash (India’s government having just invalidated all the currency over about $1 value, causing something of a nationwide crisis), we visited Connaught Place and other parts of New Delhi, built towards the end of the British period, and travelled on the shiny new metro out to some new malls, at Noida, to get some bike parts at the big Decathlon store (note to other cycle-tourists: Don’t expect much in terms of spares, we took the only 9 speed chain).