An Indian Odyssey
Old Delhi – Thurs May 5th
Breakfast on the rooftop terrace. The weather is cooler but more humid today. A light but refreshing breeze passes through occasionally on its way to somewhere. Soon I will be on my way to Rishikesh, and then somewhere too.
Showers and a small thunderstorm passed through last night. Lighting cut the night air. Bulbous raindrops fell heavily and continuously for some time, scattering the homeless sleepers who had set up on the median strip. All bar one who simply rolled over, wrapping himself in his cloth and quickly getting drenched, the cloth like a second skin, outlining every curve and jagged edge of his form.
Leaving Delhi by train I see shanti towns with rooftop TV satellite dishes.
Old Delhi – Wed May 4th
6.40 am, Hotel New City Palace: the sun rises over the Jama Masjid and immediately countless beads of sweat erupt in a unified response across my body.
Poverty and suffering are visible on many streets here, but not so complaints. Although totally unfair, the superficial scene at least is one of acceptance.
And now it’s time for some food…
The Kite-Flying Game: kites armed with glass-coated string cut the opponent’s string. The cut kite dances forlornly on the breeze, uncontrolled, and is carried away to be plastered on the principal minaret of India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid; an out-of-place red diamond flattened askew against the beige onion minaret.
Overlapping waves of wailing as multiple ‘calls to prayer’ converge from all corners of town.
Old Delhi – Tues May 3rd
For two days running someone has pickpocketed my banana from my backpack. So on day 3 I just handed it over to the person of my choice. Actually, he really chose me and I couldn’t say No.
He was one of dozens of impoverished and/or ill men sitting patiently underneath the chef’s position in dhabas (street-front restaurants), waiting for someone to buy them a meal.
Other kindly folk I met along the way…
The Chai-wallah – I love this guy!
Sitting on my bed at the New City Palace Hotel looking out through the grilled window to the Jama Masjid, India’s superlatively largest mosque. If it wasn’tfor the industrial sized fan-box sitting oaf-like in my window, I’d be able to see a hell of a lot more! Then again, I could get up off my bed perhaps.
Not suprisingle the New City Palace ain’t that new…and it ain’t no palace. But it does have ‘character’, that wonderful universally useful euphemism. The poster on the wall assures me, “God’s voice is heard in many ways.” If that be true, currently he’s speaking in tongues via incessant and annoyingly high-pitched car and motorbike horns, with a background garnishing of ceiling fan hum. And I think his message is, “Get the fuck out of Delhi before you lose your bleedin’mind, an eardrum or a leg.
Of my three days thus far, it’s definitely the horns that I hate the most. They are unforgiving, arrogant and violent. But I like it up here on the 2nd floor, above the two-way stream of hassling, haggling humanity.
The New City Palace Hotels’ tagline reads: ‘A Home for Paltial Comforts’. ‘Mmmm, maybe that needs revising – of the 39-odd holes in my shower rose only 6 tried to do any work, spitting pathetically at me as I scrubbed away today’s layer of Delhi masala. This tagline I noticed under the splay of blinding light from the palatial flouro above, which lights the clean yet permamently stained bed sheets (I’m just thankful it’s not one of those CSI-style forensic lights which detects old semen stains).
Ah, perhaps somewhat appropriately the Islamic call to prayer is underway across town, but is somewhat marred by the street din below and blaring Hindi TV from the next room.
Lesson 1 of 1 on ‘How to Negotiate Delhi Traffic’:
Hold your line. Hesitate and Die. It’s a game of bluff…although the big vehicles do tend to hurt quite a lot when they hit you.
Old Delhi – Mon May 2nd
I hide in the cracks and crevices that are the lanes and alleyways of old Delhi to escape the searing sun which manages to cut a path through the heavy pollution. Around midday I slink along the walls in the narrow strips of shade.
Old Delhi is full of bazaars selling all variety of goods and producing all manner of things. It is in your face – you get to learn things you would never expect. And people love getting their photo taken – it is impossible not to take a good portrait – like shooting fish in a barrel!
The Meat Bazaar…
The Paper Bazaar…
The Car Bazaar…
The Metals Bazaar…
…and just hangin’ out is popular with the older folk…
…while more popular still are serious sleeping sessions. ‘Ad hoc Sleeping Reaches New Heights’.
After a day out and about in the pollution, dirty, filthy black boogas clog my nostrils. And a layer of grime coats my skin. Looking forward to clean mountain air.
Old Delhi – Sun May 1st
It all came flooding back as I took that first step outside the airport terminal – petrol fumes mixed with dust, heat and noise. And then there was the driving – chaotic, jam-packed, frantic and horn-filled. Exhausted workers sleeping on the 2’ wide median strip, stripped bare to their grimy skin except for tattered shorts.
Offered a fake beard today, not sure why.
Monkey traversing the street on the powerlines like a tightrope walker.
Old delhi is a maze of narrow alleys and what looks like DIY powersupplies. Power cables run every which way and dangling cables, with their frayed ends, look like aerial roots trying to earth themselves.
My eyes feel like they’re drying up layer by layer from the outside in due to the heat and dust.