Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
At Lodi Gardens, New Delhi
My expectations for Delhi were fairly bleak. Stopping there was nothing more than a logistical necessity, a necessary evil. When traveling, and especially when alone, I tend to skip the big urban metropolis in favor for the less populated. Most traveler’s return from a trip to Delhi saying it was the low light of their visit. I expect it will also be the low light of my trip as well, but not as low as I thought.
There is a lot of cultural richness and diversity in Delhi. I don’t know if there is anywhere else in the world quite like it. It surprised me, in a positive way.
My first impression of Delhi lived up (or down) to my expectations as it involved a 2am solo taxi trip from the airport. I was a bit freaked out and as we sped through the deserted and dark city, images of people curled up on the street sleeping and families digging through trash bins flew by my window. But in the morning, as I looked out the window of my 11th floor room, the city looked pretty normal. Busy and loud, but normal. I saw monkeys jumping around on a roof across the street and most surprisingly, green everywhere. This is perhaps what caught me off guard the most. I expected this giant metropolis to have wiped out all of its trees and park to make way for housing and more concrete, but they haven’t.
Emboldened by hunger I decided to brave a walk. I could see the India Gate from my room, so decided to start there and go for a walk from the gate to the parliament building. The stretch between the two landmarks is a well kept park several blocks long and used by many residents. From there it looked like I could easily hop on the metro for a couple of stops to an area where I thought I might find some interesting food choices. Again I had to traverse a beautiful park/gardens full of interesting buildings and monuments in order to get to my destination. Delhi, you’ve surprised me!
The metro was clean, well light and had great signage. Sure, it was pretty packed, but no different than NYC or Mexico City on a weekday and they have ‘women only’ cars that make the whole system even friendlier. I loved riding in the ‘women only’ car as it gave me a chance to check out how the women of Delhi dress and get decked out.
On the evening of my second full day, I transferred hotels and met up with my tour group. This part of town was certainly more chaotic and noisy and more true to the mental image of Delhi that I’d had, but still quite manageable. During our orientation, our tour leader warned us of a few things, mostly of all the sketchy men, whom he called “cheeky buggers” who think of themselves as “smart men.” He also proclaimed “shopping in India is a scam.” Ha! That’s since been proven.
We nearly made it out without a dousing from the summer monsoon, but it caught us during a walk through Old Delhi. The streets were instantly transformed into streams of trash, sewage and who knows what else. While it was disgusting to walk through, it also gave an interesting perspective on this insane part of town.
I purposefully didn’t go hard in Delhi. I ventured out for only a few hours at a time and took advantage of my first two nights in a nicer hotel to rest up after my marathon 50 hour trip and reset the clock. I saw some of the main sights, but also missed some big ones. In doing so, I was able to protect my desire to fall in love with India and spot some of the good in this city, and avoid some of the bad and evil. There is certainly poverty here like no other, and having to walk through a security checkpoint to get into your hotel, the metro and many other places gives a sense of insecurity that can be disconcerting. The contrast between wealth and an extreme urban poverty is drastic and harsh. I know it’s all there, I could see it out of the corner of my eye. But I wanted to ease into India and while I didn’t turn a blind eye to Delhi, not entirely, I did walk away, relatively unscathed.