Delhi greeted us warmly with 40+C heat, air and ground covered in layers of dust and annoying salesmen. Piles of rubbish, stinking away in the sun, decorating the street corners. The holy cows of India, their coat covered in a collection of patches of dung, strolled around casually in between anthills of people, helping themselves to delicious pickings from the rotting piles. It occurs to me that a farmer’s cow in Lithuanian lowlands enjoys a much higher quality of life than her saint cousin in India.
Delhi didn’t leave us in shock though; we saw all that the stories of other travellers relayed, we knew what’s coming. Likewise we managed to avoid (or defeat) the infamous Delhi belly (a case of monsoon diarhea lasting for weeks), caused by eating just about anything local. On the contrary, we really enjoyed visiting the local places for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, sampling excellent dals, curries and breads. All “100% pure veg”, as they say. We’re also pretty much hooked on the delicious lassi, which can be found everywhere (the best are on Para Ganj main market, either by the New Delhi station end or about 10 minutes up the market).
We were disappointed to find that the the famous historical sites in Delhi are in a state of disrepair. Some seem to be in perpetual renovation, covered in scafolding that appears to have been errected years ago, or simply left half-crumbled, with major interest sections closed-off for visitors. Where they do manage an excellent job is ticketing, peddling foreign visitor tickets at 25x the price a local pays.
The local street fashion left a far better impression. The womenswear is comprised of a staggering variety of colours and patterns, matching colourful shawls and excessive numbers of shiny pendants, bracelets, rings and earrings, clicking with every move of their hands, feet and head. Interestingly, women only appear to be out early in the mornings and in the evenings – daytime the streets are packed with men and almost no women are to be seen anywhere.
The one activity we heartly recommend to all visitors is to take a ride in the metro. Picture milions of the local people boarding the short metro train each morning. The first carriage in most trains is exclusively dedicated to women and often has some breathing space. The remaining men carriages resemble packed animal cages though – so many of them compress into the train that you start thinking its inhumane. As for actually getting on the train, its a bit like a fight for survival. When the train arrives and the door opens, no Indian on the platform waits for even a second to allow people to get off, instead focusing on doing a bull-run into the carriage with all his might. And there are about 20 people crowded near each door, each using the same technique. You can use this to your advantage, by allowing the collective wave of the bulls to carry you into the train, instead of doing it yourself; mind the gap! People getting off the train have to really push hard to survive the oncoming onslaught and reach the platform.
Deciding we’ve had enough time to breathe the Delhi’s smog, we prepare for the next destination – the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the land of the Himalayas, green valleys and dangerous mountain roads. Our chosen mode of transport, an overnight sleeper train from Delhi to Jammu, surpsises us with the service – clean bedsheets and a 4 course meal! And we also had good company, in a form of a young tourist couple from Russia and two young Indian adults, one permanently living in Germany and the other, a mechanical engineer on a global cargo ship. An opportunity to ask some of the cultural questions you inevitably have when visiting a new country.