Thursday, December 2, 2010

Delhi - A tale of two cities

First of all, you've got Old Delhi, which is your standard Indian metro centre. It's noisy, it's polluted, the crowds are intense and the general pace of life is frantic. It's bound to be frustrating at first, but persevere and you shall prosper! (Hopefully)

Delhi has some of the best street food in the country, and the old city is the place to find it. Aloo tikki, bhel puri, vada pav, veg roll or even pani puri - if it's Indian, it's here. There are also many mosques in the area, and with them comes the call to prayer - 5 times a day. The perfect way to prove that you're in a foreign land, especially if the noise, chaos and wandering livestock didn't already put you over the line. It's beautiful to stop and listen to something that has remained unchanged for centuries, these poetic prayers of the faithful are authentic and free to listen to. Although you may not feel so inspired if your hotel is located nearby, as the first call to prayer of the day can be a tad early, something in the vicinity of 6am - that's the middle of the night for me!

New Delhi looks like Singapore. Now perhaps it's just that I've been in India too long, but the roads are well maintained, not so congested and motorcyclists wear helmets. It's little things like this that make me feel like I've suddenly crossed international borders. Trees line the street and at the right time of day or night, you can have the footpath to yourself. The nightlife options are limited however, and rather lackluster if I'm being completely honest. There is live music, but it often starts and finishes very early - say 9pm. Finding your venue will be the usual challenge, even if you do have the address written down. Expect heated discussions with the tuk-tuk drivers, and locals alike. There are nightclubs too, but as there's nobody here to try and drag me inside (kicking and screaming), I can just shake my head and laugh off those generic club beats.

Being the capital city of India, Delhi has its fair share of western visitors, and as such, expect all quoted prices to be high. Unfortunately, you might also be sold products that don't work in the hopes that you're just passing through. I was sold a broadband stick for the princely sum of 2000 rupees, about $50 (bargained down from 4000 rupees), only to find out that it didn't work. The rude shopkeeper assured me it would work anywhere in the country, but apparently just a few blocks down the road was out of the question. After trying to handle the situation politely, my temper got the better of me after one too many sneers from this repugnant vulture. I decided my best bet was to make an unholy scene, and scare off any potential customers in the process. I swore in both Hindi and English, just to make sure my point was getting across - "you're a fuckwit, give me my money back you jeering jockstrap!"

I'm fairly sure that in my pidgin Hindi, my sentences weren't quite so eloquent. Instead I chose to lampoon the morality of his Mother's sexual misdeeds, implying that she must have mated with a baboon to create such unholy offspring. When even this failed to wipe the smirk from his ugly face, I chose instead to simply walk behind the counter and sit beside him on an empty office chair. Almost immediately, a customer walked into the store and before she could even utter a syllable, I told her what kind of operation was being run here. She nodded knowingly, thanked me sincerely and left the store with a smile on her face. It felt good to be a force of good in this world :)

My laughter was loud and proud in the the face of this parasite, and when the same thing happened again and again - he finally conceded. If he didn't, I would have happily spent the whole day in the store preventing him from ripping off unsuspecting tourists. There was air-con, a water dispenser and more tension than any knife could handle (yes, even a miracle blade). When he returned my money though, rather than using a key to open the cash register, he instead removed a thick wad of rupees from his overstuffed wallet. I counted each note in front of him, making sure to inspect for flaws. When it came time to leave, it was my turn to sneer :P

The exact site of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.
The sights to see in Old Delhi, are as the name would suggest - historic. There's the impressive Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandi Chowk for shopping and Raj Ghat (the site of Gandhi's cremation). My armpit may have been throbbing since Agra, but it wasn't going to stop me from seeing everything and anything Gandhi. It amazes me that in the country of his birth, the locals are the first to cast stones on his achievements! I thought that here of all places is where he'd be showered with praise, but instead he is ridiculed and scoffed at by many, particularly the younger generation. The main complaint I heard, is that he didn't force the Muslims to leave India - they were able to choose either way.

Seems pretty foolish to mock someone due to their acceptance of all religions, doesn't it? If anything, it should be celebrated.

Drop by Raj Ghat on Friday (the day he was killed) to view a commemorative ceremony put on . Locals welcome questions, but please wait until after the ritual is finished. There's a nearby Gandhi museum with friendly staff and several large rooms lined wall to wall with pictures and facts (Hindi/English) on the life and times of the beloved Mahatma. The time line of facts is impressive, if a little extensive, but for a better feel of who he was and the reverence in which some of his people hold him, a visit to Gandhi Smitri is a must.

It is here you can trace his final steps, as he left his room for prayer one final time. Many mourners, although long overdue, pay their respects in large numbers. More than 60 years have passed since his death, but you wouldn't know from looking around. Gandhi was a small man in stature, but big in spirit, I think he put it best himself - "My life is my message."

The amount of vultures and rip-off merchants looking for easy prey, is probably a draw card the Indian capital could do without. As always though, it's the rotten apples that spoil the bunch, and you don't need to look hard to find the friendly folks - just leave Paharganj!


  1. Sounds fascinating, despite the pitfalls! Have a great weekend!!

  2. Hey! Me again - thanx so much for visiting and following my blog!

    Look forward to your next post too!!