Beeeeeep! Honk honk! Road lines? What road lines? Swerve for the cow, overtake the bus. Beeeeeep!
Although I’d spent a week in India already it had been spent in the company of animals and surrounded by trees. I knew that I hadn’t really experienced India yet, the one most talked about, the dusty, convoluted, crazy and confusing India. And I was finally here. As my car got deeper and deeper into the city of Delhi I decided to add ‘congested’ to my list. At any time of day, you can expect bumper to bumper traffic: tuk-tuks, rickshaws, motorbikes, buses, trucks and taxis all vying for any opening regardless of the size, and beeping each other continuously despite everyone’s inability to move anywhere. It was chaotic. It was exciting.
My driver turned down shrinking roads, keeping me very much alert for what could potentially happen next. He then reached out to fold his side mirror inwards so that it didn’t get knocked by scooters whizzing by carrying as many as five people, usually an elegant woman on last sitting side saddle in her sari.
Walking though the markets, the smells of delicious street food made my mouth water as shoppers sipped on fresh guava juice and ate samosas straight from food carts. Women riffled through racks of 50 rupee scarves and bartered over the cost of awesome shoes ending in pom poms and curled toes.
And then came my second ‘challenging India moment’. Feeling someone very close behind me in the already packed crowd, I stepped aside to let them pass, assuming that they were in a hurry. A man in a striped shirt with a limp passed by, staring at me unblinkingly. Although I was dressed in a kurta I obviously stood out from a mile away and I was already used to being stared at. A few minutes later though, I was touched inappropriately from behind and I swung around to come face-to-face with the same man. Realising what was happening, I gave him a hard look and crossed the street and headed back in the direction from which I’d come. Fully alert now, I watched him limp across the street, his eyes locked on me. I crossed the street several times, but he continued to cross with me. I even slowed to let him pass as I pretended to look at stalls, but nothing could shake him. Locking eyes with him, I gave him a hard look and shook my head – did nothing. Getting angrier and angrier I power walked back to the hotel which was close by. When I reached the door, I raised my middle finger high towards him, said, “F$&K YOU” and strode in, feeling ready to punch the next person who approached me and hating on Delhi pretty hard.
However, in less than 24 hours, I had a number of new friends, and was munching down on kachori and gujia in some little back street in Old Delhi in absolute ecstasy. I also looked at our little biodigradble plates with satisfaction, my enviro-conscious self pretty satisfied. I then reached Jess heaven when I sipped on my first street chai which I watched get prepared painstakingly by the chai-wallah whose father had owned the stall before him. It was then that I understood Delhi as a city of extremes and realised that this was going to be a love-hate relationship, although heavier on the love I’m sure.
Kachori in a biodegradable leaf bowl
My first street chai – a spiritual moment
The rest of the day passed in similar contrasts. I sat on carpets and listened to music in a sihk temple, where equality and charity are held in the highest regard. I fought with a tuk-tuk driver outside the Red Fort who was trying to charge me at least double the price of what a local would pay. I waited patiently in one line with all the other woman in Delhi for the metro, while the men flew through security in the three lines that were allocated for them – obviously they had more important places to be than the women and had to get there more quickly. But only twenty minutes before, there was the lovely girl my age who went far out of her way to show us to the metro and left us with a cheerful grin and a wave, “Welcome to India!”
Still smiling (and squinting in the sun) outside of the Red Fort
Sometimes the negatives of a place can get you down if they let them, but the trick is to focus on those magic moments that make it all worthwhile. I know that they’ll be plenty more challenges to come my way as I navigate through India this month, but I’m sure it’s nothing that a cup of chai won’t be able to fix.
Navigating through Delhi