Delhi Airport isn’t the greatest place for a decent sleep. Due to not arriving until the middle of the night and still being on London time (five and a half hours behind), I only nodded off at around 5am. By 8am I’d given up on the notion of sleep and headed into Delhi. I’d normally get a taxi but I’d heard good things about the Delhi subway system. With a station next to the hotel I thought that I’d give it a whirl. Security is tight on the metro and bags are required to pass through a scanner, as well as a officer waving one of those metal detector wands around your person. The journey was probably quicker than a taxi and certainly cheaper. The fares depend on distance travelled and start at 10 rupees (12 pence). That certainly puts paid to the bloke in Mexico City who told me that their 20p subway was the cheapest in the world. In a country that had a female prime minister back in the 1950s, India unfortunately has a bit of a reputation, for want of a better phrase, of being a little bit letchy. The front carriage of each subway train is assigned for females only. I didn’t witness any creepy behaviour and from what I’ve read the social status for women in India is ever improving. The subway is certainly well used. During this morning’s rush hour the trains were rammed. I had to wait for three trains before I could squeeze on with my luggage. It wasn’t a very long long wait though, with trains passing through at a rate of one every two minutes or so. During the short walk between the metro station and the hotel I spotted my first monkey. It wasn’t one of those little cute ones either. Initially I thought it was a large dog walking along the pavement until it scaled a huge metal gate.
With my Indian trip being done via a group tour, I met up with my fellow travellers. It was only a small group with seven people and the tour leader, Ajay from Rajasthan. There was a retired couple from Devon, two young lads from Colorado, a middle-aged Australian lady and my roommate Colin, from Wiltshire. Slightly surprisingly I was one of the youngest in the group, with only the two Americans being less old than me. First impressions were that they all seemed nice enough. While there didn’t seem like a huge amount partying potential, I also doubt that there will be much drama among this lot!
After not having slept in a bed since Tuesday I could have done with a long sleep today. However this afternoon was the only chance to see a bit of Delhi. Ajay took us out for a look around. New Delhi area was constructed as a purpose built capital of India during the British Empire days and contains spacious tree lined streets, government buildings and the business and tourism epicentre of Connaught Place. We didn’t go to any of that. Instead Ajay took us to Old Delhi.
Without stating the obvious, there are plenty of historic sights in Old Delhi. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to visit the Red Fort, possibly the most famous attraction that the city has to offer. What we did experience was endless streets of market stalls and an electrical substation that was a sight to behold. It would have been interesting to hear what a certified electrician thought about the thousands of cables going off in every conceivable direction! Our first stop was at the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque and an impressive structure. We then visited a Sikh temple. Here they provided free meals to anyone who wanted one, regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic background. The food is made up entirely from donations. Many volunteers help to make what looked like decent meals on a large production line setup. This seemed to be the best organised operation that I’ve seen so far in Delhi! One of the volunteers appeared genuinely disappointed that I didn’t take up his offer of a meal. As generous as the gesture was, I felt that there are plenty more people ahead of me in need of this terrific service. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off for some food. I enjoyed an excellent chicken dopiaza. Ajay told us that you sometimes have to be a bit careful eating meat in India but this restaurant was fine.
I was tucked up in bed by 8pm this evening, shattered. The first day in Delhi was largely like I imagined. A good proportion of the Indian cliches had been ticked off. It was vibrant, noisy, dusty and smoggy. There were people everywhere and an endless flow of cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks and rickshaws, all with horns constantly beeping. I saw nine people on one rickshaw, three large gas canisters being transported via a push bike and unlimited displays of awful driving. The crumbling pavements were full of stray dogs (including a couple of three-legged ones), cows, beggars, people carrying large volumes of goods on their heads, the occasional display of public urination and rubbish all over the places. And I mean lots of rubbish. Apparently there have been campaigns to reduce the volume of litter so goodness knows how much there used to be.
People who have visited India often either love the place or hate it. Having been here for only one day, I’ll reserve judgment. That said, with so much to take in it’s certainly far from boring!