The transition from Nepal to India, at least when leaving the Kathmandu airport and arriving in the Delhi International terminal, is a bit of a contrast. In the Kathmandu airport, while I was waiting for boarding using paid wifi to upload some of my photos and writing up my goodbye Nepal blog post, a man fell from the dropped ceiling about 4 feet to my left. Dust, dirt, and who knows what else was in the air, I picked up my things and moved 3 feet further along, and put my Kathmandu pollution facemask on, no biggie.
The Delhi airport is newer than new, it has new airport smell. The long moving walkways take you by bright and shiny adverts for expensive things, and the customs hall is huge and well-staffed. I don’t know if it’s really that new, perhaps it just felt that way after so long in less than modern surroundings, but it was a nice airport.
Strangely my flight actually arrived 20 minutes early, which gave me my first introduction to Indian humour. After passing smoothly through customs and picking up my bag I went looking for a man holding a sign with my name on it. Having been forewarned about chaos getting to your hotel in Delhi I arranged for a pickup in advance. I passed through the big doors after customs, past a bunch of official looking men holding signs for expensive hotels and left the building as I had been directed, where I was met with a second barricade holding back families and more people with less official looking signs. Of course my name was nowhere to be seen. No problem, I had the phone number for my guesthouse, I could call them and find out an ETA and pick a landmark to meet by. I asked the a man at a nearby coffee stand, “Are there any public phones?”, to which the answer was “Inside”. I went to go back in, but a burly Indian man with a big mustache (I don’t think it was for Movember) and a gun told me I couldn’t go back in with my luggage. Hrmm… I suspect that’s a very minor catch-22 by Indian standards.
Everybody warned me, Delhi and India is crazy busy and chock full of people, and everybody was right, however I think because the warnings were so severe and perhaps as I’ve been to other crazy crowded places like Istanbul and Cairo, it’s not so bad. Even given the huge press of humanity things generally work, traffic is slow but it moves, lines are long but people queue (except when they don’t), and having been to places where there is no (or little effective) government or rules you can tell that laws here are generally enforced.
An example, all the auto-rickshaws run on compressed natural gas. It wasn’t always the case, I don’t know when they all converted but they _all_ converted. I can’t imagine the air quality before the mass conversion, there are zillions of the buggers going every which way in traffic at all times, but I’m sure the conversion removed tonnes of diesel emissions every day. I don’t know how they did it, what combination of carrot and stick was employed, but thankfully they did it.
With only 4 days in Delhi I have decided I don’t have the energy or wherewithall to try and hit all the sights, so I’m taking a random/opportunist approach. My guesthouse is somewhat outside the city centre (in south Delhi) so I’m squeezing myself onto the metro (and it’s a squeeze for men, there are dedicated women’s cars with lots of space, I also imagine they serve tea and play soothing music) and picking stops based on a photocopied tourist map someone gave me and just walking around and seeing what I find.
Walking through Chawri Bazaar while about 200000 people crowd the narrow streets around me shopping for Diwali. Hot cauldrons of presumably spicy curry are bubbling and being served up into small paper bowls and scarfed down with the same little spoons they give you for icecream sometimes. I’m too chicken to try it this time, I don’t want actual Delhi Belly so soon into my trip.
Firecrackers, really small thermonuclear devices designed for maximum sonic load, being let off from sunset to after I fall asleep, another Diwali tradition.
Smiling men, every one of them shorter than me, pressed up against all sides, striking up short broken conversations about how crowded the subway is.
Stunning poverty next to stunning wealth, beggars at the windows of Mercedes.