So many bloggers and travel writers say that India “assaults the senses.” They talk about walking out of the airport in Delhi and being surrounded by the sounds and scents of a new world. That is not the Delhi I saw.
After leaving the peaceful beaches of Sri Lanka, I flew into Delhi. For two weeks, I was going to tour the Rajasthan area complete with a dip into Uttar Pradesh region to see the Taj Mahal. But, the tour had to begin somewhere and, with its international airport, Delhi was that somewhere.
After standing in no less than five lines to get through customs, I finally grabbed my hiking backpack from the emptying conveyor. When I finally made my way out to the arrivals hall, I saw a sign with “G Adventures” on it. Well, that was easy enough. The gentleman holding the sign informed me that my ride was not here yet, but I could sit, relax, and grab a drink at a little terminal coffee shop.
That sounded great to me.
At the time, India was at the tail end of getting rid of certain rupee notes. Fortunately, a friend had warned me that ATM lines were long and there was a cap on the amount you could withdrawal each day from the bank. Because of this warning, I had been fortunate enough to track down rupees whilst in Singapore. I paid for coffee with a 2,000 rupee note, much to the disdain of the cashier, who scrambled to find change.
Before long, my driver was in front of me. She led me through the parking garage to her car, where my suitcase and I spread out in the backseat. The seatbelt clung to its holster, refusing to be of service. So like China, I thought. Then we were off.
I was ready for an overwhelming sensory experience as we exited the garage. But, alas, by this time, the sun had set and Sunday night traffic choked both the roads and the exhaust-fume filled air. Soooo like China.
I was immediately missing Singapore and Sri Lanka. Some travelers love cities. And, to a certain extent, I understand that. The clubs, the parties, the dancing, the shopping, the food…but in so many other ways, big cities all over the world are melding into a faceless, international version of the unique gem they once were.
And this…this sputtering, China-like, polluted bottle-neck of a city…was my first impression of Delhi; a land laid to waste by modernity.
The next morning, after meeting with my tour group at breakfast, our guide, Raghu, took us to Salaam Baalak, an NGO that seeks to provide care and opportunities for street children in India. There we met Ejaz, a young man who had run away from an abusive home and lived on the streets of Delhi before joining Salaam Baalak as a guide. With wonderful English, he led us through alleyways in Delhi, explaining both his life and the life of the city around us.
Dispite Ejaz’s best efforts, Delhi did not become a magical place to me. After our city tour, we stopped at an ATM for some group members. I spent the time wandering the streets, talking to charming men and women, and snapping pictures.
Finances sorted, we boarded our private bus and took off, touring the city through the windows. We stopped once at the India Gate to take some shots and walk about, but afterwards, I was ready to hit the road.
Delhi had some amazing people within its city limits, but aside from these faces, it was just a city, like so many I had seen before…