October 2, 2016 7:28 am
Of all destinations on our India trip, Delhi was the only place that I had been slightly nervous about. All I’ve ever heard about is its intensity, noise, harassment, dense population, and scams… and knowing that this was going to be my gateway to a new country made me worry that it would give me an unshakeable impression of India and its people before I attained a view of it as a whole.
In reality, most things that you worry or fret about aren’t as bad as they seem. All these thoughts and images of Delhi had actually painted what was a quite accurate picture of the city in my head, and there was therefore nothing particularly novice or terrifying to encounter. The vast numbers of people and congestion weren’t a shock. Having to dart amongst tuktuks, rickshaws, motorbikes, cars and vans was an experience that was all too familiar from time spent in Vietnamese cities. The constantly changing smells that flood your nostrils at every turn was also customary after living briefly in rural Cambodia – food smells merge into burning, waste, exhaust fumes and back again faster than you can register. The intense heat was quite full-on after rainy England and a well air-conditioned flight, but what else can you expect from post-monsoon Asia?
The biggest shock was actually the noise. A prolonged, close-range, ear-splitting honk can initially be taken to signify a near-death experience and result in a quick dash to pavement-safety. In reality, it probably wasn’t aimed at you. It probably wasn’t aimed at anyone, and there was most likely no specific obstacle or moment of panic. Honking is as frequented a road expression in Delhi as using your mirrors is in the UK, and is used every second or two intermittently by all vehicles, clear road or not. This road-rage assault to your ear-drums might be something you get used to, but for me this is one thing that sets Delhi aside from other Asian cities.
The rest of Delhi’s overall aura – ramshackled box-like homes piled high like bric-a-brac, remnants of majestic, ornate buildings with no rooves and ugly facia boards hanging over their modern yet dilapidated street-levels, bony cows wandering alleyways with the vacant stares and the rainbow colours of worn-out clothes and saris hanging from buildings all add to the curious magic of this dirty city. There is something particularly beautiful in its rusticity.
Although two days felt enough of a stay for this Delhi-virgin, most travellers leave the city with the certainty they will return. All trains and flights seem to lead back to Delhi, although whether that stopover is utilised is another matter. I myself am looking forward to seeing how I feel about the city and its atmosphere after my exploration of other destinations, and whether it indeed becomes my first and remaining Indian city friend.