Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Day in New Dehli

Our day in Dehli – starts late. Tired after our journey from London and with a certain amount of nervous exhaustion after our first few hours in Dehli, we sleep until midday.

First things first – the railway station is down the road. That is where our journey to Rishikesh will start tomorrow, so we go to get our tickets and check the time of the train.

With that out of the way, it is time to explore a little in what time we have available.

Daylight reveals just how contrasting Dehli is. There are splendid colonial buildings alongside homes that are no better than single room mud covered huts. There are parks with tended lawns sitting next to stinking piles of rubbish. Wherever you look, though, it is vibrant and colourful. Especially the women – there seems to be no such thing as a dull-coloured sari. Every single one is a bright shade of yellow, pink, orange, red, purple, turquoise. Every woman wears jewellery, with multiple bangles on each wrist and further adornments on ears, fingers, wrists and toes. Even the tiniest baby girl is bejeweled with tiny bangles and earrings.

The noise of the traffic can be deafening. Not just the hum of the engines or the revving up of the vehicles, but virtually every single one will keep up a constant stream of beeping or honking. Occasionally, a particularly loud bicycle bell will join in too.

Another note on the traffic – it is a common and strange sight, to western eyes, to see whole families riding on a motorbike or moped. Dad will be driving, usually in a crash helmet that would be more use to Bob the Builder, than as a life saving device. Riding pillion will be the rest of the family, with anything up to 3 children, all cheerfully bare headed, with Mum riding side-saddle right at the back. There seems to be no quarter given for the number and nature of the passengers as Dad will still be weaving in and out of the rest of the traffic in the most alarming fashion!

In the centre of Dehli, the main tourist, shopping and business area is Connaught Circus. We head there for a look around and some lunch. Even the most modern building or shop has taken on a dirty and uncared for look on the outside. Cars are parked 3 abreast – no idea how anyone would try to make a quick trip to the shops or make an early get away from the office….

Once again, the contrasts of India are very much in evidence. Unwary shoppers, exiting the air-conditioned environment of Nike or MacDonalds, will immediately trip over the goods for sale outside. There are street traders on every available inch of pavement. Lots of book and magazine stalls, jewellery and toys are on the floor awaiting buyers. Shoe shiners and barbers are waiting for the next customer. Every corner has motorized rickshaw drivers trying to tempt the next customer into their cab. There was even one man who was selling ear-cleaning! We did not find it too hard to resist that tempting offer, though!

We decide to leave Connaught Circus behind and caught a rickshaw to the south of the city, to the Bahai’s Lotus Temple. This was a half hour ride, with a splendidly turbaned and bewhiskered Sikh as our driver. It was fairly testing on the nerves, but really worth the journey.

The temple can be seen from a distance. It is gleaming white in the shape of a lotus flower, hence the name. It stands at the edge of a busy financial district and had the usual Dehli chaos going on at it’s doorstep. As soon as you step through the gates to the temple grounds, though, all the chaos drops away. And I mean instantaneously. A sense of peace takes over immediately.

Once we have removed our shoes, there is a short walk through the lawns and trees up to the temple. Once again, it is a very colourful scene, with the queue of brightly clad people, winding through the grounds up to the temple entrance. Surprisingly, the queue is very patient and quiet – maybe this is something that the Indian people picked up from the British during the days of the Raj! But more likely it is the serenity and atmosphere around the temple taking effect on us all.

Inside, the temple is very simply furnished. There is a white marble floor and wide marble benches arranged in rows under the towering summit of the lotus flower. There is peace and silence, except for the quiet slap of bare feet on marble, the rustle of clothing and tiny chink-chink noises of the ladies’ bangles and decorated saris. Most people file in, sit down for a few minutes and then head outside into the gardens again. A few stay longer to pray or meditate .

Leaving behind this quiet scene, it is time to head back into central Dehli. We decide to stretch our legs again in the market place of Paherganj. Having said that, it is difficult to stretch anything with the crush of people around us. It is also difficult to know where to look – on the floor to see what you are about to step in, in front to see who or what is about to walk into you, or behind to see who is about to run you down!

That evening, the noise is even more raucous than before. A deafening mixture of speaker announcements from the railway station, loud music being played from roadside stalls and cries of the stall holders trying to attract some trade. Add all this in to the cacophony of horns, beeps and bells from the traffic and you have some idea of the decibel level.

The mixture of smells is almost undescribable. Virtually every market stall, whatever it is selling, is burning its own type of insense, there are cooking smells from pans of hot oil or ovens making their own kind of Indian fast food. On the not-so-good side, there is the stench from piles of rotting rubbish, animal dung and blocked drains. It is not particularly savoury, but all part of the what makes up the Dehli atmosphere!

We are off on the next step of our trip in the morning. An early start to Rishikesh ….. so we decide to get some sleep - decibel level permitting!

1 comment:

Jody said...

I am jealous! Just reading these words transports me to that magical place that is India. I love your writing Corin, it really conveys the experience very well.

happy travels!
Jody : )