Saturday, 27 March 2010

Journey through India: Walking through Delhi

My trip through India was officially inaugurated with a couple of days spent in Delhi, at the house of a friend of mine called Ashwini. The first five entries were written at that time, including the two which I am omitting from this blog.



3.
Delhi.

A bit more considered, now. I left from Kanhaiya Nagar and took a stop at Chandni Chow. Very impressive. A crowded, old part of Delhi, all markets and hustle. I took a glance at the Red Fort, chose against visiting it inside for questions of time, repelled the onslaught of paraphernalia merchants, and got back on the metro for Connaught Place. Decidedly less impressive – an open circle of grass surrounded by rings of traffic. The place was empty and dispersive, and for some reason Indians find it superfluous to put up signs with the names of roads, so the map was as good as useless. A bird shat on my shoe (perhaps some other animal – if it was a bird, it must have been a real juggernaut to leave a plop that size), so I had it cleaned and was charged 1500 rupies. I only paid 1000, but it’s still obvious that I let myself be swindled. Never without a blooper, the first day in a foreign country.

From there I walked to India Gate, despite multiple warnings (including Ashwini’s earlier that day) that it would take 40-60 minutes. I did it in 25, and with breaks for photos and road-crossing. I regret not contributing to the local private transport business, but I reckoned I’d done enough for that of shoe hygiene.
India Gate was good. I felt I should have taken someone with me to take pictures. But of course the most altering sights were those which could not be put on camera. Two children, a boy and a girl under the age of ten, came to sell me trinkets. They were dressed in the most gorgeous robes and they were heartbreaking. I purchased nothing from them – it’s not a business I want to encourage – and obviously I didn’t take a photo.

After a brief detour around the stadium, stopping at a park of ruins for my first journal entry, I came to the Muslim monuments of Indra Prastha and Pirana Qila (the Owl Fort), assuming that I’m reading this map correctly, which were set in rather solitary parks. Nice, but run-of-the-mill. When deprived of its people (and the constant fresco of power which they project), the sceneries of India become ever so much more bland. Besides, ‘monuments’ are not exactly the kind of items we are lacking in Europe.

Local metro is efficient but crowded. Have never seen anything like the shove-fest that took place to get on the trains after six. Not in a violent way – the men there seemed to be amusing themselves, and in truth so was I.

Taking the tube in India generally involves more controls than taking a plane. You can just see the metal detectors in there. Just after I took this photo, a soldier came up and told me pictures weren't allowed. (why?)

4.
Delhi.

Woke up late (as per schedule), enjoyed a tasty breakfast, then set off. Ashwini was free today, so I wandered about with him. We picked up Callie with the car, then went to the ruins of Qutub Minar. Lovely, despite my status as ‘veteran of monuments.’ Perhaps it was yesterday’s fort which was kind of unremarkable.

The temperature was sweltering. Once finished with the stone relics, we went to the temple of Iskcon, dedicated to the worship of Krishna. As per yesterday, the best part of the trip was that which eschewed the camera. The inside of the temple, with its worshippers and esoteric art, was very moving (soothing, as all religious places). Its art seemed centered around a sweet, lovely and ambiguous smile which immediately made me think of the Mona Lisa (I don’t know whether this stuff is representative of truly Hindu art or not).

Outside the temple was a small altar surrounded by an open space. On the marble floor were painted flowers – red, then blue, then yellow – which drew a spiral and led from the outside of the altar. A spiritual ritual involved stepping on each of the flowers, reciting a formula with each step, until reaching Krishna in the centre. I walked the path of flowers and stood before his enigmatic smile. Every step felt like a metaphor, charged with meaning and events (being overtaken unlawfully by a little girl, receiving advice from Ashwini, seeing the seemingly mocking smiles of two youths by the terrace). When I reached Krishna, I spontaneously knelt before him. Then I stood and left him to his silence. I did all this with a garland of flowers around my neck. I hadn’t sought after it, but when the local priest started distributing flowers, one of the guards smiled at me (not without some irony) and tossed me a garland. Real flowers, mostly white with a few red and yellow islands, sweetly scented. Perhaps it’s not hard to move the heart of an outsider, but I was touched.

We later went for a meal from a street kitchen. Momos, which are a kind of chicken tortellini, Panipuri and Golgappas, the latter being sort of crunchy balls with a hole filled with spices, dunked in sauce. All lovely, and obviously all spicy. We closed with some pretty bland ice-cream.

Currently got home, finished booking flight to Chennai, working on how to get to Haridwar.

5.
Delhi – Chawni Bazar.

Here’s everything that India is supposed to be. An agglomeration of street commerce, housing, education and transport, each street a scarf of chaos that runs through, across, below and around the buildings. Nothing is taller than three storeys. There’s so much stuff around that the eye struggles to embrace it all. Boxes, tyres, sacks of all varieties, building material, sand, scooters, sleeping dogs, cows and calves, and all kinds of goods to be sold, from food and clothes to jewellery, tools, vehicles and raw materials. Bikes, scooters and pedal-propelled carriages dart across the concrete, beeping their way through the crowds and the carts. Above, cables hang across every building and from thick poles, often limply, often tied together to form a single fat rope of electrical wire. The sky is hazed here in Delhi, even in this temperate season. The air is dense and quickly makes you feel like your mouth is full of chalk.

People frequently gaze at me, especially when I’m writing. As I jot these lines down, the eyes of almost all passers-by turn to me before looking down at my notebook. It appears that I’m the greatest tourist attraction. From hunter to hunted, if you will.

The Red Fort, from the outside

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