Published: April 27th 2012April 27th 2012
I am sitting in a train to Agra, chai vendor has already walked by three times, people are eating a late breakfast and the train is heading towards the South. So Delhi is done for us, at least for this time.
Delhi started for Vanya about 7 hours earlier compared to myself, when I still was in a hotel in Bangkok and he was already in Delhi airport. So he is now an expert in all colours and shades of the Indian military and security forces, where to buy food at the airport and where to take a nap.
Driving from the airport to the hotel in an overpaid but still cheap taxi was fun, surely noone sticks to the lanes on the road and cars go in 7 rows instead of 5, honking whenever they are about to do anything, i.e. move to the left, or move to the right, or overtake, or just say hello, I suspect. The driver had a lengthy conversation with the hotel reception, and I was pestering him about taking us to the right hotel after all, which was finally successful, although the first hour or so in the room I was sure we were taken to the wrong one and much worse one than the one we booked. Oh well, by the end of the second day things didn’t stand out that much any more, the falling out of the wall sockets seem to be natural, and the dirty toilet kinda ok too. The staff member who took us to the room promptly handed us the menu, and we couldn’t resist having something, the most obvious option being the tea. Two for 25, I gave him 100 rupees
- Just tea, madam?
- Yes, two teas please. – he stands by the door, looking unsure.
- Nothing else?
- No thank you. – then is occurs to me. – The money is for the tea, and the rest is for you.
- Ahh thank you! – he lights up and retreats immediately. Comes back with a flask and two cups in 5 mins. 10 mins later comes again, with a bill.
- 55 rupees madam.
- But I just gave you 100?
- So that was for the tea, and the rest is for you.
- Ahhh misunderstanding! I thought it was for me! – leaves, still happy.
What a childish cheekiness from a guy in his 50-ties.
After the tea and a jetlag nap we venture out aiming to explore the praised Delhi metro, but out receptionist has a different idea.
- We have a free taxi that can take you to the centre, and from there you can walk – says a young-ish guy wearing high black boots, tight black trousers and dark glasses. Very stylish, unseen anywhere else so far.
We thank profusely and escape outside. The weather is pleasantly warm, the sun is hidden by the smog clouds it seems. The metro is really pretty straightforward, if during the 5 mins walk there you are not run over by a car, motorbike or a riksha, not dragged by a riksha to use his services and haven’t stepped on a stray dog, the latter being a minor nuisance compared to everything else. No sidewalks obviously. The metro operates with tokens, before getting to the platform you need to go through a body scanner and pass your bags through another one. Two queues, separate for men and women. Every train has the first two carriages for women only, and there are very few women in the other carriages. On our first trip it was really striking how few women were in the metro altogether, and I could well have been the only woman in our carriage. The next day the situation seemed a bit better, more women and even some wearing European clothes! Although maybe that was just their office uniform. To my understanding, no poor people are using the metro, and still these women-only carriages are necessary, which is a shame. Incidentally, posters at bus stops kindly remind the citizens to respect women because they are equal members of the society. Every time we are spoken to by anyone, they address Vanya first, and even if I reply, they continue talking to him. It was only a female staff in crazy-expensive Costa coffee who said – Hello Sir… - looked at me-… and ma’am.
So first thing first, we head to the Red Fort. By the time we reach it, the clouds thunderstorm is about to begin and I have been nearly run over by a bus when crossing the street just in front of Lal Quila. Either you are fast, or not going anywhere, or dead.Thailandwas good training, but nowhere nearDelhi, although I must say where they are traffic light, the traffic stops at the red light, it’s just that there are very few traffic lights. At the entrance to the Fort there are two queues for body scanners again, then a row of shops, and then the rain start pouring and people start running for some shelter. We can’t be bothered to run, and walk slowly enjoying the road all to ourselves, Vanya wondering if tomorrow we will be celebrities in the local newspaper as people who don’t fear the rain. Little he knows that his celebrity time will start on the same evening and continue well into tomorrow, random people coming up and asking to take a pic with him. I am suspicious of this and tell Vanya he shouldn’t really pose with random people, but who can resist a bit of fame. Apart from that, noone (apart from one little girl with her mother) asks to take pics with me, so I’m probably just jealous. The funniest thing in the white people celebrity thing was just this morning, when a 2-3 old kid came up to our table and stood there with his mouth wide open staring at Vanya. Vanya looks very white I must admit, just fresh from theKievwinter – I think if we run out of money he can easily earn us some posing for pics. Just need to spray him with sunscreen and keep him white.
The Red Fort is huge, the thunder is bright and the rain is strong. After failed attempts to take pics of anything and bored of hiding under a roof, albeit beautiful, we keep exploring nice old pavilions, dirty and abandoned now, but luckily free of people because of the rain. Many areas are fenced off by ropes, but no-one seems to take any account of that, climbing under the ropes and heading to wherever they please. The security guy too. The Red Fort is very nice, red on the outside and white on the inside, grass growing everywhere and crowns flying overhead. Boom! – another thunder, just to add to the picture. Epic.
The next morning is still cool and smoggy, and the metro takes us to the Rajiv Chawk, three circles of streets covered by banks, shops and cafes. All shut till11am, someone immediately informs us. And by the way,
- don’t you want have your ears cleaned? Very cheaply, Sir. – here I start laughing out loud, and the guy is put off a bit.
- I can do that myself.
- Yourself is not good!
- No, myself is good.
We walked into a seemingly open State Bank of India to exchange some pounds. The security guy nods happy in response to the question whether there is a currency exchange here, says window 2. At window 2 a clerk is apologising, saying this bank is not licensed to exchange currency, but the Bank of Punjab next block may help us. When people nod is response to your question, it doesn’t mean yes. It means they didn’t get what you wanted. At the bank of Punjab it takes 3 people to do the operation, their eyes widely open at the amount of 150 pounds I produced from my bag. Although maybe it’s not the amount, but the fact that a woman was exchanging and signing, and not the man. The cash machines of any kind were absent, the banknotes of rupees stored simply in a desk drawer, and coins in a plastic pot with a screw top. Oh, and we were not offered the tea served to other customers and staff. Probably 150 pounds in cash were not enough after all.
The President palace and the gates of India were the next on our list, and honestly this area of Delhi looks really nice. It’s green and clean, and you are not bothered every minute about buying something or jumping away from a bike, thou a girl was trying to put some henna on Vanya when he said the already well practised “No!” in a very cheerful voice.
An hour or more of walking and we are approaching the Himayun's tomb, passing on our way a mini-slum, a dump and a public school conveniently placed between these two. Goats roam around the dump, and we wonder aloud as to the background of the kids who attend this school. The tomb is another large run-down complex of pavilions plus a toilet (yes!!!), and some restoration works are running there. From the tomb – to some eating place found in the guidebook. The place actually exists, offers food, vegetarian only again, and a huge choice of European cream cakes and Indian sweets. Four yellow silvery diamonds, four more of another type, and two orange balls. That’s all? – the guy is not impressed at all. They were nice thou, but no idea what they were made of.
On the way back a bit of a stroll through a more affluent residential area. The system is as follows: an area of town is divided into Sectors, sectors consist of blocks, and blocks – of houses. So for instance an address would be something like Sector 6, block A, house 5. Sectors are literally fenced off, security guys guarding the entrance but not stopping pedestrians – not us at least. Behind the fence you feel a bit on a different planet, its nice and quiet and even reasonably clean, autorikshas don’t bother us at all, just deliver passengers or wait around. It’s good to be rich, remarks Vanya.
Next morning we catch one of the first metro trains to a station 40 mins walk away from the train station we need. As we walk, we see the famous morning wash in a ditch by some people, someone sleeping under a blue piece of plastic, held down by a brick, and a naked guy solemnly walking along with another guy who wears underwear only, Indian style. We also meet schoolkids and their cheerful “Hello!” to us, and we hello back, which makes them very happy (or they make fun of us, I dunno, but they start smiling). No asking for money, just hello and a smile. Nice! An hour earlier at the train station to get some food and figure out where the train should be, and in the end we find ourselves running up and down the platform 5 mins before the train leaves, completely lost in the carriage numbering system. Asking people you can, but everyone points you in a different directions albeit very confidently. “I don’t know” is unheard of. I gather the general rule of answering a question is to answer vaguely a different question, or even better, to ask a question in return. The rule seems to be universal so far. But finally we found our A1 carriage in the middle of the train, jumped on and found the seats. The train is a lot like the ones inUkraine, plus there are little curtains to hide yourself behind. Quite nice.
Same feeling as inThailand creeps up onto me in Delhi– that it’s similar to Ukraine, that I’ve seen this before and I know the general rule of how it operates: run and push, or you’re run over. I suppose I got too relaxed during my 7 years in England, not only in the sense of making my way along a crowded street, but also, more generally in life. I believe now what people tell me, believe in fairness and common sense, don’t ignore the rules, read the manuals and don’t haggle. How wrong for a third world country, even the one that aspires for much more.
We share our bit of the carriage with a family from Chennai who visited Delhi and surroundings as tourists. They are very nice, their three kids are reasonably quiet, and we exchange some remarks every now and then despite me sounding, to put it mildly, interesting. I have got a really sore throat, can’t swallow and lost my voice too, but they people are being polite, and the train heads to Agra.