Delhi! The beating heart of India and home to 13,000,000
. All of India's aspirations and ambitions, hopes and hopelessness, poverty, progress and pollution and any other combination of contrasts swamp every millimeter of Delhi's 1483 square km.
There was nothing 'new'
inside or outside New Delhi train station. The deafening cacophony, irrepressible masses and pungent odors were disorienting. Luckily for us, Paharganj, the budget accommodations area of town, was within walking distance. On the way, we chanced upon a barbershop and Vibert, with great trepidation, plunked himself down in the well-worn barber's chair and tried to describe his preferred cut. Raj, the barber, attacked the disorganized mop atop Vibert's head with unexpected skill and dexterity and twenty minutes later, Vibert emerged with a somewhat shorter, less disorganized mop. Thanking Raj ever so kindly, we exited and made our way into Main Bazaar.
Main Bazaar was an unbelievably crowded street jam-packed with shops, shoppers, rickshaws and even bovine traffic. Along this main drag and in the numerous, foreboding tentacles branching off of it, were budget hotels, guesthouses and hostels. We chose one at random and went in. The guy behind the desk said 'we are full' and out we went
Fence of Ceramic Pots
Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden
back on to Main Bazaar. A tout guided us to a hotel he knew had available rooms but, again, we were told that the hotel was booked out. The third hotel was on the first floor. From the ground floor, we called up to a gentlemen inquiring if there were available rooms. He said 'yes'
and beckoned us upstairs but another gentleman at the reception counter took one look at us and said 'we full'. Fuming at having to lug our backpacks up and down the steps, we continued our search but this time with a hint of suspicion. Four more desk clerks told us 'full' or 'no rooms' including this one dude who glanced nervously at a key-rack full with keys. 'Booking', he managed to mutter.
It was becoming painfully clear. It seemed like we were being screened. And it wasn't a good feeling. But just before we lost it, a youngster beckoned to us from inside a decent looking hotel. He had rooms. At Rupees 450, the room was a bit overpriced but we were tired, the room was decent and the youngster was friendly. He gave us the key and the TV remote and told us
Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden
to relax and then come down to complete check in. We collapsed on the bed thankful that the ordeal was over.
A different dude was at the check-in desk. He thumbed thru Vibert's passport.
"You from Ghana?", he asked without lifting his head.
"No. Guyana. South America", we replied.
"Africa?", he quizzed.
"No. South America". Is there a problem?"
"Yes. The boy make mistake. We are full. Bookings." And that's when we 'lost it'
. After a few minutes of desk-thumbing, fist-pumping, we-want-to-see-the-manager, a older gentlemen purporting to be the owner/manager appeared. He started to explain that there was a group booked to check in later and that we couldn't get the room. We proceeded to explain to him, in the loudest of tones, that we were given the room, the key, the remote and towels, that we were on the third floor and that we had no intentions of leaving. He held his position until we 'offered' to involve the tourist police. The gentleman recanted.
"You look like nice people. I will give you room", he said. "But I will tell something you can't tell no one. The hotels in Delhi don't like black people. Africans give lots of
And just like that we had had our worse fears confirmed. We were being discriminated against solely on the basis of our color.
Our interest in Delhi faded fast. Determined to spend only the time necessary, we set about, with business-like precision, to do what had to be done. Top of the list was a visit to the Guyana High Commission in the swanky Vasant Vihar area of New Delhi. Vibert needed a new passport. We left the old passport with the kind folks at the High Commission, watched New Delhi flash from inside a speeding rickshaw and retired early. The next morning we caught the first northbound train and rode it three hours to Chandigarh. Chandigarh
is capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana and is home to less than a million people, mostly Sikhs. Swiss-born, modernist architect Le Corbusier was commissioned by Nehru to create a modern, forward-looking city. Le Corbusier laid out symmetrical city blocks with low-rise buildings, tree-lined avenues, bicycle and pedestrian paths and a huge artificial lake. Sukha Lake, when we visited, was buzzing with activity. The shore was a carnival of families picnicking and playing while others pedaled boats on
Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden
the sizeable body of water.
India's 'cleanest city', Chandigarh was spacious and breezy and everything Delhi was not. We chose human-powered rickshaws to do our part in reducing emissions. One rickshaw 'rider' deposited us at our destination where funny patchwork birds were fastened to a funny patchwork fence. The entrance gate was tiny forcing us to stoop to enter (well, one of us anyway) and when we emerged, we were inside Nek Chand's Fantasy Rock Garden. Nek Chand, now in his 80s, started back in 1958 to craft and sculpt thousands of forms using waste materials from the community. He made birds and animals, waterfalls and villages, water women and dancing, monkeys and mansions and a labyrinth of passages and staircases. Surprisingly, it took 15 years for the authorities to discover the fantasy garden, which was well hidden in the jungles of that time. Recognizing the genius and creativity of the work and how it useful it was in the recycling of waste, the government decided to give Mr. Chand 50 labourers and a salary so that he could expand the project. Today, the gardens are 20-hectares of the most mind-blowing array of detailed forms made exclusively from thrash.
Back in Delhi, the stresses of being in such a polluted, congested city was beginning to tell on us especially after two days in Chandigarh. With only 4 days left in India, our immune systems were now working overtime. We collected Vibert's passport and hopped on a domestic Air India flight and flew from north to Deep South, Cochin. There is much we could tell about the very eventful flight and the stopover it made in Mumbai. We could tell how a certain group of passengers refused to exit the aircraft in Mumbai at 6:30 pm because the connecting flight to Cochin was delayed. And how those passengers stayed on board the aircraft until the replacement flight arrived at 9:50 pm.
We could narrate the story in astonishing detail and that could well be because we were part of the group on that airline or maybe we're just good at repeating stories we've heard on the road. 😊
😊 The Guyana High Commission
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