Descending Into Fog

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January 20th 2016
Published: January 30th 2016
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It was about to get very real. I was arriving at a destination that is up there on most travelers' lists, and especially those who are backpacking. India. It had been on my list for far too long now and it was about time that I was going to be experiencing it. I envisioned many ups and downs but I was sure that the reality would be far more interesting than anything I could ever imagine. And therein lies the charm that brings back countless travelers time and again to the subcontinent. My finnair flight made the final descent into what was arguably some of the thickest fog I could imagine. Being that it was January, this was considered the winter in Northern India. The capital of New Delhi was also known to experience extreme amount of smog and of fog. After getting off the plane, I was surprised with how cool it was. When I pictured India, a recurring thought was that of insane temperatures that could melt lead, but it was only eleven degrees celcius. I guess my hoodie would be getting more use. I couldn't complain, considering I usually prefer cooler temperatures to hotter ones. I had suffered to get more sleep on this last flight, but I only managed a few short hours at best. I was so excited however, that I was wide awake. Walking out of the airport with my sole backpack, I began smelling things that I wasn't used to, and hearing the incessant sound of horns. I had a brief scare when my bank card decided it didn't want to work, but then luckily did give me the initial rupees that I needed. I walked out of the airport expecting to be mobbed but, maybe because it was so early, things just seemed relatively quiet. I made my way towards the airport metro line and then I was headed into the city of New Delhi. The land where Delhi now resides is considered ancient and has continuously been populated since 3000 BCE. The capital of India is considered one the commercial and financial hubs in the entire region. The New Delhi metro only came into existence in 1998, but is now one of the largest in the world in terms of size and number of passengers. I got a real taste of this when I transfered to the yellow line. I had never seen a metro so crammed in all my life. I had to wait for three trains to come by before I was able to squeeze myself in. About nine or so stops later, and I had arrived in Haus Kauz where the Madpackers Hostel was located. I walked out of the metro and before I knew it I found myself in a park. The fog was still very thick at this point. I sat and continued to read a book as I was in no rush. About a half hour later I carried on and spent a bit of time trying to find my hostel. I had a dangerous encounter with trying to cross the street. The traffic was so thick there was hardly a way across. I chose the wrong place to cross but fortunately I made it to the other side in one piece, albeit with my heart pounding. Memories of traffic in Vietnam came pouring back. The hostel was really awesome right off the bat and I settled in and picked some of the staff members brains for all sorts of info. I spent the rest of that day taking it relatively easy. Jetlag crept up, and coupled with the already severe lack of sleep. I crashed early and slept for the next 13 hours.

I awoke in time for the incredible breakfast provided by the hostel, and while eating, began chatting with Tanya. She was from NYC and was also going to be traveling India for the next few weeks. We decided to join up and venture towards the temple of Akshardham. This Hindu temple was only completed in 2005, but is now one of the top attractions in Delhi. Intricate carvings and marble make up the main structure and that of its surroundings. Sadly photography was prohibited, and we had to check in all electronic devices. Tanya tried to smuggle in her cellphone, but in one of the most intense frisking sessions I've experienced, there was no way ANYTHING was going to be smuggled in there. She got caught and had to check that in as well. I spent the next few hours with my mind blown, and could have easily spent the entire day walking around. Alas we decided to continue on and got a tuk-tuk or auto rickshaw as they're known here, to see Humayun's tomb, which was fairly close. Dodging in and out of traffic was highly entertaining. Most people would agree that the traffic is chaotic at the best of times but somehow things just work. At least from what I've seen so far. The tomb showcased some beautiful Mughal architecture with its round domes and acclaimed red sandstone work. The grounds were nice as well, and it felt pretty quiet overall. We sat there and ate some food while staring up at the incredible structure. We spent about two hours walking and taking photos, and then walked out and headed towards the closest metro station, walking through some striking slums, past beggars, stray animals, and plenty of street food which I have yet to muster up the courage to try. I fear Delhi Belly even though it most likely will become inevitable the longer I am on the road. We continued on the metro and boldly decided to check out another of Delhi's top sites. Our next stop was at Chandri Chowk station and we walked through some crowded bazaars to the famous Red Fort. We managed to make it in just before they were going to close. Although the centuries old site is considered one of the must see places in this sprawling city, I wasn't entirely impressed with it personally. I thought the most impressive area was the outer surrounding walls. Plenty of people decided to try their luck at getting a photo with Tanya, especially because she had such fair skin and light hair. This prompted more and more people to try to get photos with her and she eventually became irate and just wanted to go. India was getting to her. I was laughing and took pictures of them as they took them of her and sometimes of me. Of course with a good tan I would be able to blend in as an Indian so that gives me a good advantage in places like this. But who am I kidding, I still wouldn't be fooling many people. We left the Fort as dusk descended and checked out a few of the claustrophobic alley shops on the way back. We made it all the way back to the hostel at around close to 1900 hours. I was exhausted and din't think I would be packing in that much on my first real day in Delhi. That night I met some people from New Zealand and had some drinks with them on the roof whilst listening to the constant honking below. We ended up ordering some pizza to the hostel, it was the spiciest pizza I ever had.

I had to wake up early and rush through breakfast because I had signed up to do a walking tour that supported Salaam Baalak Trust, a foundation that exists to help homeless children on the streets of Delhi. I took the metro up to Connaught Place and then a short rickshaw towards the railway reservation center where I waited to meet one of the walking guides. Within minutes I met Januid. He was a former street child in Delhi and talked to me extensively about some of his experiences. It turned out that I would be the only one taking the walk on this day. We walked through Paharganj, a part of old Delhi where many narrow lanes, markets and budget accomodations are located. I had many photo opportunities, and Januid spoke to us about the reasons why many children could become street kids. He then took me to one of the shelters and I got to interact with some of the kids they were trying to help. Many of them were quite young and most spoke decent English. I spent almost a half hour with them and they showed me little games they knew how to play and asked me about my home. I in turn asked some of them about their homes, which stirred up some emotions for some. We then continued on to the main office and they talked to me about their foundation. I gave a donation for the walk and also picked up a neat T-shirt with artwork from some of the kids on it. Once the walk ended, I continued to the New Delhi train station and after a few misteps, was able to find the Tourist Bureau for foreigners. Even though I hadn't been in Delhi for a very long time I was trying to book my train ticket earlier than not because trains tend to sell out rather quickly. I had attempted to do this over the internet and set up an account but the bureaucracy and the technical issues made me say screw it. I had some food within the station for lunch and then walked out and headed to Connaught Place. I walked the circles until I reached the innermost one which contained a park (not accessible for some reason) and the BIGGEST flag of India that probably exists. Seriously the size of this thing just didn't make sense.

Once I returned to the hostel by late afternoon, I did some exercise on the roof and met a few more travelers. It seemed like most came into Delhi and usually only spent maximum of a night or two, so there was a constant stream of new travellers. I met Chrissie on the roof and she had just arrived from London. Later on in the chill room, I ended up meeting Nev from Ireland. We decided that we'd go get some food and check out a place that was relatively nearby called Haus Khaz village. We split on a rickshaw and braved the insane traffic, this time by night. We arrived and found what seemed to be a very upscale place filled with restaurants and bars, at least compared to what I had been used to. We ate some vegetarian dishes at a street stall. I had decided that while in India I will be a vegetarian, mainly for sanitary reasons and so that I could avoid severe traveller's diarrhea. Of course that doesn't protect me from anything but I figure that avoiding meat will give me some sort of advantage. Time will tell. We then went into bar to have a beer, although it turned out the beer here was failry expensive compared to everything else I had been spending money on so far in India. We took a rickshaw back to the hostel and I relaxed for the remainder of the night.

I left by noon the next day and headed south via metro to a site called Qutub Minar. This 120m tall structure is a Unesco world heritage site and showcases Indo-Islamic architecture and build in red sandstone with intricate verses of the Quran. A mosque rests adjacent to the structure. On the way to this place, I stumbled upon a park with ancient ruins. On the fields were numerous school children playing cricket, one of the major sports here in India. A few hours passed and then I walked back towards the metro station, passing many street side stalls and vendors. I carried on past the station and walked into an area called Chhatarpur. I had heard that there was a large temple complex here and I figured I may as well attempt to see it if I was so close by. My walk turned became much longer than anticipated, as I got lost and ended up walking through narrow streets. My fascination at observing life in this environment was growing by leaps and bounds. After asking for some directions, several times, I finally was able to find my way to the marble temple. I didn't spend too much time there though. On my way back I encountered what appeared to be a silent Saddhu. I took his picture. I returned back to the hostel by the late afternoon. I sat in the common room and interacted with an Australian guy named Mike who had been all over the country. I noodled on the guitar. I read and wrote some of this journal. A soccer (football) game was playing in the background. A lithuanian woman joined me in some conversation. The pace of this trip so far was exactly what I was seeking.

The next day, I woke up relatively late, but still made it in time for the amazing breakfast and ate about two full servings. I was sitting with a man from Lahore who was a social scientist and had an in-depth conversation about the sub-continent for about an hour. To say it was interesting was an under statement. My goal on this day was to do some exercising. To terrible Delhi air would add to this challenge. I found a small park within minutes of the hostel and it even had a stone track about 500m in length. This would do nicely. I ran for about an hour and then sneezed up some nasty black stuff. Following this I met up with Mike and we headed out to Paharganj in Old Delhi to chill and get some food. We took the metro up to New Delhi station, then for a while became hopelessly lost while trying to get our bearings. We ended up going through Connaught Place and then I was able to figure out where we were. We passed by the fake tourism office and Mike began yelling out "Fake" to the chagrin of those working to try and get stupid tourists in. The streets of Paharganj held many incredible sights. Life in Delhi was so varied and interesting to view. We were approached by endless people trying to sell something. I gave granola bars to a few kids. We found some food and then were approached by another man claiming he sold cheap flight to Kashmir and insisted we'd have free accommodation there. We both knew it was bullshit but went along anyway for kicks. As darkness descended, we tried to get to Delhi gate by foot. After about forty minutes of walking, we were told that the site was closed because of Indian Republican day which was the following day. We talked to the soldiers standing on duty and they happily asked us all sorts of questions about who and where we were from. We tried to get a rickshaw back to a close metro. We asked several rickshaw drivers if they could bring us to the station called race course, but they all refused for some reason. I wasn't able to figure out why. We ended up taking a rickshaw to another station and then headed back to the hostel. Soon after returning, I went with Chrissie to the nearby supermarket and stocked up on some supplies. I noodled on the guitar for the rest of the night.

My final day in Delhi had arrived, and incredibly, this place was kind of starting to feel like a home away from home, chaos and all. I put my stuff together and went with Mike out nearby to get a bite. Upon returning, I bid the hostel staff goodbye and headed out with my backpack towards Hauz Khas station. The yellow line was as packed as always and I went up to Chandri Chowk station where the Old Delhi train station was located. I was heading west and it was about to be my first ride in India. A ride that was going to last about 18 hours.

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31st January 2016
Humayun's tomb

very interesting read, and i experienced india with all my senses, definetley a place i would like to visit and experience in person....continue to enjoy..xxxxoooo

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