India has always topped my bucket list, so when I finally landed after a 9-hour flight, I could hardly believe it. I also knew that everything was going to be different to what I’m used to, but there aren’t enough blogs and articles that could have prepared me for what was to come.
The advice you usually get is to be patient because India is chaotic. You hear to mind your cash and belongings because pickpocketers target white tourists. I also got warned (very last minute!) that some locals would want to be photographed with you.
So I armed myself with a good dose of patience, good humour, and precaution, thinking that would do me. And then I got to Delhi.
The first thing you’ll notice if you, like me, are a newbie to India. Everything smells and everything is dirty, including yourself. You’ll get out of the car or taxi and immediately start to sweat profusely until you’re completely dehydrated. You’ll chug litres of water as if there was no tomorrow and eat as if there was no tomorrow. You’ll also learn to trust the locals. Most of them will gladly offer you some help when you need it and make sure you are safe.
The second thing you’ll notice is what really got to me. The noise and the smell. India, and especially Delhi, is a hot country. Its plumbing system is old and grey waters can run through the streets. There are also holes everywhere that pose a hazard to anyone venturing outside the hotel. The streets are crowded with cars and scooters, and honking and spitting in public are common practice.
The second day in Delhi, right before we took our first overnight train, everything was getting overwhelmingly intense. The constant noise from scooters, cars and tuk-tuks mixed with the heat and the strong smells put my senses into overdrive and I was ready to freak out. I was exhausted from jumping from a vehicle into the street, only to be run over (almost!) by another one. I couldn’t handle another whiff of cow faeces. However, I remembered that I HAD packed good humour and precaution.
I disinfected my hands, and relaxed.
We were staying in Karol Bagh, just outside the centre of Delhi. It’s a lively area with a fantastic bazaar and the greatest Indian street food I’ve ever had. After a light breakfast of upama and chai, we took the metro to the biggest market in South Asia, Chandni Chowk. I couldn’t stop marvelling at the ricketty electric poles crowded with a million wires and at the different stations along the pavement to shave, clean your shoes, and have some chai.
We also visited the Jama Masjid mosque, where I got asked to pose with a family for the first time. After taking some pictures with the children and the parents, they were happy to pose for me in return.
Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in India and can host up to 10,000 worshippers. Like any other temple, it feels calm and peaceful inside. You instantly forgive the 300 rupee camera fee when you go in and put on the shawl. Everyone is barefoot and covered to show respect. The fountain in the middle doubles up as a washing area and cooling pool and tourists mix with local worshippers to admire the architecture.
The best part of the day, to me, was visiting the Sikh temple and learning a little about Sikh customs. A welcoming environment, we were able to sit at the back of the prayer room and observe local worshippers pray. We also visited the communal kitchen, where volunteers cook free meals for thousands upon thousands of deprived individuals.
Shortly after we had to rush back to pack our bags and make our way to the train station, but I’ll leave the train experience for another day.
Until next time!