Sarah Yates shares her introduction to India’s captivating capital. We arrived in Delhi, the capital of India, at 3.30am following a long haul from Perth via Singapore. Our driver picked us up and we began our journey into this amazing labyrinth of a city. The main road to town was lined with warm bodies huddled under wraps to keep out the dust and cold. These hundreds of homeless people were like macabre sentries guarding the entrance to their city, reminding us that we were, once again, trespassing into the lives and worlds of others.
The pollution hung thickly here; you could see about three metres before the smog wreaked havoc with your vision. There was 24-hour construction and in the small hours of morning we could see hazy orbs of light illuminating workers and their machinery. Even at 4am, there were cars and humans all over the roads. As we drove into town a large shape was visible ahead in the gloom. We came closer, and suddenly the shape materialised into an elephant, a huge, wonderfully wrinkled grey beast out for a stroll along the road with his master. We drove by, our noses pressed to the window in jet-lagged wonder at this most fantastic introduction to Delhi.
In the daytime dust and dirt were everywhere, crowding the sides of the roads and choking life out of the trees that struggle for survival on the sidewalks. Beautiful, filthy children sat in dirt on the roads, looking up at passing traffic with tears and dirt staining their faces. The mother (and human) in me wanted to pick them up, give them a bath and take them home. The poverty here was on a scale we were unfamiliar with. I hope we never lose our sense of human outrage at the conditions people endure in countries not as fortunate as ours.
Little toddler girls ran around temples in the most gorgeous saris and clothes, with thick lined khol under their eyes. The colours were vibrant and intense and sometimes it was hard to know whether to watch the people or look at the ancient ruins of the Afghan rulers that dominated here for so long.
We roamed the spice and cloth markets, attempting to stay afloat in the sea of people. There were humans everywhere, thrown together with sacks of chilli, turmeric, cumin and every sort of nut imaginable. Cloth in colours our country does not even recognise was stacked high and dusty on the sides of the street. Life was everywhere; there was no corner to turn to get a breath, no space to crawl into to collect your thoughts. I wanted to buy some cloth, however my senses could not catch up to the pace of the world, and we ended up retreating to gather our minds and still our hearts. We chose a restaurant that had men outside making our naan with their hands, crouched up on tables like frogs. With this meal, as with every other experience we have had here, there was cultural overload; all of your senses work overtime just to keep up, not to process…there is no time for that.
My musings in this city kept returning me to the human element of India. The 22 million people, the stench of humans, the urine on the street, the homeless people making deposits where they stand, the perfect manicured moustaches worn by almost all men. The colour, the noise, the crumbling history. India’s colonial past mingles on corners with the boys discussing cricket, its social nuances evident in the winding of Hindu turbans and the raw poverty of the shoe shiners and beggars.
I have heard it said that a person will either love or hate India – that there is no middle ground. I adore it, for all its madness Delhi was everything we expected and everything we hoped for, so much less and so much more. Travel here, but do so leaving your inhibitions behind. If you can do this, the city, with its 4am elephants, will change your life.