|Location: Pushkar, Rajasthan|
|Local time: Wednesday, 6:30pm|
Days 1-2: Delhi
The Three Ps - Pollution, Poverty and PEOPLE
Delhi is the the second-largest metropolis in India, and with 18 million souls, the most populous city I've ever visited. My first impressions of this city is that it's similar to Cairo - frenetic, heaving, jammed. But without the donkeys. And no matter how many lanes of traffic the road is designed for, you can always fit through two more lanes. Just use the horn.
If you don't have a horn, you can't drive in Delhi. It's as important as the gas pedal, and FAR more important than the brake pedal. Road markings are suggestions only, and lights at night appear to be optional. And I'd estimate that only 3 out of every 5 cars would pass some sort of road-worthiness certificate. But this is India. Take everything with a pinch of salt, coz once you've gotten used to one amazing thing, something else is waiting just around the corner to blow you away.
The smog is something else. Soon after touching down (after a long, sleepless flight from London), the blue haze/fog started affecting me, inducing sneezes, coughing, and a gunked nose. I won't be able to take much of this city air. How millions of people live on the streets in the thick of it is beyond me.
A walk around and through the congested, teeming streets of Old Delhi proved to be a fairly lethal combination of smog and traffic. Breathing blue smoke all afternoon while being constantly harrassed by screaming car and bike horns left me stressed-out, exhausted, and half deaf, and it was a relief to step back onto one of Delhi's relatively modern metro underground trains (metal detectors and body searches are new to me when travelling on the underground!).
It's incredible just how much life there is out there. There's nearly one billion in India. I feel like I saw most of them during my first two days in Delhi. Many times I simply stood on the side of the street and watched life take place around me. And I had to laugh, and I had to smile. It's utterly bloody amazing.
One of my last impressions of Old Delhi was the sheer number of homeless people sleeping in the street, parks, on carts, wherever. One man lying on the sidewalk seemed to be enjoying a concrete-hard nap beneath his shabby blanket, but as I passed I was horrified to see a splash of fresh, bright-red blood pooling near his forehead. My first reaction was to go and help, but I noticed that all those surrounding him seemed unaffected by his condition. So perhaps I should be too. With a twinge of guilt, I walked on - but the image of his blood on the concrete will stay with me.
There is so much poverty that I find it impossible to lift my camera to take the photo that captures their misfortune.
At the moment Britain is advising its citizens not to travel to India at all, and says that the threat of terrorism remains at a high level throughout the country. India and Thailand (my next destination) are on their top-20 list of the world's most dangerous countries, up there with Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. It certainly doesn't feel dangerous. Anyway, hopefully the worst is over (200 shot dead in Mumbai) and my travels are unaffected by either terrorist actions or western paranoia.
The TV in my room is showing an Indian rendition of AC/DC's tune Thunderstruck, complete with sitars and tabla drums. On the other channel, an incredibly tacky yet rather endearing Bollywood film works its way through the usual boy-meets-girl-then-everybody-dances plot. Oddly enough, whenever they speak Hindi on TV here, there's always a smattering of English phrases thrown in for good measure. I asked a local the reason for this, and he replied "just to mix it up".
Cheap accommodation isn't as easy to find as I'd expected, but the food sure is. I've just filled myself to bursting, on vegetarian curry, rice and roti, plus dessert and chai (tea), for about US$2. Awesome.
From the few tourists I've talked to, nobody really likes Delhi that much. It's simply too much. Of everything. And so tonight I take an overnight train to Pushkar, the Holy City.
Days 3-4: Pushkar ("born due to a flower")
The bare-bones train (complete with funky sewage smells and bone-chilling winds carrying said smells towards my hard, undersized bunk bed) deposited me in the city of Ajmer, 14km from my destination, Pushkar. Once ensconsed in the full-to-brimming 10 rupee (20c) Pushkar bus, my bowels decided it was time to inform me of their current delicate state. Squirming and sweating and praying and clenching seemed futile, and (reminiscient of my Turkish experience in 2006) at one point when the bus stopped, I had to squeeze my way through the crowd, tell the bus to please wait, and run up a lane to the nearest pile of dirt, purging yesterday's probably-dodgy Delhi street snack. I was in obvious view of passers-by, but dignity be damned. It was bound to happen sooner or later. This is India, and this happens all the time. When in Rome, right?
Pushkar (pop. 15,000), a holy pilgrimage city for devout Hindus and one of India's oldest cities, is situated on the banks of the holy (and rather polluted) lake Pushkar. My hotel has a magical view over the lake, and the rooftop terrace made for a perfect welcome breakfast in the hot sun (which I barely saw in Delhi due to the fog/smog). For those who've visited Egypt, this place kind've has the same feel as the seaside village of Dahab.
"Sugar for a sweet life"
That's what my temple guide told me as he passed over a handful of sugar and flowers, to give as offerings to the blue and green multi-armed gods that make up the plethora of Hindu deities. Pushkar has the world's only temple to Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and it was a rather unique and interesting visit, that was unfortunately a little soured by demands for money. *sigh*
I've noticed quite a few foreigners here (I'm sure there were loads in Delhi too, but it's much easier to simply disappear into the teeming masses there). And I've noticed how the bulk of them feel the urge to dress like hippies, perhaps to 'fit in', perhaps to not be hassled so much. Yet, if they paid attention, they'd see that most of the women here are wearing brightly-coloured saris dotted with sparkling sequins, while the guys are in standard dress shirts and pants. Why the desire for dreadlocks or shaved heads, baggy pants and hemp bags, I wonder? Watching the local response to these foreigners, I've noticed time and time again that they actually get more stares and odd looks than I do, in my standard western get-up. So, I refuse to give in and buy hippy pants.
But I digress....
A guard outside New Delhi's parliament building.
Ice cream vendors gather outside India Gate, a war memorial commemerating dead Indian soldiers from WWI, and housing India's
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ("amar jawan jyoti"). It's also a very popular afternoon-outing destination for local families.
Tattooists at work.
The ink leaves an orange-brown stain that lasts for days.
Snacks for sale at the Gate.
One of the temples at the Mughal Emporer Humayun's tomb complex.
An entrance to the mausoleum's courtyard.
Archways of Humayun's mausoleum.
Flowers offered at Râj Ghât, Mahatma Ghandi's memorial in Delhi.
A taffic scene on the outskirts of Old Delhi.
And a typical traffic scene within the old city.
It can get exhausting dodging and weaving your way through the tightly-packed, crammed city.
The ubiquitous rickshaws. Super cheap, and environmentally friendly (although, not a lung-friendly mode of transport for the passenger).
Fireworks are on sale everywhere. I'd be dubious of the Cock brand, personally.
A row of sparkling Rajdoot sewing machines. They also make motorbikes.
Taking time out from the stress of it all.
The rooftop restaurant of my hotel in Pushkar.
The terrace view.
And with the telephoto lens ;o)
The Indian blessing I got from a religious man chilling at the lake's edge didn't seem to help me blend in at all.
Perhaps it's my pale skin (fresh from a European winter). Or perhaps it's my lack of hippy pants. Impossible to say.
The cow is indeed holy here. They wander freely throughout the streets, and sometimes have to be shooed from restaurant doorways.
Pushkar is completely vegetarian (plus no eggs or alcohol). Perhaps the cows feel safter knowing this.
A cart. Similar to my taxi-cart that took me and my luggage from the bus stop to my hotel. I like to travel in style.
A local bus.
Local art for sale.
A drummer leads a wedding march through Pushkar's dusty streets.
Not just your average shit-covered John Deere like we have back home.
Colourful hand-made items for sale, against a crumbling backdrop.
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