New Delhi – The capital city of India, the gateway to the North and home to some 16 million people. Delhi is a faceless megalopolis roasted much of the year in arid desert temperatures and then drenched every summer with the Northern Monsoon coming down from the Himalayas.
The minimum wage in Delhi is one of the highest in India with non skilled workers bringing in around £2.50 per day basic, and skilled workers living it up on a minimum of £3.20 per day. This basic wage draws people from all over the sub continent and in doing so Delhi offers up one of the most diverse cities, cuisines and cities in the whole of India. On the face of it it is a near organised city offering up modern facilities and amenities and in many ways is the perfect entry/exit point into mainland India.
However, let’s not forget Delhi is still in India, and so of course nothing is that simple. We first stepped foot in Delhi back in 2010, straight off a Kingfisher flight from London we red eyed it and arrived tired and unprepared for the onslaught of Delhi.
some 3 years later, and having travelled the country extensively I have matured as a traveller, we all have. And the single biggest thing you learn from India is tolerance. For me tolerance extends beyond patience, tolerance is when you have had enough, when everything within you is telling you a blood vessel is about to burst – When you resemble stressed Eric on a bad day, but you persist. It is that persistence, combined with understanding that allows you to tolerate. And when you tolerate, you appreciate. And by appreciating Delhi for what it is, what it offers, the diversity and everything thrown in, you can smile. You might be amongst the most dishonest people in the whole of India, the heat might be unbearable, auto drivers might be absolute conning bastards and you might well be sick to the back teeth of the stench of piss. But, in the right frame of mind, the frame of mind garnered through tolerance, you might just be in one of India’s greatest and most modern cities.
Himachel Pradesh it is not, but even Charlie commented how things seem so much more green this time around and I agree. The result of the Commonwealth games in 2010 (after we had been) trees were planted, roads were cleaned, traffic lights enforced and the city was chilled out. The fact is natural beauty relaxes people, it’s the reason the fruit and veg is always at the entrance to the supermarket, whatever it might be. You walk in, pissed off, see the colours, natural fruit and vegetables and chill out. A happy shopper spends more money and a happy citizen adds to the greater ambience of the city. It is therefore no secret that the desert like landscape of Delhi, where everything seems to be some shade of sand, introducing ‘green’ en masse was going to be a hit. And it is, aesthetically Delhi is a nice city, not beautiful. Not anywhere near, but nice.
Architecturally beautiful buildings are cropping up like their going out of fashion. New Delhi, in 2012 is at the forefront of modern India, it’s the first place most people see and as part of the economic behemoth rivalled only by China, Delhi is spearheading the global world economic domination hoping one day Delhi will be on the pedestal of economic giants, of global cities that draw major investments, of chic, trendy, happening international cities attracting prestige. Delhi has been reborn, reinvented and it is the place to be, the authorities have tried damned hard to make it work. The question I asked myself and the kids en route from Chandigarh in first class on the Shatabdi Express was “Can we learn to love Delhi” My worst city on the face of the earth, somewhere we all despised. Could we ever even like it?
Mahatma Gandhi is commonly referred to as the ‘father of the nation’ the driving force behind not just the independence of India, but of the peace that exists today between the various faiths. Though there are still pockets of violence, for example in Assam and occasionally in Kashmir, it used to be much worse.
Gandhi was a man of peace, he had a staunch attitude toward peaceful resolutions without the need for violence and right up until he was assassinated he promoted peace and a free India whereby every person was classed not by their faith, sex or their caste, but by the fact they were Indian. In essence he was the architect of the India we see today. He travelled the country and indeed world promoting peace and independent India, and when ultimately it was about to happen he was called to Delhi. He lived in the city, in a modest building set in beautiful grounds. Each evening he would lead a prayer to followers in the garden. On the 30th January 1948 Gandhi left his building and walked toward where the prayers would commence, however he was assassinated by a gunman.
One of the most important figures in the history of India and the world during the 20th century, the home of Mahatma Gandhi is now a museum and the grounds preserved detailing his final walk and the events that followed and that made the man he was. Entrance is free and it is by far the most well looked after museum we have ever visited in India. Beautifully kept, sombre and fantastically informative, we enjoyed getting a glimpse into the history of this amazing country and the man who was India to the core.
We spent a lot of time in Delhi walking around and enjoying the freedom of the city, visiting the momentous and hugely symbolic India Gate which serves as a memorial for all Indians who lost their lives in the Great War. We looked at Jantar Mantar and got lost in the pandemonium of Connaught Palace and though the city is in parts lovely, and at times awe inspiring it still is home to the most dishonest people we have ever come across in the whole country. Being quoted fares that were some 50 times what they should be was common and I dont think once, not a single time did we ever pay the normal price. Everywhere in India overcharging is common, but not all of the time, on everything, by so much. Despite the products having the price printed on them we were without exception always tried to be charged more. Every single time a person spoke to us it would lead onto a scam. The 20% tax charged by many restaurants on top of the 10% service charge got boring before it had even happened. The lies, cheating, dishonesty and insults of the blatant cons were ridiculous. We were told the metro had closed (despite knowing full well it hadn’t) had the old “I meant 50 rupees per person” tried on and yet again felt like every single person we came into contact with in Delhi was dishonest and rotten to the core. But then when even the government is scamming tourists it is no surprise that every one else is in on it. Jantar Mantar for example costs 5 rupees for Indians, yet 100 rupees for foreigners and I know this happens all over India. But when all Jantar Mantar is is just a bunch of brick walls in funky shapes I mean come on. Is there no let up?
The bus system in Delhi is the most confusing in the world and their is no information anywhere, the metro is amazing, but severely over capacity, so much so it is dangerous. Every spare corner of the city stinks of piss and I saw a man cooking up heroin whilst people just walked by.
in 2010 I said I despised Delhi and would never return, we did return and though we do’t despise the place anymore I have to still question whether it is actually worth visiting when you compare it to the hassle. Im not convinced it is, my advice regarding Delhi remains unchanged and that is if you must fly into or out of Delhi dedicate just one day to the city. There is so much more to see in India, and frankly Delhi just does not compare. And it’s a real shame, the effort that has gone into the city is very apparent, it really does live up to the ‘New’ in New Delhi, but people make a city. And the people, for us ruin Delhi. That said, it’s still a very significant and forward looking city.
In the last three years we have travelled to just about every single Indian state. Have trekked to remote mountainous villages, battled altitude and sat in awe at the most amazing natural beauty we have ever seen. We’ve been to the back waters of the South and looked out from the southern most tip where nothing stood between us and the Antarctic. We’ve been to villages deep within India, places so forgotten we made the news. We’ve been to the technological capital of Hyderabad, witnessed the Tsunami’s destruction in Chennai. Visited 19 of the 20 Lonely Planet most must see sights in the sub continent. Relaxed in Mumbai, sizzled all across the North, seen open cremations in Varanasi, been amazed by temples and buildings so beautiful they leave you with goose pimples. From paragliding off 4000m mountains, rowing boats, motorbikes, scooters and cricket. We’ve seen temperatures of fifty degrees, felt the chill of snow on some of the worlds highest mountains. Rode Elephants through the jungle in search of Tigers, rode camels into the desert in search of peace. Scaled breathtaking, horizon stealing forts, travelled for at least a hundred hours or more with locals across the whole of the country. Experienced Tibetan culture, Hindu, Sikkhism, Muslim and Christianity. We’ve seen people beg for life, poverty at it’s most extreme and people who have been days from the end through hunger. The sadness has been tormenting at times, yet the Indian people are the friendliest, least hostile and warmest people I have ever come across anywhere on earth. The passion, belief, enthusiasm and pride is unrivalled. We have laughed so much, often at people, often with people. Never with malice, always with a glimmer of “only in India” and that for me sums it up. India is like no where else, it’s unmatched anywhere for diversity, scale, culture and cuisine.
People ask me “Whats your favourite country” and I always tend to give some generic answer of how its the US for adventure, Vietnam for peace etc etc. After 42 countries I now know the answer and it’s no different to Charlie and Abi – India.
I remember weeks back speaking to an American and she told me “there’s just something about India” and it’s a common thing. The attraction to India is addictive, what other country made a 3 minute advert to support their Olympic athletes and then celebrated them as hero’s despite their 55th position in the world medal league. India didn’t look at the fact they came 55th with pessimism and misery, London 2012 was the most successful Olympics ever for the country and they celebrated it with passion, belief and hope. And that is what India represents – Hope, change, belief and defiance in the face of adversity.
India is unique and though last year when leaving we felt the time was right, we now face leaving a country we have really fallen in love with, we leave behind friends we have made, laughs we have shared and a place that feels like home.
“I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability, or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. We shall be at peace with all the rest of the world. This is the India of my dreams” M.K Ghandi.
Love India x