The time has come. I am flying 37,000 feet in the sky, less than five hours from Delhi. The fact that I have an open-ended ticket is really beginning to sink in. I am filled with a whirlwind of mixed emotions, yet confidence in my decision continues to resonate deep within. I am nervous to enter a land with such widespread poverty, but I have a feeling that seeing such a large income gap will only fuel my innate desire for equality.
When we were preparing for landing, the flight attendants warned us that they must spray insecticide on the plane to abide with World Health Organization standards. A total of six flight attendants walked down the two aisles, each spraying two cans of insecticide. A fitting start entering a completely new style of living.
I remember arriving at Delhi airport. A large banner on the wall greeted us with a mind-boggling stat from the World Bank — at any given moment, the Indra Gandhi International Airport hosts an estimated 35.1 million people (for reference, the entire population of Canada is 34.48 million). The vast crowds of people bustling about in every which direction were simply a preparation for the style of life in India, or at least in its major cities.
The customs people were real good considering I had heard some nasty horror stories by some friends that have travelled to India. I was expecting a full search and opening of my bags etc. None of this happened. They simply asked if I had anything to declare. I said no. They stamped my passport and that was it. They guys were actually really friendly and intrigued about my travels. They welcomed me with a smile and wished me a good time in Delhi.
The airport was air-conditioned! So, I felt pretty good and I was ready to go meet Jessy's aunt and uncle who were coming to pick us up.
This is where the fun began. As we ventured outwards, a gust of hot dusty breeze blew right into my face and I knew I had arrived to my destination. That special smell of Delhi that I had been reading about hit me instantly. It's a hard smell to describe. The closest I can come to it is that it had a mixture of car fumes, pollution, humans, luggage, cattle, and some food smells. But that could have been just my nose and palette trying to anticipate what was to come.
It was then that I started to notice my surroundings. The weather was really hot. It was about 10 a.m. The sky was so bright I could barely keep my eyes open. The thing that quickly became apparent was that wherever I looked I saw some one staring at me. I shrugged the feeling away. A few seconds latter, I purposely looked up towards the crowd just ahead of me across form a rope barrier. There must have been about 200 people standing there. Perhaps waiting for their near and dear ones to arrive. But all I saw was their steely gaze looking at us. It was a bit disconcerting at first. Then, I relaxed and had quickly come to terms that this would be the norm in India.
Fortunately, Jessy and I were able to locate his aunt and uncle almost instantly amongst the crowd. We made our way to their car, which was also thankfully air-conditioned. The drive to their place was like no other ride I have ever experienced. Patches of beautifully designed buildings few Indians can afford were scattered amongst deteriorating architecture, vendors and homeless lining the streets. Cows, dogs, monkeys and many other critters roam freely; in India the streets belong to all species. Traffic lights are few and far between, and everyone looks after themselves on the road.
Around 1,100 new cars, bikes and trucks are added to Delhi's streets every day, according to the Automobile Association of India. Many drivers see honking as a way to avoid catastrophe on streets shared by ox carts, pedestrians and cows. Everyone is at it night and day—from drivers of the motorized three-wheelers called auto-rickshaws to chauffeurs of the city's ultra-rich. Turning signals are essentially obsolete in this city. Truck drivers are among India's biggest honking advocates. Many trucks use super-loud, musical pressurized horns and are blazoned with flamboyant “Horn Please” or “Blow Horn” signs. This video isn't from Delhi (rather Amritsar), but it is an example of interesting rhythmic horn honking that gives acoustic diversity to the soundscape.
When we finally made it to their apartment, Jessy and I were introduced to his three cousins whom he had never met in person. His family doesn't understand much English. It made conversation more difficult, but we still managed to carry on small talk. What I found particularly interesting was that despite the language gap, we were able to connect on a deeper level. I did not often understand the words they were saying but I could generally comprehend the messages they were trying to get across. Jessy has been acting as an amazing translator between English and Punjabi for me. He has been a blessing and has certainly eased the transition into such a new culture.
After sharing some laughs and stories during supper, Jessy and I went with his aunt and uncle for a little tour down a couple streets. Wednesday night coincidentally happened to be when this bazaar is open. As we rounded the corner of the street we were staying on I began to notice a vast expanse of bright shinning lights along with mass crowds of people coming and going in every direction. There had to have been more people on the one street than all of the residents of Sackville combined. Despite the vast numbers of people, I was the single visible foreigner (gora for male, gori for female) at the bazaar. I am officially part of a small minority — white people here are few and far between.
To end our first night, Jessy and I went for a walk with his beautiful cousin Girpri. It was 11:30 and there was still quite the hustle and bustle on the streets. Girpri was explaining how there was always many people out and about, regardless of the hour.
Delhi is a shopper's heaven, but only if you're not afraid to haggle and bump elbows in bazaars. Western-style malls and shopping emporiums are creeping in on the outskirts, but there's little Indian about these sanitized shopping experiences, or the goods in them.
Delhi’s neighbourhood markets can compete with the vibrancy of fancy shopping malls any day. Rows after rows of frocks with frills and motifs; colourful salwar suits and saris; shawls and sweaters displayed on hangers; bangles of various hues, designs made of glass or metal; bedcovers, bed sheets, curtains, table cloth and other tapestries; shoes and chappals; goods made of plastic, kitchenware and loads of fresh green vegetables and fruits. From a hairpin to a quilt — you name a thing of daily use and it is there for you to buy from the makeshift shops at the bustling neighbourhood weekly bazaars that seem to stretch for miles.
These bazaars are not just about buying and selling. The liveliness of the place — like a fair — lifts your spirits as excited children, men, women, young and old haggling for price or enjoying the crisp, mouth watering jalebis or other sweetmeats.
After only one day, I have begun to experience the vast array of smells India's capitol city has to offer. Delhi smells like cooking fires, tropical flowers, pollution, animals, sewage, incense, and who knows what else. It does not always smell good, but it always smells like something!
I already love Delhi for its smells and for the following reasons: it is diverse, colorful, enigmatic, and bursting with life. But these are also among the reasons that many tourists—who are often new to India, having just touched down at Indira Gandhi International Airport—find it so overwhelming. I love the city so much because I have approached my adventures in the same way I try to live my life — with an open mind. Being in Delhi is incredibly invigorating, it makes me feel so alive.
Great first part of the story, love the pics and the video is amazing. Can’t wait to see more!
Stue – the blog is coming together great!
Rups – ❤ tuna cans
Have the time of your life Stu!!!
Your paragraph on the items in the bazaars is making me so envious (item for item), but also so happy that you got to experience the true beauty of hectic India! 🙂 Great blog, Stu!