The India and Nepal Diaries Part 1
Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 2
Touched down in Delhi and Leon and I walked out of the aircraft straight into a wall of mid-day heat. Bought SIM cards at the airport then promptly found that my phone was locked and it wouldn’t take the SIM. Typical, it was bought specifically for the trip. Got a taxi to the place we were staying at which was down a dodgy looking street in a dodgy looking apartment block. The actual apartment itself though was lovely; with air conditioning.
We had booked through Air B&B and initially mistook the man directing our taxi to be our host. He wasn’t, but he took us up the stairs to the right apartment. A lift shaft was present but empty. Our host introduced himself, we dropped our stuff, looked around and then decided to go for a walk. Having said that, there wasn’t really anywhere to walk. The local area seemed to consist of large main roads which were impossible to cross. No lanes and a mixed beeping cacophony of bikes, tuk tuks (auto rickshaws), beat up cars, trucks and particularly scraggy looking buses. There was the occasional plush looking SUVs or other posh cars, all probably owned by the local political and business elite. Delhi is the capital of India.
This whole mass of roads was made worse by the fact that the pavements were non-existent and generally consisted of dirt, stones and trees right in the middle of the pathways. We walked for a while, got confused, found the only big landmark building in the vicinity (a hospital) outside which there was a row of public urinals with the catchy slogan ‘Use public urinals, not public places’ emblazoned above them and carried on, walking past numerous road side huts intermingled rather bizarrely with small display rooms.
We finally found a café, which opened onto the main road. Ordered god knows what on the menu and sat feeling hot and sweaty. When the food arrived it looked and smelt amazing. Very oily, reasonably spicy, but very good to eat. We ate, paid up, both amazed at how cheap it was, and walked on. After ten minutes we were hot and sweaty again and turned for home.
We got back about five-ish. I had a lovely cold shower and then passed out on my bed sleeping intermittently pretty much all the way through to 8am the next morning.
Delhi is hot, 32 degrees C, but it’s not raining. Which we were surprised about considering its July and so is monsoon season.
Got up, ate fruit we had bought the previous day and then caught a tuk tuk into town. We visited several amazing gardens and tombs, walking in the heat between them. Lodi Gardens particularly were incredible. Then we walked to the ‘Gandhi Smriti’, the houses and gardens where Gandhiji (ji being a term of respect) spent his last 144 days drawing up draft constitutions for the newly formed Government before being shot by an assassin in the gardens on 30th January 1948.
With all the heat and the walking both Leon and I felt far too hot and truly exhausted. We decided to employ a tuk tuk.
A driver found us before we found him. We decided to go to the India Gate, a massive 1914 to 1921 war memorial. Our driver called Babu Ram was an incredibly nice bloke with a good grasp of English. He offered to take us to get some food and then tour us around a lot of Delhi. ₹600 each (₹ is the symbol for Indian Rupees)… seemed pretty cheap. (At the time we were out there, you would get somewhere between ₹83-85 to the pound. So ₹600 worked out at about £7.20 each.)
We went to the Gate, got accosted and probably ripped off by tourist smart pedlars. I somehow managed to get a henna tattoo that I didn’t want nor did I really pay for and Leon ended up eating some weird street food. A hollow crisp bubble that they filled with mashed potato, some green stuff and a weird dodgy looking liquid. It apparently tasted of vinegar and they tried to charge us ₹100 for one. (Called Golgappa in the region of Uttar Pradesh within which Delhi is situated, or Panipuri more generally). We were feeling very out of our depth. We went back to Babu and his tuk tuk.
We drove up the massive avenue from the Gate to the Indian Government ministry buildings. These incredible red sandstone constructions had a massive footing laid out either side of the road with the president’s house at the end. They were designed by Edward Lutyens, the same guy who designed the India Gate and also coincidentally Castle Drogo in Devon.
From here Babu took us past the Parliamentary building to this amazing emporium shop full of incredible cloths of all colours, stacks of clothes, rooms of art and jewellery. We bought a thin shirt each to wear in the heat. I intend to buy a suit or something when we’re back at the end of the trip. We then went down Embassy Road on the way home.
Still hot – we saw other tourists for the first time.
Woke up ridiculously late at 11am having stayed up playing cards the previous evening. Got up, got made food by our host’s cook (chapatti and a potato curry), then left and commandeered a tuk tuk for ₹450 to Delhi Gate (one of the gate houses that formed part of the original defensive wall round old Delhi). The driver obviously felt hard done by and dropped us at Delhi Gate Metro station. This was fine though as the hostel we intended to book for the following night was close by.
We went, booked ourselves in and then messed around with several ATM machines before establishing the technique. It’s amazing how simple technology changes from country to country and how often this is enough to stump the best of us… and by no means am I saying we’re the best, but we’re not doing too bad. I think.
We’ve only been here three days but it already feels like an age. As Leon said this evening ‘I’m amazed we haven’t been mugged yet’. I think the simple answer to this is we are two, young, healthy looking, tall white men who are not displaying our wealth, but then it was probably also an unfair preconception to begin with. Anyway whatever the case, we’ve only been out in the day and in busy public places.
We walked to the Red Fort. It was an amazing, ridiculously big building built during the Mughal dynasty for the emperors. It was started in 1639, took over 8 years to complete and is built from the same red sandstone as everything else historic. The price was high and after meeting three Frenchmen, who thought there wasn’t much to see inside, we decided to go to Chandni Chowk – a large authentic market place.
It was mad, overcrowded alleyways mainly filled with shops and stalls selling technology hardware. We weren’t even sure if we were in the right place. The exterior margins stank and were obviously used as frequent piss spots. Generally everywhere you look there are substantial amounts of rubbish (which, in a way, is to be expected as there are no bins anywhere), but this was the normal amount multiplied several times over. Someone had taken a dump somewhere as well and one of the main memorable moments I have is Leon turning to me and saying ‘I wonder how anyone can find a time to shit in one of the busiest streets in the world’. It’s a fair question and who knows. But then the honest answer is ‘I don’t know, I don’t want to know and I really don’t want to find out’.
Slowly, we are beginning to realise and get the hang of crossing the road. This is no mean feat because the traffic does not stop. Unless it’s jammed and then every vehicle is bumper to bumper and you can’t even see the pavement on the other side. It seems to be a matter of just picking your moment, looking confident and then going for it. As long as you watch the oncoming flow of cars, busses and lorries and make sure you’re making rough eye contact with anyone coming on a collision course, you seem to be alright.
We tried to find the train station and after walking in several directions found it and got in through a side entrance onto a busy platform with large, dusty coaches sitting on the tracks. We bumped into a woman whose accent suggested the Netherlands and who promptly told us we were at the wrong train station. We gave up. We were tired, hot and sore footed having walked most of the day. We went home in a speed mad tuk tuk.
I’m fairly sure that drivers must be able to telepathically communicate with each other. Their abilities to drive full speed across roundabouts, fitting into all the gaps with 20 or 30 other vehicles all doing the same thing, is both terrifying and rather fun.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 2