I arrived in Delhi yesterday. Everyone says India is a shock when you arrive. And I was surprised: by how quiet it was. Delhi airport at 7am isn’t the hectic chaos I was expecting. Nor was the Metro Airport Express, nor was the street outside Shivaji Stadium station, where I was supposed to wait for my friend Nidhi to pick me up. I was waiting for about 20 minutes, so by the time she arrived, I’d made several more friends already, like the autorickshaw driver whose brother (not really his brother) was studying in Birmingham.
We went by autorickshaw, past New Delhi Station, where things started to get a bit more crowded and noisy, and more like what I was expecting. Then to the house in Ram Nagar where the family I’m staying with live. Ram Nagar is a tangle of narrow lanes and alleys, and old houses, on the outskirts of Old Delhi. It’s an old, traditional style of house, which is great: I’m getting to experience how people really live here. Or at least, the people who are well off enough to have proper houses. And I don’t think I want to try sleeping on the central reservation of a main road just to see what that’s like.
The first afternoon (after a sleep), I decided to go for a walk since the family wouldn’t be back from work until evening. I walked down to Connaught Place, where there are 3 official tourist offices, about 50 fake scam tourist offices, and several hundred people wandering around who chat to tourists, ask them where they’re going in India, then recommend one of the tourist offices (not a real tourist office) which can book it for you (not at real prices). Apparently the problem spotting scams is that a lot of Indians are genuinely very friendly and curious and will come and chat to you, and help you, without being part of a scam. So it’s hard to tell the difference. My first encounter with a possible scam was on the walk between New Delhi Station and CP. Someone walking alongside me started chatting, told me to go to the official tourist office for a free map, and then seemed about to head off; when I asked where the official tourist office was, he tried to give me directions, then walked me there. I wasn’t going to book anything so decided I might as well go along with the scam for a bit. I got the free map, then they asked me if I was interested in some deals for Kashmir, and I said no, thank you, and left. So, either I was lucky and got a genuine chap who showed me to the proper tourist office, or I managed to scam the scammers out of a map.
On the way I was feeling peckish so I tried a bit of Hindi and asked a banana seller for “ek kaylaa”, one banana. He thought I was asking for eight bananas and started calculating. I can’t even claim to have nailed the “banana” bit as he was only selling bananas anyway. After we’d established I only wanted one, I haggled him down from 4 rupees to 3, which I presume is still a huge rip off and probably cancels out the map.
I walked around CP a few times at different radiuses and got invited to several dozen more tourist offices and the CCI Emporium, a “proper craft market where Indians go, not tourists” (which may be a good craft market, but the number of times I got told to go there, and the number of autorickshaw drivers also apparently in on the scheme of ferrying me there, suggests it is also where tourists go). Then I walked down to the area of New Delhi where all the government buildings are, which was a lot quieter. I couldn’t quite get to India Gate itself, where I’d been heading, as the road was blocked off by police. The policeman who stopped me also started asking friendly questions about where I was from, etc. It seemed a good idea to keep him happy, as he was waving a lathi around. After the chat, he suggested if I want to get to India Gate, I could walk through the park behind him. The park seemed to be full of people rearranging piles of dung into different combinations. I didn’t want to disturb the dung activities so I headed back along Rajpath and Janpath towards CP.
At CP, the park in the centre (“Central Park”) was open so I tried to take a shortcut through it. It backfired when it turned out there was only one entrance/exit, so after wandering around it for a while, I went back out the way I’d gone in. I quickly made my way back to Ram Nagar, to the relief of everyone who was back from work and worrying where I’d been – my idea of a quick walk around had turned into a three hour trek, and there were gasps of incredulity at the notion that I’d walked all the way to India Gate and back.
Chai, snacks, an extended negotiation in Hindi with a contractor for house renovations, which I was present at but understood very little of, dinner, and more laughter at the idea of walking so far, rounded off the day.