New Delhi! India’s frenetic capital, can sometimes be hard to stomach. Especially when the jaded visitor is suffering from that most infamous of south asian complaints – ‘Delhi Belly’!
If the forty degree smog and exhaust fumes fail to exhaust, the constant concern that a lavatory may be needed at the drop of, shall we say, a hat, certainly takes it’s toll.
Despite sensibly taking plenty of liquid and dosing up with Imodium, I still have no respite. I long for my faeces to be in pieces! A little too much information I realise, but the usual niceties one applies to such ablutions don’t seem relevant here, especially as it is quite usual to see a good number of folk squatting by the side of the road, and not to take the weight off their feet! Still, there is an urban, if not urbane, charm to the place which is undeniable. One cannot help but get swept up in the street-life which hits the traveller like a chapati in the face on every corner.
As well as visiting the less salubrious side of the city, Delhi’s underbelly, Andrew and I also managed to make our way to Connaught Place. A Victorian parade encircling a vivid green park, peopled with many pairs of young lovers. Most doing something shady in the welcome shade. The wide avenues, complete with colonnades, reminded me of a tropical Regent’s Street.
A faded colonial hangover, with old fashioned shops stocked with archaic items such as ‘Fountain Pens’ and bottles of ink. Juxtaposed with such quaintness, there also exists, of course, the very modern. A branch of ‘Burger Singh’ amused us as it sang out garishly next to a religious ‘Jain Bookshop’. Fasting and fast-food co-existing beneath the ‘Lutyens’ designed canopy. Such opposition can’t help but attract. One is constantly knocked off balance by the exotic eclecticism here, as well as the careering tuk-tuks and rickshaws. It is always necessary to look in every direction at least sixteen times before attempting to walk anywhere, unless of course, you are a cow. Bovine crossings exist everywhere and on many an occasion we have used a weighty heifer to negotiate the heavy traffic.
The other negotiating which can become quite wearisome, is the one that concerns pricing. Having travelled extensively in Asia, Andrew and I have become fairly adept at bartering. However, here in Delhi, this practice is taken to a whole new level. There seems to be a myriad of price tags depending on how you look, act and from where you might hail. Andrew seems to do a little better than me, with his smoky looks and the slightly angry demeanour of a man who has just given up the fags!
Myself, being untanned, uncool and understanding, am presented with the same deal one would get if shopping on Bond Street!
I have been marched into numerous pharmacies in order to purchase powdered milk for insistent ‘glummy-mummies’ more times than they’ve had hot dinners! Andrew has been deserted on the roadside on several occasions, as I’ve queued at a variety of chemists for ‘Complan’, which he then assures me the woman is gonna swap for smack the minute my back is turned. On occasion I’ve wanted to smack him – but in truth, he has a point. Too much charity can become egocentric when faced with so much poverty. I’ve had to learn that my small contribution is a drop of milk in a vast churn of need. My guilt is alleviated far more than their pangs of hunger. Who am I really helping? It’s not just the oppressive heat that makes it hard to sleep here. The oppression brings insomnia too.
Sleep, however, has come very readily over the last few days, as Mr Kennedy and I, forgetting we are no longer twenty-one, have completely knackered ourselves out. The sleeper-class trains (a dreadfully dishonest description if there ever was one!) The two days on camelback and the month long traipse around Rajasthan, rucksacked and backsides unpacked, has taken it’s toll. We nearly finished ourselves off completely yesterday by making a manic whistle-stop visit to that most famous of monuments to love, the exquisite Taj Mahal.
‘It better be worth it”, Andrew intoned, after nearly four hours spent wedged inside the tiniest car imaginable. As we sat entangled together in the back, like a game of tropical ‘Twister’, our driver went like a highwayman along a highway that had yet to be surfaced. Lacking suspension of any kind, and with an A.C. unit that insistently blew hot air into our parched eeks, we rattled and sweated our way to Agra. Mercifully, on sighting the marble masterpiece, Andrew’s fears were abated.
It was most definitely worth it.
The initial glimpse of the mighty mausoleum, framed through the dramatic arch gateway through which one enters, was certainly enough to bring a tear to the eye. I was unsure if it was the sheer beauty of the wonder before me, or the grit that had constantly blown out of the old jalopy’s air conditioning unit that caused this lachrymose state of affairs.
Whatever, any love that can inspire such a magnificent erection has to be respected.
Unlike our guide, Lucky, for whom there was no love lost! As he whisked us around the grounds at such speed, I half expected Mo Farrer to overtake us as we came to the finish line!
When it came to the obligatory tipping point, suffice to say, he was not so lucky.
Nor did we play ball when the pace eventually slowed as he took us to his uncle’s gem shop.
‘What would you like? To see some Onyx, some Jasper, some Amber?’
‘Some Amber Nectar’ I replied.
‘What?’ He looked blank.
‘Some Beer!’ I snapped.
One’s patience can crack after weeks of hard sell!
We returned to the capital in the squeaking heap of junk that passed as a car. As we were dropped half a mile down the dusty road from our hotel, we were once again, harassed for a tip, this time from our driver, Ahmed. I sighed and gave him much more than was necessary.
‘Why so little? Are you not pleased with me today?’
‘Yes’, you were alright’ I said. Leaving out the fact that I could now barely walk or breath after the car ride from hell.
He looked at me with pleading eyes until I took another note from my pocket and thrust it into his hand.
Overpaying yet again.
I think I need to toughen up.
I am not sure I have enough fire in my belly to exist in Dehli.
I’d be begging for milk powder before you know it!
Even though this great city can leave one with a little indigestion, Andrew and I both left with a great appetite for the place.
We’d certainly book a table again.
And no doubt we’d pay the service charge!