The first thing I noticed of Delhi when we landed was the pollution. Everything is smothered in a grey haze that almost resembles fog, and gives anything more than 20 meters in front of you a dull blurred appearance. Customs and Immigration was a bit of a free for all but eventually figured it all out and headed out to grab my backpack and venture into the insanity of India. I'd arranged a super cheap taxi pick up and as you head into the lobby it almost felt like diving into a sea of names. Hundreds everywhere, mostly scrawled on crumpled pieces of paper. Eventually found mine and headed outside the front entrance. Three things hit me as soon as I stepped outside - the First was the intense heat even at 2am, having snowed a couple of days before I left the UK it really does hit you hard. The Second thing was the amount of people, vast amounts of people - some standing, some sitting and some just lying asleep. The Third and final thing to hit me was the dogs, apparently I hadn't expected them to be so obvious and abundant.
A growling match then brief fight broke out between 3 to my right, apparently over a sleeping spot beneath the airport terminal pillar. Everyone around me seemed completely unfased while I slightly s*** myself and moved slowly away not wishing to test my rabies vaccination 30 seconds into the country. My driver pulled up in a van the size of a mini and after getting in the passenger seat instinctively felt for the seatbelt, instead all I found was a ripped bit of leather where one had once been. The bloke sniggered and with a wide grin said "driver only" while clicking his into place. Leaving the airport was my first taste of Delhi traffic and its drivers - freaking insane doesn't come close. The horn honking is deafening and space between vehicles is non-existent. As we drove toward Paharganj (the cheap touristy hotspot in New Delhi) the traffic thinned as it was approaching 3am, this was the only relative peace and quiet I ever witnessed on the Delhi streets. Roads falling apart, dogs running across motorways, homeless people sleeping in the central divide are all just some of the small things you see on the drive in. When we finally slowed and turned down a street that in my naive mind looked almost like war-torn ruins I noticed dozens of cows sleeping in the road, stirring slightly by the car light. We stopped just slightly further down the road and as three dogs trotted out of an alleyway effortlessly stepping over a person huddled asleep in a doorway I prayed that this wasn't the place but a sinking realisation told me it was. The driver pleaded for a tip so I tossed him 50p out my wallet - literally the only cash I currently had to my name. He knocked on the floor of the hotel and a tired disheveled man who I later learnt was the manager opened the door, he'd been sleeping behind the desk in the lobby, a second guy - his assistant - on a bench. As I later learnt this is common all over India, people work 18 hour days, 7 days a week and effectively sleep on the job ready for an early start to do it all over again, it's an incredibly different life. I was shattered, disorientated and I won't lie, extremely freaked out by it all. People, cows and dogs everywhere, insane traffic and pollution, vastly different culture, society and infrastructure - in my first couple of hours I'd been thrown in at the deep end, which is Delhi down to a tee. While all these things quickly became normal to me, embracing them even favourably - that first night as I crashed out on the hard bed in a random "hotel" I couldn't help forming regretful thoughts in my mind. At about 5am with possibly the worlds loudest fan whirring above me I passed out.
I drifted in and out of sleep til about 3/4pm ish, probably a combination of jetlag and a complete lack of motivation to leave the hotel. It's hard to put thoughts from so long ago and from an entirely different non-acclimatised mindset into words but in the hotel I felt separated and away from the pure insanity of India I'd witnessed the night before. Eventually decided to venture out into the unknown to get cash out from the ATM at New Delhi Train Station at the bottom Paharganj's main street - the Main Bazaar. The first thing that hit me as I stepped outside was the smell;animals everywhere, men freely pissing against walls and piles of rubbish flowing off the pavements and into the street combines with open food and spice stands to give an almost over-powering stench that is nicely topped off by the vast amount of flies everywhere. People line either side of the road in their dozens checking out stall after stall and stand after stand selling all manner of cheap and counterfeit goods. Motorcycles and rickshaws weave effortlessly between it all at ridiculous speed. I also got the first taste of something that's very hard to get used to - everyone stares, even if you can't physically see people staring you can almost feel their eyes burning into the back of you. Some are curious states, others almost look like resentment and every now and again if you're lucky you'll get a friendly one. When I got to the ATM there was a queue outside, every single ATM here is usually in a little air conditioned booth with a guard posted outside. I can't easily imagine a more boring job that being the security guard for a rarely used remote ATM. The one here outside the station was sat eating what looked like bits of crispy naan bread, and every now and again a ridiculously fat rat scurried round the corner of the wall and waited patiently to be fed by the guard. Reminded me slightly of the Green Mile. Taking out 3,000 rupees (about £35) I realized that this is more than a lot of people here make in a month. It had been a bizarre mission to the cash machine and after finding my way back to the hotel found the final grand prix on the s***ty little TV in the window-less box room and crashed out.
The next day I headed out into the insane daytime Delhi heat to try and see some of the sights. Being an absolute novice to how transportation works in India I learnt the hard way that cycle rickshaws are a bad idea, especially when the driver speaks no English. Auto-rickshaws are the way to go and are effectively a cross between a motorbike and a car and they line the streets in their thousands. I headed off to the Red Fort. It's hard to describe day time traffic in Delhi, it really does have to be seen to be believed. There are maybe 2 or 3 times more vehicles than the roads should safely contain and is a gigantic fast-moving free for all involving busses, rickshaws, bikes, people dogs, goats, cows and chicken. Cows are usually being used to pull carts but a lot of the time also seem to just walk aimlessly through traffic as if feeling suicidal. There are no lanes anywhere and everyone squeezes into every available free bit of tarmac, bumping and even physically kicking and shoving others out the way at intersections. Bikes cycle down the central divide and the occasional bit of crumbling pavement and cars will frequently hop onto the other side of the road to avoid traffic or make a shortcut, weaving between oncoming traffic. Your first rickshaw journey really gets the adrenaline pumping, you quickly get used to it, but on that first ride every corner and intersection feels like it may be your last - near death experience after near death experience, I loved it. Amazingly in my whole time in India so far I've yet to witness a noteworthy accident of any kind. They say if you can drive in Delhi you could do the rest of the world with your eyes closed. I got a real sense of what Delhi was about on the way; huge run down areas, completely flat as far as the eye can see. Street after street all look the same occasionally interspliced by a tall building, gated compound or dying park. Construction in some form or another seemed to be going on everywhere. There are people in their millions as far as the eye can see and due to the huge grey haze that hangs over the city most of the time you are breathing pure exhaust in. Everyone coughs, deep chesty coughs that you can hear echoing into the night. I didn't like it.
Annoyingly I learnt the hard way that a lot of tourist stuff and monuments are closed on Mondays and after my rickshaw driver got epically lost and tried to charge me extra to actually get where I wanted to go I decided I'd had enough. Hopped on the internet and booked train tickets to get the hell out of Delhi and down to Agra, then to Jaipur and Udaipur. The next day, my 3rd and thankfully final day in Delhi I did a whirlwind tour of all the major sights. Humayan's tomb - apparently a pre-cursor to the Taj Mahal was surround by a nice park that gave me the first relative peace and quiet I'd witnessed so far. It was fun to see chipmunks and parrots dotted about amongst the old classic pigeon. Then headed to Jama Majid, a huge Mosque in the middle of Old Delhi. On the way my rickshaw broke down in the middle of an insane Delhi junction and so my driver - a huge fat guy - got out and in the middle of the road started trying to flag someone down to take me the rest of the way. He was there for a good 5 minutes before eventually a bloody cycle rickshaw stopped. I was skeptical but it worked out alright and I ended up where I wanted to do. Jama Majid was incredible and I'd apparently chosen a good time to go, the sun was setting behind its large minaret and there were possible hundreds of Muslims repeating evening prayers at the front and they echoed all around the surrounding area. It was very spiritual, if a little serene. It was also my first taste of removing my shoes before entering, something that's customary all over India for places deemed holy - shrines, mosques, temples, tombs etc. The same sign instructing you to remove your shoes also mentioned that women were not allowed in unaccompanied after sunset. Got chatting in broken English to a couple of India teenagers who were told off by an Elderly man after prayers ended for wearing baseball caps inside the Mosque, clearly an example of old fashioned traditional Islam clashing with the more western americanised generation of Muslims emerging around the world today. I had obviously entered through the local entrance as when I exited the opposite side I was mobbed by postcard sellers and the shoe guy tried to charge me 10 rupees for minding the shoes I'd carried around myself - cheeky git. Finally went and checked out the Red Fort which is essentially the main tourist monument in Delhi and is absolutely colossal. The bright red walls tower over everything around it and stretch for several km all around. There was a random "light and sound" show inside which sounded intriguing but I had a couple of hours to kill before it started so went for a wander around the outside. Somehow ended up walking through an open gate and for the first time since getting to India found myself somewhere devoid of people. It was when a security guard came over and told me the area was off limits that I realized why. He didn't seem to mind however and took me back to the main entrance where we chatted for a bit. I use chat in the loosest possible sense of the word as the guy spoke almost no English at all. I showed him some pictures I'd taken earlier in the day and he showed me the loaded cartridge from his Ak-47, fair trade I guess. Inside the fort was reasonablu impressive and makes you realize what a life of luxury the ruling families must have had before it all went t***-up. It surprised me to see it all fully manned, guards walking around fully armed and dotted about were bunkered turrets with machine guns on. I suspect it's all more for show than for actual defensive purposes but then again there have been some pretty serious terrorist attacks in Delhi in recent months. The light and sound show was interesting if a little naff and was a general narration of India's history and who had controlled the fort over the centuries, including the British who used it as a colonial command point. In the blackness of night the Delhi smog is just as apparent if not more so; all light beams shine through it as if through fog, just a single star is visible in the sky and the moon is turned a strange yellow-orange colour. On the way out I overheard a British guy chatting on the phone to his wife telling her he'd be home soon and to say good night to their kid from him. Why anyone would move to Delhi, for business or otherwise is absolutely beyond me especially with children, it's not exactly the safest place to bring a kid up. In the 2 short days I've been here I've seen kids jumping out moving busses and running across insane traffic junctions to get home from school and kids pushing each other on skateboards into oncoming traffic!
The main road down from the Red Ford had a McDonalds sign at the bottom so craving food I decided to be a cheeky westerner and check out what is apparently the cheapest Maccy's in the world. Delhi streets at night are just as weird as during the day just in a different way - most doorways and building arches are full up with sleeping people, some using rubbish as a blanket or pillow. There are however some nice cafes and restaurants below the crumbling apartments above them but all have a guard outside, presumably to make sure the grit and reality of the streets doesn't spill into the gleaming interior. The divide is incredible, anyone here even remotely well off doesn't walk the streets, they are ferried from place to place in a taxi rarely having to interact with the true side of Delhi, the side that makes up the vast majority of the city. Managed to catch some of the US election build up on BBC World News back at the hotel. It was my last night in Delhi and I wasn't particularly going to miss it.
Got up at 5am to catch the daily Bhopal Shatabi down to Agra. As with everywhere in Delhi the station was absolutely rammed even this early in the morning, people are asleep everywhere all over the station floor. The Indian train system is pretty damn complicated and very different to what we have in the UK. Every train is named and numbered and rungs once a day at the absolute most, some running just once a week (As they take almost a week to complete there journey). If you miss your train you're screwed and can't just get on the next one as there isn't one. The Agra train was a bad introduction to Indian trains purely because it was so nice, full of white westerners presumably doing the same trip from Delhi to Agra that I was doing. We got Tea (Chai) and biscuits, a newspaper and then even a hot breakfast, not too shabby!
With the sun just rising outside everything was bathed in a soft orange glow and lulled me into a false sense of security of looking forward to seeing some of the Indian scenery. The first thing you see on your way out however is the poverty, and it's simply astounding and completely blew me away. Thousands of people attempting to scrape a living out of nothing at the crack of dawn, slums as far as the eye can see. As we passed a huge makeshift landfill site there were children shifting through the rubbish in an attempt to find anything of remote value which would be added onto a pile on a wooden cart. Dozens of people going to the toilet on or right next to the railway tracks as well as showering in leaking sewage pipes is a stark reminder of how non-existant the levels of hygiene are in these slums. While I'm almost ashamed to admit that I'm desensitised to the majority of it now - there on that morning it hit me like a slap in the face even causing me to have a slight epiphany. I'd always wondered, perhaps naively why people from less developed countries were so desperate to leave their friends and families to come to countries like our own legally or otherwise just to live in squalid, cramped and nasty conditions. The answer was staring me in the face and really has to be seen to be believed. The s***test conditions in the UK are nothing compared to this, and a minimum wage at the same amount of hours they work here would perhaps provide them with enough extra to send back and help elevate their families out of such conditions. The slums eventually became fields and the shacks became mud huts.