It’s 5:30 AM, my usual wake-up time at home but here it is not work that wakes me, but my stomach. My stomach is telling me that something is wrong – it is dinner time back home and I need to eat. It’s not got the memo yet. Meanwhile, the sounds of the city go on.
As the sound of horns honking decreased, peace entered the area. But soon after the chowkidar (watchman) started making his rounds. You could tell because he bangs his lathi (a big stick – don’t get up to any mischief or you’ll feel it!) on the ground every few seconds. And once in a while he will blow his whistle. It sounds like this:
Other than dogs occasionally getting upset about something it stays quiet like that all night. That is, until a few minutes ago, when the nearby mosque played its call to prayer.
We’re nearing the end of the first of two short visits to Delhi. It has been something of a whirlwind. It all started late Tuesday afternoon, 12 hours later than we thought it would.
It is 5PM and we’ve landed in Delhi. A bus takes us to the airport terminal and we make our way to baggage claim. This arrival feels less stressful and more “normal”. We get our bags at baggage claim and then head over to buy our SIM cards. We both have unlocked phones and want to be able to call each other if we get separated – it’s also helpful to have for our hosts to get in touch as well. And so we make our way to the stall where they’re sold, walking past several taxi stalls, each calling to us asking if we needed a taxi.
SIM card purchasing isn’t hard. We paid Rs 700 (about $14 Canadian) for each and they give us 1GB data a day and unlimited calls in India. They won’t work until midnight so we pack the cards in our bags and head out.
We decide to take the airport express train to Delhi. Last time I was here it either wasn’t working or I missed it but it was an excellent alternative to getting a cab and right in the airport terminal. For Rs 60 each ($1.20) we got to the centre of the city and then another fare of about the same to get us to Janak Puri West station – right near our Airbnb.
Buying fares is really easy, find your destination on a touchscreen (either map or text – there seem to be at least two different versions of the interface) and then insert your money. Out will pop any change as well as the tokens you need for your journey. Fares are by location so you need to be sure to get off where you purchased your ticket for. Scan your token on the turnstile and then keep it safe. You’ll need it to exit.
This time it isn’t too busy – we have to go a couple stops on one line, then switch to another line for the rest of the way. Switching isn’t hard, though. If you know the line you’re looking for follow the coloured footprints on the floor for the line you’re looking for.
Though it can be really busy, I’m happy to see that it isn’t at this time and we’re at our station in no time. But to get out you now have to put your token in the turnstile to be let out. You didn’t lose it, did you? You’re not at the wrong station? Either way could put you in a bit of trouble. (I’m not sure what kind but Daegan surmises that this is how the Delhi Metro finds employees. Once you do this, you now work for them)
Once we get outside there’s even more life. Food stalls have set up to sell various street food items and other small meals. Beggars are asking for money, and drivers are lined up with cycle rickshaws, electric autorickhaws and the standard yellow and green autorickshaws many people associate with India. As we haven’t far to go we take a cycle rickshaw. I ask, in Hindi, if he knows where we’re going, giving a nearby temple as a reference point and he knows and quotes a good price. And we are off in to the traffic. I am amazed at this man’s strength. He’s easily 10 years older than me, is pushing a heavy bike, two good sized men, and two suitcases – all with a fixed gear bicycle. No gearing down to an easier gear for him. If he needs to get more power to the wheels he can only stand up.
Cars, electric rickshaws, bikes, scooters, buses and trucks pass us by and we weave through them with many of them coming within inches. Keep your arms and legs inside the ride, folks! All around us people are honking. Some honk to ask us to move, others do it to indicate they’re passing on one side or the other not unlike how cyclists will tell one another “On your left!” or “Hold your line!” It seems to work well. As a passenger I never feel particularly worried but I do feel like I haven’t the level of attention required to take all of that information in and process it.
After asking a couple of people, how to get where we are going, we roll up to our Airbnb. We settle the bill and find our way inside. Our hosts are warm and friendly and the space is peaceful and comfortable. We’ve our own kettle, a few snacks, our own balcony and an en suite all for $28/night.
It’s getting to be past dinner time so we ask where to find food and are shown where to go – about a 10-15 minute walk away. Off we go on our first exploration. It is clear we’re both getting tired as the surreality is creeping back in again. We pass a mall with a few kiddie rides in it along with somewhat sinister looking bouncy castles with faces that are almost, but not quite, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. A bit further on and we see that all of the restaurants are on the other side of the street. Well, then. off we will go.
Crossing the streets in Delhi is not like crossing them in Toronto. There is no button, no walk sign. There aren’t usually cross walks, or sometimes even breaks in traffic. Instead it requires a bit of a leap of faith, confidence, and some mental calculations. Watch the traffic until it lightens a little and maybe the traffic is smaller, more agile traffic like scooters and autos. Now calculate – do you have time to cross before they would hit you – allowing for them to move a little to go around you. Yes? Good, start walking. Raise your hand gently to indicate they should stop as you go and just keep walking. You will be surprised to find yourself safely on the other side in no time.
We look at a few different restaurants and settle on a vegetarian South Indian place. This one has a large tawa (round griddle) out front and a pot of boiling oil for frying things. We go inside and order: bottles of water, dosas and some dal vada – fried dal cakes. All are brought to us. as they’re ready. Unfortunately as sleepy as we all were I only got a single photo – of the vada.
Each course came with coconut chutney (the white liquid on the left) and sambar – a spicy lentil and vegetable soup. These are “all you can eat” and our waiter refills them when people want more. In the end this dinner for two cost about $6 but was as delicious as any comparable South Indian meal we had in Toronto.
Now that we were full and comfortable we were even more tired. We made our way back to the apartment and slept beautifully. Until my stomach, and the chowkidar’s lathi, woke me again…