International Ghandi airport in Delhi is spacious, clean, air-conditioned, well organized and comfy, border control guys are pretty nice and some even speak Russian. This was the first impression of Delhi and India which as it turned out had nothing to do with the actual Delhi and India.
As soon as you get out of the airport you get literally hit by a thick wall of heat, it feels like you can almost touch the heat with your fingers. We arrived at around 3am and it was +40 outside. 30 seconds and your t-shirt and hair are wet.
We took a cab to the city...um, we took a hell ride to be precise. No lanes, no overtaking rules, no safe distance whatsoever. When you ride in a riksha, at least at first it feels like you're gonna fly out of it and no one is gonna give a shit about it. Roundabouts built by the brittish are considered obstacles, when we asked a local guy about speed limit in the city he said "oh, you don't get to go fast in the city, because every kilometer there is a circle, and then again and again there is a circle, and again and again" One could object that roundabouts are made to facilitate the traffic, but no self respecting Indian would agree to that.
Next day we learned that if you need to - you can also drive in the opposite direction - no biggie, you just honk a bit more than usual which is about 20 honks per minute. They just won't respect you if you honk less than that :)
You do need a driving license to drive in India, but most of the locals don't have it, as they explain it "you get stopped by police and you don't have a driving license - you pay them money; you get stopped by police and you have a driving license - you pay them money anyway"
Ok, enough about Indian driving, you can find lots of it on Youtube.
We stayed in the Karol Bagh area - it's a lively & crowded street markets and hotels area that always smells like trash, incense, fruits and curry. But remember - we arrived there at about 4am!
And at 4am and for 2 gora's who are first time in India this place is a freakin' god forgotten shit hole that will scare the hell out of any foreigher who tries to stick their nose in there. It's almost a slum, people including children sleeping on the ground, wrapped in dirty pieces of cloth, under some filthy shelters made out of broken pieces of plastic and carton, some lay fully stretched in the middle of the pavement looking dead, some are curled around each other forming a human flesh pile, some "late nighters" are still cooking something un-food looking on an open fire made out of piles of trash, trash everyone, smell of piss and rotten food everywhere and packs of stray dogs patroling the area.
When we walked into our hotel, it felt like an oasis of civilization. Our room was pretty fine, with private European style toilet and Indian style shower, air conditioning and even TV. When we woke up, it did look better as if some Indian fairy turned the night slum into a buzzing day market. Below is the "better look"
They also have a very special relationships with electricity, everywhere there are cables it's a mess and every time it rains, the whole area blacks out. I think the management of the cable system is the problem here.
During 3 days we managed to visit the city centre, old Delhi with it's huge market, Main bazar road with it's own huge market, the Red Fort, found some decent bars in the Main bazar road and ate a lot of Butter Naan with all sorts of curries and dal & vegetable souces.
We got to do some shopping with t-shirts and Alladin pants going as low as $1.5-2 per piece. We also found a really good store on the Main bazar road, right next to the main square. It's a bit hidden and goes under outside sign "Himalaya", but it has everything other shops on the street offer but for export prices, we bought a lot of stuff and we paid $8. Another great shopping experience is "Himalaya" stores - all sorts of herbal cosmetics, organic health products and medicine - all for ridiculous prices.
We drank Kingfisher and we tried in Delhi the Royal Stag, an Indian whisky - it was strong and got me dead from the first shot. Oleg though bought a bottle of it and...the story will continue in one of the next posts :)
During these days we were traveling mostly by rikshas, for a 7-10 minute drive you pay $1-2. Usually tourists pay about $4-5 for the same distance, but Oleg was unbeatable in Indian bargaining :) Many riksha drivers can't read English, and if you think you're gonna be fine because you have the address of your hotel written down on a business card in English - you're not, you'll have to figure out when the driver can't read English (because they won't tell you they can't :)) and start reading the address aloud, as soon as they hear it, they can figure out how to get there.
We tried to use a metro once, but we ended up in a riksha again because even though the metro claims to be the super modern and highest standard, there is still an endless line of Indians in the metro hall who try to buy a ticket, and an Indian line is pretty much a crowd of people hassling each other. So we quit. You get used to the traffic and Indian driving pretty quickly, and they seem to know what they are doing when they drive, so eventually we started to enjoy the rides. We didn't try to go on a city bus - you seriously start to question your survival skills when you realize you can't jump into a moving bus :)
So what are the Indians like? "Indians are Italians of Asia" - a quote from an excellent novel that takes place in Bombay "Shantaram". That's true - they are loud and talkative, and they like to bargain and gossip, they like to sing and dance, they are full of life. They are friendly, but those who try to sell you something, their friendliness comes with a price, almost any conversation they started with us on the street ended up with an attempt to sell us something. So a rule of thumb is - when an Indian on the street is asking where are you from, it's better to say that you don't need any tour, you don't need any tickets, you don't need riksha, and you don't need souvenirs (unless you need any of that), because every "hello, my friend, where are you from" conversation will end up with a sales pitch.
Those who don't try to sell you anything, they are really sincere and fun. Sometimes they are hard to understand, sometimes you feel you need a legend that tells you what means what. Some of their ways just seem ridiculous and controversial for a white person. They make beautiful, delicate, thorough, full of details, perfect quality carpets which westerners admire for their beauty, yet at the same time they just can't paint a fence around the house accurately and diligently, it's always а horribly done job. They drink water from a plastic bottle in a way not to touch the rim of the bottle with their lips, because they worry that it's not hygienic if someone else wants to drink from the same bottle, yet at the same time they are ok to pee on the floor in a public toilet knowing that the next person will be standing ankle deep in piss.
They seem to want to be more like white people. They have all over TV ads for a cream that makes an Indian face paler! That's really funny! And they have their own soap operas which are half Hindi half English, a Hinglish. Sooo many of random people wanted to take a picture with a white person, they were just surrounding us on every step in the Red Fort each of them wanting to take a picture with us, or at least have their children in a picture with us. This little girl obviously wasn't sure whats the big deal about white people :)
One of the most remarkable outer feature of Indians, at least for me, is their unmistakenly Indian fashion - it's definitely a moustache (the crazier, the better), 80' style haircut, very often srpinkled with bright red areas (they are not embarassed of using henna even if it makes them look like clowns), flare pants (you have to have flare pants if you are an Indian :)) It seems like they are stuck in the '80 and they all want to be like one of those Indian hero movie stars in the 80'. The funniest thing - they don't change much when you go somewhere else, you get into metro in Singapore, and you see the same moustache, stupid haircut and flare pants.
They do have the most amazing eyes I ever seen, those eyes express so much and they are so deep. When they look at you, they catch you in their stare and hold you captivated in that deep chocolate color universe. And they WILL stare, directly in your eyes questioning you, and they will not be the ones who will withdraw their stare first.
Believe it or not, but we liked Delhi. Regardless of the touts, the dirt, the crowd, the craziness - we actually liked it a lot, and we do remember India with the warmest feelings now, especially when we walk into the Little India here, in Singapore :)
That's all, coming up next - Agra. Thanks for staying tuned!