Noise, smog and spicy smells altogether build up the signature of Delhi, on a baking summer day.
It's like a pressurized hotpot spiced by dust and filthy smell. Not for a stressed person, but for someone to stress himself.
I bid farewell to my driver and Ladakh in such a glorious morning at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport and departed back to Delhi on SpiceJet airline. Those were my last moments in the land of icy wind and rarefied air, and I thought I had set my mind on coping with another extreme side of India.
Even with my experience from 38°C-area in Vietnam dry season, and some brief outdoors moment at 45°C when alighting at Muscat Airport (Oman), I was still shocked by the temperature here. No, actually the temperature indication was in bearable range, and although the city has considerable area of forests with densely planted trees along the charming streets of New Delhi, it was still felt sizzling hot.
At first the journey from the airport to my hotel located at Old Delhi near Central Station (Paharganj (पहाड़गंज), to be exact) was swift and comfortable with good traffic, while streets were canopied by lush trees, insulated from the summer heat. But as far as I reached the old quarter, it revealed the naughty aspects of a crowded city: chaotic traffic jam, honking noise and bad burning smells, altogether trying to defeat a visitor’s eagerness.
Paharganj is a backpacker-friendly place with lots of hotels and shops, located near the over-bustling train station and the bazaar area. If you prefer comfort and convenience after days in the remote area like Ladakh, I recommend planning your stay in New Delhi instead. About my hotel, I don’t have any complain at all: painted with pastel yellow, it’s so pretty under the sun. I would just jump at the bathroom and have the longest shower ever after days of shivering in water.
It’s kinda crazy of me to step out of my air-conditioned room at 11am, at this time the outdoor temperature had reached 39°C, to explore the dusty alley at Arakashan Road and find the nearest post office to send my postcard, but in vain. Still, under any circumstance a photographer should be able to find out the charming spots and the signature of every place he comes. The typical colors are green and yellow, inundated by the exterior painting of the auto-rickshaws.
Always be determined to bargain with the rickshaw driver on the price. They always try to mark up too much that riding for a few kilometers becomes ridiculously expensive. Sometimes they drive you around to make the trip longer, and sometimes they may not even know the route, worse than you searching on Google Maps.
So I was on a rickshaw to travel to Connaught Place - the major shopping and tourist destination in New Delhi, which was within walking distance from my hotel. Comparing between walking at a scorching noon with scammers surrounding versus being on an unknowing driver’s rickshaw, the latter actually was the wiser choice.
There’re two key takeaways from the trip: free public wifi at such famous location like Connaught Place was non-existent, and the place painted the first impression of social stratification in India: wealthy people in cooled chic shop houses, in opposition to the lower classes of street labors and the homeless.
At the end, to seek shelter from the heat, I stopped by KFC and Starbucks - those eateries with world-generic taste - and thought that Starbucks provided free wifi access as it did anywhere else, but it came out wrong. Such free internet is guarded by membership check or needs Indian mobile number to authenticate.
It’s after 3pm in the afternoon, and this was when the temperature reached the maximum of 43°C on the street. Another rickshaw trip, and this went further to New Delhi General Post Office. From there, if the weather had been nicer, I would explore the administrative area of New Delhi, including India Parliament, National Museum, or India Gate; nevertheless, it’s just a short strolling along Ashoka Road towards Patel Chowk that forced me to sweat endlessly, although the area was generously covered with trees.
Now that I could be really trying another metro system, starting with Patel Chowk station, named after Vallabhbhai Patel. It’s a bit cumbersome to check in and out the platforms, due to heightened security measures such as bag scanning, which is the same as going through airport; but still, it’s much cleaner and safer place rather than wandering outside.
From Patel Chowk, straight northwards to Chawri Bazar, where Old Delhi quarter is located. So crazy to navigate through the chaotic narrow streets of this area, especially on a hot day, and that was me - a man that might have had some similar travel experience - finding it. I would not recommend this type of walking to any first-timer, especially women.
People seemed to find joy from raping the horn button, but noise pollution only made the situation worse. The air was filled with acrid smell, and it’s hard to distinguish popularly-used herbs like masala from that mixture. Dust enveloped buildings and streets, while electric wiring was a great mess (not mesh). This testimonial can be confirmed by searching for YouTube videos on ‘Chawri Bazar walking tour’; of course everything should look better in cooler seasons though.
At the end of Chawri Bazar situates Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. It was built by Shah Jahan, and in case you don’t know anything about him, he was the emperor ordering the construction of Taj Mahal in Agra, later becoming the burial place of himself and his dear wife.
In the original plan I tried to reach Red Fort (Lal Qila) - also commissioned by Shah Jahan as the residence of the Mughal emperors, but the weather and the turbulent traffic made it almost impossible to cross the street at rush hour. I bought two big water bottles to fight off incessant sweating, but it’s like filling up a bottomless vessel. It ended up with a solution of going back to the metro and riding to Kashmiri Gate, then back to my hotel at New Delhi station.
What is the best sunset? It occurs when the sky is hazy, rendering the sun perfectly round.
The Delhi problem, which may be the worst thing I had encountered ever, was to find a clear, undisturbed way from A to B. There seemed to have no straight way as told by Google Maps but only devious routes. To trail on those routes, you need to navigate through a sea of moving people and vehicles, sometimes garbage, sometimes animal waste. Though two points look so close geographically, they are yet so far.
Seemed that I got lost inside the central station maze: perhaps it’s a rare scene that I didn’t try to click the trigger button at all. It’s even harder to imagine how chaotic the scene could have been, one year earlier, when Delta wave rampaged.
But at least the harvest from night scenes while walking over Desh Bandhu Gupta Road was a big consolation prize already.
Only when I could reach my hotel, dispensing a cup of herb tea and hurrying into my room, I could find some peace. But even at midnight, those discordant sound of honks could still penetrate through the closed door.
On the last day of India trip, I planned to visit Akshardham, a modern Hindu temple, which had been introduced by my couple friends when in Pangong. A failed attempt again, as it’s only opened at 10am. In such a hot morning, there’s no room for waiting, so I just went back to find a medical center to take COVID test ahead of the flight.
It frustrated me that getting a simple quick COVID test was too troublesome (only PCR, and you need to wait), so I just ended up with taking the test at the airport, and prayed the result would be returned on time. I spent some time walking past random locations in New Delhi, and to meet Connaught Place again. The strolling was much easier on the well-planned roads leading to the head offices of India, like Janpath Road or Sansad Marg.
Frequently approached by scammers and lurers disguising as travel agents, drivers and friendly passersby, the best and least risky option to make safe way home was to come back to the hotel and kill time before heading early to the airport.
Once you get into the airport departure hall, you cannot get out, which is a stupid security measure. So here’re my last two cents: don’t enter the airport too early. Even after entry, I was welcomed by long queue at custom check, while the heat and dust seemed able to make way inside. At the end, settling down on my plane seat after so many incidents was felt so magical.
And goodbye India, such an unforgettable roller-coaster ride.
This post is a part of the India series.Written in April 2023 © Zuyet Awarmatik.
Zuyet Awarmatrip is a subsidiary identity within the personal ecosystem of Zuyet Awarmatik, focusing on travel and photography.
A Vietnamese usually regarding himself as a carefree solo Eastern backpacker, alongside with his main profession as a UX engineer. Neither being a freelancer nor a digital nomad, this website is built for the purpose of recording his life experience and happenings instead of letting them go into oblivion. He hopes these photos here shall always deliver the colorfulness of this worldly reality.
“Loving You Girl” by Peder Elias × Hkeem
Coincidentally, I'm writing this blog on a hot day, the same as when I arrived in the city.