Though we haven’t been to India before we thought that we had a fair idea of what it might be like from seeing it on television as there have been a lot of programmes about it recently in the UK. While this is a starting point, it doesn’t in any way prepare you for the reality nor does it tell the whole story as you don’t get the full effect through a screen. Arriving in Delhi has definitely been an attack on the senses! In the first few hours there were definitely a few ‘what the hell have we let ourselves in for’ and ‘how on earth will we survive’ moments but after 5 days we have learned more and we are a bit more confident that we’ll be okay. We have also liked what we have seen so far!
The following are our initial observations based on our stay in Delhi…
1. We sort of knew that it would likely be smelly and dirty and it is. In the streets there is an enormous amount of rubbish just lying around. However, out on the open highway it was a very different story and we hardly saw any. And open sewers mean in th city that there is an all-pervading pong to the place that takes a bit of getting used to.
2. There are open-air urinal blocks all over the town which definitely contributes to the above! Not that unusual maybe as we still have some Victorian examples in the UK – I know of some in London and Lincoln. However, in the UK you don’t have to walk through them on the pavement as you do here, which Martina has managed to without realising it before it was too late!
3. The roads are as bonkers and as random as we expected – cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, cows, dogs, monkeys, pedestrians, oh and cyclists all vying for the same space with no lanes for much of the time. There is a constant cacophony of honking horns – they must have special ‘extra loud’ horns here as it’s deafening! They “horn” to let other road users know that they are there and to move over, but we think it defeats the purpose really as everyone is doing this at the same time so no one seems to take much notice! Surprising everyone appears really calm and despite the chaos there is no apparent road rage.
4. The metro in Delhi has definitely been based on the tube system in London, with the signs and the map looking incredibly similar….
5. On the Metro we had our first introduction to separate queues for men and women. We had to go in separate lines to get through a security barrier to get in prior to getting tickets and then again to get onto the platforms. We have also had the same treatment getting into the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and other attractions. The men’s queue is enormous and the women’s tiny!
6. Smog is a big issue in Delhi and the Delhites (as people from Delhi are known) are mostly in denial about it – they refer to it as fog and it definitely isn’t! I think this photo of Akshardsham Temple, which is definitely a site worth visiting here, gives a good idea of what it’s like. That’s one big temple and the picture was taken about 500m away!
7. There is a lot of spitting going on – people clearing their throats, hocking massive lugies and gobbling it out on the floor. It happens everywhere and it’s not just the men. It’s pretty disgusting!
8. This one is definitely a cultural thing, but one that makes us feel uncomfortable. We were aware that there is a ‘caretaker’ for the accommodation we are staying in. We’d expected an oldish guy looking after maintenance and gardening, but actually it’s a teenage boy called Rahul, who is for all intents and purposes a slave, though he does appear to be reasonably well looked after. With the poverty in India we realise he is probably very grateful to have a job, but being told by our host to ask him to do our washing etc makes us feel uncomfortable. Same with our driver/tour guide Rakesh who we booked for a few days. He was so subservient and willing to do whatever we asked, even if it meant he could be stuck in traffic for hours – and he referred to us as Sir and Ma’am. He was an absolute gem, giving us lots of tips and advice for our travels beyond Delhi and told us to call him any time if we encounter any problems during our 3 months here.
9. We had been told about this before getting here, but it’s bizarre when it actually happens….the random requests for photos with people who see us on the street or at tourist attractions. We have also had people just walk up to us and take our photo. We’re not exactly sure why, but for the first time in our lives we know how celebrities must feel going about their business. Not sure we will get used to it though as it’s already starting to get old.
10. On our early morning get up to visit the Taj Mahal we discovered that many parts of Delhi have a ‘lock down’ period at night (midnight – 6:30am) where gated areas are locked and some of the roads are blocked by police barriers, apparently to stop vehicle theft. We had to climb an 8 foot fence to get out of our residential area that morning…and when we got to the other side, Rakesh our driver, who has a great sense of humour, said “welcome to Incredible India”. He couldn’t have been more right!
11.Bureaucracy is alive and well here, especially for registering tourists when staying at accommodation for example. This is a huge contrast to the obviously non-existing health and safety regulations on the roads and around electricity….
12. Whiskey (and Whisky) is a very popular drink and is rather bizarrely known as English wine!
13. In order to ward off bad luck and evil spirits Indians use chillis with a lime on a string and hang them on the front of vehicles or in their houses or cafes. These are only sold on Saturday and Tuesday mornings (for some unknown traditional reason or superstition) . We will be getting one each for our bikes when we set out, which just happens to be on Saturday!
14. Although India’s main religion is Hindu there are signs of Islam around – if a town’s name ends in “abad” eg Hydrabad it’s an old Muslim town and if the name ends in ”pur” eg Jaipur it’s an old Hindu town.
15. When entering a tourist attraction (for example Agra Fort) that are many things you are not allowed to bring in. Some are obvious: guns and knives for example and some not so obvious, for example pens and pencils. My favourite, unusual item you are not allowed to bring into a site so far is toffees!
16. I’m not too sure why, but we didn’t realise that the Indians were so health conscious – there are loads of gyms here, we’ve seen lots of people jogging and we have hardly seen any smokers, which has really surprised us.
17. There are packs of dogs, but they seem quite placid and don’t chase bikes or any vehicles at all – at least not during the day, when they mostly lie on the street sleeping. At night it’s a different story – during our early get-up to get to the Taj Mahal we definitely woke them all up and they weren’t happy with us being there!
18. We have learned that this time of year is ‘wedding season’. November 11 is especially important in the Hindu religion as it is considered a lucky date. The daughter of India’s wealthiest man is apparently getting married this weekend so according to Rakesh, he has booked 500 luxury cars for the whole of this week in Delhi to ferry guests around!
19. Indian adults have to have a national ID card, which, if you have one, will soon be connected to your smart phone and bank account. This is so that state can know what you are spending to ensure you are declaring all your income and therefore paying the right tax.
20. Royal Enfield motorcycles are alive and well in India. Royal Enfield is an old British motorcycle manufacturer which was sold to an Indian firm in the forties and after a few recent financial problems is flourishing in India. You hardly see them in the UK now, but they are the posh bike of choice here and there is a 3-month waiting list to get a new one. If you don’t have the money for that then the Honda Hero is the bike to have.