Delhi! Some travellers avoid it and some love it! We absolutely did not know on which group we would belong and we feared to be among the ones who cannot bear more than 24 hours in this city.
On our first minutes, when we got off at Old Delhi Station after 8 hours of train (a train which was right on time by the way!), we were approached by rickshaw drivers who wanted to drive us to our hotel for 250 ₹ – Indian rupees (4 €). It was super expensive compared to the rates in Amritsar. So we laughted at them and headed to the subway where the ride costed us 8 ₹ each. Pffiou we had quite easily avoided the first challenge tourists face when they arrive in Delhi train station.
When going out of the subway we were also approached by people wanting to show us the Tourist information centre. Actually, the “Tourist information centre” play is a super popular scam: people tell you the tourist centre you want to head to has moved or is closed or even blown up (!). Instead they lead you to a tourist agency which makes you pay ten times the price for anything you need – or don’t need. When walking we would hear around us “This way for tourists”, “Tourists inside”, “Not this way”, which was quite funny because we were just walking to our hotel and none of their comments was consistent with what we wanted.
We found our hotel, Hotel Delhi City Centre, quite good for the price (1000 ₹ for a super clean double room with bathroom and hot water, and they even upgraded us for a room with a window the next day). We went for dinner and crossed the Main Bazaar next to New Delhi Station, full of traffic and people (and thanks to our experience in Lahore we were not too overhelmed by these crowds).
The next day, we were again approached by people in the street, telling us to beware of scams (looking like touts themselves), again willing to show us the “right” tourist centre, and even speaking French. Unfortunately as we were told “In Delhi don’t trust anybody” we were forced to be suspicious with every friendly guy approaching us in the street, especially when it goes like this: they start with a nice catching phrase like “hello where are you from?”, they test your degree of Delhi naivety with “how long have you been here?”, they win your trust with a “I study in Canada” or “my sister lives in France”, and they finish the confidence work with a few “bonjour comment ça va?”. Then they tell you to beware of scams, and finally they offer to lead you to the original tourist office of Delhi. We wondered how one can do the job of hunting tourists and lying to them all day long. Anyway, we beat this second challenge of Delhi.
The third challenge was getting around Delhi. To test it by ourselves, we tried different types of transport in Delhi: rickshaw, cycle rickshaw, bus and subway (and obviously walking which we did the most at the end). Rickshaw drivers usually try to rip off tourists and as we experienced it on our first steps in Delhi, we decided to avoid them as much as possible. The subway network is quite good and the subway itself is very clean. We bought a subway card and it was very convenient. There is even cars for ladies only at the beginning of trains. Overall easier and cheaper than rickshaws, except they check your bags at every entrance and the queue can be very long, especially for ladies which are separated from men in the queue. I also got once stuck in the ladies car because it was so packed and they did not let me out quickly enough! The doors closed just in front of me and I saw Alex on the platform waving goodbye!
A stay in New Delhi is not complete with a plunge in Old Delhi’s tiny streets. We discovered Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, and immersed in the Old city. It was such a chaos of people, motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, all honking, smoking, getting entangled altogether. At that time, we felt part of this chaos and paradoxically, it felt like freedom!
However, Delhi is not only Old Delhi. We also discovered modern and less chaotic areas. Connaught Place is a huge roundabout surrounded by white colonial buildings. At its centre, there is a green lush space of mown where young Indian relaxed under the sun. We also went to India Gate, Delhi’s Arc de Triomphe.
Finally, we payed a visit to the Lotus Temple, a place of worship that welcomes people from all religions to pray. The building itself, lotus shaped, is designed to fit to all religions. But we were a bit disappointed that to visit it we had to be in a group and follow a strict path. Inside the temple, the atmosphere was very cold and quiet. We felt it was more like a museum than a place where it’s good to enjoy sprititual vibes.
To conclude on our stay in Delhi, we would say that yes, in some parts Delhi is dirty, polluted, with an insane traffic, crowds, sacred cows, vagabond dogs, open dumping and poverty. But it’s not everywhere. We got used to it, did not fight against it, and finally become part of it. It’s not that we finally found it normal. Some people sleep on the pathway and even on the gutter. It’s just that Delhi has a tremendous capacity to improve and we were sure things would already be different in our next visit.