If urban planning were to have a ‘worse- case scenario’, it might be called Delhi. One might also be inclined to create a new adjective for a serious planning of the infrastructure variety. “We have a Delhi of a problem here” translates to “our streets have been paved once. Fifty years ago” or “don’t worry about storm water management”. My experience in Delhi is both limited spatially and temporally as I have only wandered the central areas and I have been here about two days. However, even within those constraints, I would argue that urban decay is a kind word for these central city places and I have yet to even see the Slum Dog Millionaire variety.
Pahar Ganj is the ‘budget traveller’ area of Delhi and is where I have been staying. PG is Delhi’s version of Khao San Road in Bangkok or Thamel (photos) in Kathmandu. While Thamel is an example of what thirty-plus years of constant budget traveler business can accomplish, PG is an example of what half of that might get one. Predominantly mud, chunks of concrete, asphalt and enormous amounts of scattered white pollution and the occasional cow, the streets make for an interesting exercise in navigation, especially during a rainstorm. Brown-outs are common and harsh poverty and hard lives are apparent everywhere. Sanitation is poor and basic municipal services such as refuse collection appear almost non-existent in many parts of the city. Heavily armed para-military forces are present in most public places of importance, a testament to the criticism India received regarding poorly armed security force response to the Mumbai bombings. Drought conditions have encouraged water-saving measures in most hotels – I am collecting my shower water on orders of the hotel. Apparently, it is donated to those without access to any water source so I am attempting to use little soap as possible as I’m positive that it will be used for drinking purposes.
Perhaps I am being harsh; Delhi is, after all, a home for 12.5 million people. There is a definite method to the mayhem and it is a good example of people adapting on their own to poor surroundings. Traffic is not nearly as bad as comparable Chinese cities, possibly a combination of lower incomes, fewer streets capable of handling traffic and liberal use of traffic circles. Surprisingly, I feel far, far safer from traffic on the streets of Delhi than on the streets of Shanghai. Driver respect for the pedestrian is terrible in China. They have a good metro system as well, good journalists and newspapers, amazing bookstores and unrestricted internet access.
Food is fantastic and PG offers bountiful taste sensations and ample roof top dining space, although I would not go as far to say the roofs will rival their Lhasa or Thamel counterparts. Typical trinket shops with the usual brightly coloured poncho/shawl/pashima/pyjama/clown pant clothing, odd jewellery, pieces of metal, wood and plastic, hello kitty products and assorted selection of fabric pieces line the main bazaar. Interspersed between these one finds dozens of guesthouses. Similar to Nepal in this aspect (or is Nepal similar to India) hostels akin to those in other parts of the world do not really exists. Seems like every third hole-in-wall is some sort of “travel-agent.”
The beer here has some kind of preservative called glycerol, which apparently provides nasty headaches, and everyone with a set of legs wants to be your friend, practice English, and direct you to some kind of business while insisting that they “don’t want money.”
Few women on the streets. Definitely a masculine society.
I’ve seen some absolutely bizarre travelers in just the two days I’ve been here. Quite a large number of super skinny ‘I haven’t eaten anything other than dhal for the past 10 years’, 50-something, dreaded, bearded, pyjama wearing, hash smoking, uber-basic living individuals who do God knows what to earn their living. Independently wealthy? Or independent of wealth?
Having been suckered into a few classic overpaid transport newbie frauds, I am slowly getting my travel legs back. It is quite amazing how travel skills diminish over time. Delhi is hot and humid therefore I’ve decided not to spend too much time here and will be jumping out to Manali tomorrow afternoon.
Photos when I get a chance.