Saturday, 21 March 2009

India: Delhi

India is an assault on the senses.
The colors are exhilarating.
The smells vary from enticing to repellent.
The tastes are tantalizing although sometimes so hot that you don't taste anything but the heat.
Touch can be sensuous as when you run the finest Kashmiri cashmere through your fingers, or cringe-inducing as you recoil from the clutching hands of beggars, or just shoulder your way through sidewalk crowds.
Sound is constant and deafening, whether it's the blaring of horns in traffic, the electronically delivered and amplified call of the muezzin five times a day, or the radios churning out their daily quota of Bollywood pop songs.
In Delhi, you live twenty-four hours a day with this plethora of sensations and you learn to adjust.
Photographs inevitably fail to capture the onslaught of bodies, vehicles, noises, dust, heat and pungent aromas. The best we could manage were shots of the Sunday book market in Old Delhi, with booksellers crowding the pavement with their wares, forcing pedestrians into the nightmare traffic of auto-rickshaws, bikes, motorbikes, cars, buses, camel and donkey carts.
Interestingly, the Indian owners of the upscale and serene pension where we were staying were awed by our venturing to this market; they had never gone there themselves.
That's me, bottom right in the hat, in the third picture. (I didn't actually buy, but Michael purchased a paperback novel by Peter Ustinov. Who knew he wrote a novel? It's called The Loser and is a story about a German SS officer who does everything wrong and is eventually brought to justice, whereat he commits suicide. Odd.)

One of the things we noticed in India, and that is evident in these pictures, was the immaculate dress of the average Indian. Apart from the beggars, who have perhaps a motive for looking unkempt, most people on the streets put us shabbily-dressed tourists to shame. The men were all in crisply ironed shirts and long pants, the women, with a few young jeans-and T-shirt-clad exceptions, in their vivid saris.

Our home-away-from-home while in Delhi was the Thikana, a lovely, well-decorated pension with a rooftop terrace, where we recovered somewhat from the jetlag with a cup of tea among the cushions.

As well as breakfast, they offered delicious evening meals, where we met other interesting travellers who, like us, had found this little haven on the web. Thikana is in a leafy suburb of south Delhi, and the meals were welcome as finding a restaurant at night meant venturing out some distance into the unceasing hubbub of Delhi streets. Delhi is not a walkable city, and is even less so at night when the poorer denizens of the city bed down on the sidewalks, obliging you to step into the traffic to go around them.

During the next couple of days we visited some, but not all, of the standard tourist attractions:

Lal Gila (Red Fort):

(In this last image, the men are hoeing up the lawn, presumably to renew it although to our eyes it looked perfectly fine.)

Chandni Chowk, the picturesque and crowded heart of Old Delhi:

India Gate, designed by Lutyens and a vestige of colonial rule:

Delhi Museum of Modern Art, housed in a splendid building, formerly the residential palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur, which should draw more visitors than it does:

We ate delicious food everywhere, but best of all was the take-out chicken tikka roll from Khan Cha Cha at the Khan market - so good we went back for more on the following day.

The most moving experience of our time in Delhi was our visit to the Delhi War Cemetery, where my father, who died on the Burma border in a RAAF plane crash when I was a baby, is buried. In sixty years, I am the first member of my family to visit his grave. The cemetery is beautifully maintained, and is a serene and silent oasis in noisy, bustling Delhi. There were no other visitors on the morning of our visit. A worker mowing the grass between the graves stopped respectfully and waited until we were departing before he re-started his machine.

No comments: