Having acquired a few small notes in currency in the airport, I follow the surprisingly useful yellow signs from the exit at Indira Gandhi Airport to the metro line. Yellow line is the airport line, that’ll take me to New Delhi station and from there I can plan my next move. I’m already a bit hot and bothered, and it’s a few minutes walking in the early morning heat, through seemingly abandoned tunnels and underpasses, with my heavy rucksack on my back and my daypack on the front of my body. The metro feels.. eerie. Unlike London, there are no buskers, no music, and barely any commuters wandering to the platforms and ticket booths. It’s about 10am.
I join what I assumed was a queue to buy a token for the metro; it’s more of a huddle of men, pushing and shoving, paying no mind to my presence, which is both a blessing and an annoyance I guess. I ask for New Delhi – one way and pay the equivalent of about 40 pence for a small token, which either touches on a pad or is inserted like a coin at the turnstile. I drop a ten rupee coin at the desk and the huddle of men quickly stand over it, not allowing me to bend down and reach it. I sigh a heavy sigh and head towards the security scanners. The Indian metro has metal detectors and bag xrays similar to those in an airport that you must go through before you can get to a platform. I unload my rucksack, my day pack, my handbag and firmly grasp my phone and my wallet as I am ushered in to a “Women Only” line for a frisking. I am waved into a curtained room, to stand on a small square platform, arms out, feet apart. The female guard in her beige camo ignores all the alarms as she waves her wand over my clothes; my belt, my lighter and my phone all triggering the beep. She touches my tattoos and runs a finger over my lip piercings without batting an eyelid, and motions me through the curtain. I find my bags all on the conveyer belt, having successfully found their way through the xray machines. I load up again, and head for platform 3. There are a few more people on the platform, it doesn’t feel quite so eerie and deserted, but it stills seems very empty,and I can’t see any women anywhere. I’ve read that the first two carriage spaces on the platform are for women only and so I head that way, towards some sparkly pink “Women Only” signs, but I wind up boarding a pretty empty carriage about mid way as I spot a young Indian woman sat in it, alone. If she’s comfortable there, then so I am. The carriage is spacious, clean and cool, not at all how I had envisaged it. I wonder what other preconceptions I would have blown away and what else I may be surprised by as my journey went on. Little could I have known what was in store.
As the train makes it’s way towards my destination, we pass over a motorway and I see the chaos below. Cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bikes, scooters, tractors, vans, cars, buses, just PEOPLE. Fucking loads of ’em. Sleeping in their rickshaws, sleeping on the kerb, sitting on the roadside, children, animals, adults walking along the bit where I would normally expect to see a central reservation. Donkeys, goats, cows, oh god the cows. As we pull into New Delhi station I start feeling a bit queasy. I alight, and have a sudden moment of absolute fear that I am now almost as far away from my comfortable home life in the pub as I have ever been, and I am completely alone in a huge, densely populated country I know very little about. And I’ve barely slept. And I quite clearly have just landed. I may as well have a t-shirt on that says “I’M NEW HERE”.
I decide not to tell the three rickshaw drivers that surround me outside the station where exactly I am going, partly because Nagesh’s advice (from the plane, see previous blog post!) is ringing in my ears, and partly because, as I understand, it could be a bit of a difficult find. Many drivers don’t know new buildings, hidden away buildings or small businesses as there are just SO many roads and shops and businesses around, I ask how much to the nearest landmark, Delite Cinema. It’s a 5 minute walk to my hostel and I’ve got an offline map downloaded on to my phone (maps.me ..a life saver of an app for when you’ve got not data or signal). I’m told it’s 150 rupees which is a good 3 to 4 times what the hostel had told me to pay for a 4km journey. I walk away from them all, and light a cigarette to catch my nerve and calm myself. It’s hot, I’m exhausted and 150 rupees is about £2. I can’t really argue over £1, can I? (Oh I can, and I will, on many other days…) I take the guy who says he’ll do it for 80.
The next ten minutes are an absolute blur. An assault on my senses, an overload of noise, of incessant, and I mean INCESSANT beeping, of screeching tyres, of shouting, of speeding through traffic, of cutting corners, of narrowly avoiding head on collisions every ten seconds, of bumping into other rickshaws… It’s basically like being on a bumper car with a couple of hundred bumper cars of varying sizes (but many much much larger than yours) all around, and people just strewn about willy nilly in any bit of space that they can fit in to with their cargo..and their cargo maybe other people, plants, trees, metal, wood, food, boxes of..god knows, just stuff. SO. MUCH. STUFF. As we arrive at my destination, I jump out into this melting pot of a place, load up for what I am praying is a short walk, and stomp off in the direction my hostel should be.
I trudge along the makeshift pavement (one of many things I take for granted in the UK- pavements for pedestrians) squeezing through scores of men sat with typewriters doing what can only be very important work, a plethora of small food stands wafting out the most amazing food smells, aromas of cinnamon, saffron, garlic, butter, cumin, incense; interject those mouthwatering smells with stomach-churning wafts of raw sewage and rotting garbage, and by the time I see my hostel doors, I’m not sure if i’m hungry or nauseous or both.
My hostel has another big body scanner, and I’m greeted at the front desk by a short man exclaiming “THERE’S NO ROOM FOR YOU”. As my heart begins to sink, he smirks and laughs warmly, waving me in. I fill in the first of about a million official forms that I will come to fill in during my time in India, I get a quick tour of the common areas, the smoking terrace and I’m shown to my 8 bed dorm. It’s empty, so I grab that opportunity to shower. I unpack, repack, distribute my cash cleverly so as to be okay should I lose some of it out and about, and have a nap for an hour. When I wake, I head to the terrace to sit in a swinging hammock chair, staring at a sparkly red rickshaw, brightly coloured metal steps leading up to the roof, a table with a couple of ashtrays, luminous stools and chairs and three dogs totter about as the night draws in. A huge monkey darts overhead and the dogs bark, and I wonder how I can even begin to get accustomed to the noise, the ever-present, unrelenting sounds of so much vibrant life going on around me.
I check in on the wi-fi, let everyone at home know I’m safe and well, and after about an hour a group of Italian girls come out for a cigarette. I say hello, and they nod. I attempt to talk to them but they aren’t particularly receptive.I ask where I can get some food and they tell me there is a market nearby but not to go outside alone now as it is dark, and it wouldn’t be safe. I start to wonder what on earth I have let myself in for, and resign myself to bed, hungry and acutely aware that I am very much out on my own now.