We landed in Delhi around 4pm local time and, after the usual fuss over changing money and hunting down a local SIM at the airport, we finally stepped out into the sweltering humidity of Delhi in mid-August. A prearranged taxi picked us up and swept us off through the surprisingly quiet, we thought, streets of New Delhi towards our first hotel, Broadway. It turned out we had managed to arrive in India on possibly one of the biggest celebration days of the year- Indian Independence Day- so the roads were relatively quiet, but as it got later into the evening and dusk began to fall, celebrations were in full swing.
Our hotel was positioned right on the outskirts of Old Delhi, and from our second story floor we had a great vantage point over the winding streets and ramshackle rooftops, stacked up like boxes on top of boxes, falling down but painted in crumbling flashes of brilliant colour, great knots of dark cables tangled down and draped across it all like silly string. It was more like the Indian capital we were expecting to see. Auto-ricksaws and motorbikes rattled by honking rudely to each other, cows stood in the middle of the road chewing stupidly with not a care for anyone else. Across the square below us was a large mosque, evening prayers spilling out, piles of dark sandals waiting on the marble steps. There seemed to be a never ending mass of running children, shouting and chasing each other throughout the crowds of people and moving carts, up and down the maze of ever decreasing in size side streets, sheets of laundry billowed over them, yells came from the shopfronts, people slept in threadbare clothes, taking shelter in disused doorways. And on every rooftop in sight were parties of people gathered, flying paper kites to celebrate Independence Day, singing, waving to each other, and letting off streamers and fireworks into the night sky. It was pretty good welcome.
For dinner, our first taste of North Indian food- a tantalising selection of spiced veg, lotus stalks, paneer kababs, and waswan (assorted curries served on a bed of rice). Following this, a creamy chai seed and cashew turmeric pudding, and then to our amusement we were presented with a bizarre tiny model car-turned-into-a-bowl, full of aniseeds, sugar rocks, and toothpicks to chew on and leave us with a fresh taste in our mouth- the Delhi equivalent of an after-dinner mint perhaps?
That evening, after the food, we went out to explore the streets of Old Delhi a bit more. It was much too much to take in in one walk really- the crowds and smells and noises. Everyone yelling ‘hello!’ at us, from all sides at once, and staring unashamedly at our white skin and blonde hair. I admit, it was a bit scary at times, with stories of pickpockets and leery men ringing in my ears from well-meaning friends and family back home, but we stayed close together, and I was well covered with my scarf, and it was fine, of course.
Knowing that we will be coming back to Delhi at the end of our trip, we only stayed for one night, and the next day caught the 3 1/2 hour train to Agra…