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Navigating in New Delhi

Posted: 2007-01-15 18:19:55, Categories: Travel, India, Hospitality exchange, 741 words (permalink)

A bicycle rickshaw overtaking a cow, New Delhi, India. The first suprise in New Delhi were large open spaces in the city center: not every place in the capital city of India is packed with people, houses and vehicles. On the other hand, a walk in the market streets of old town, a drive from a suburb to city center in the morning or a ride in a rush hour bus gives a good taste what's the leading metropolis like in a country with more than one billion inhabitants. It's lively, it's fun, it's occasionally depressing (poor homeless people on the streets), it's polluted, it's noisy. Many rickshaws, buses and trucks carry a request painted in the rear: "Keep Distance! Horn Please!". The first part is ignored by most drivers but the latter is followed with enthusiasm. ;-)

The traffic looks quite chaotic but I've been constantly amazed how easy it is to travel around in the city. For short distances up to a few kilometers, a cycle-rickshaw or motorized auto-rickshaw will cost less than one euro — after some bargaining of course. If the distance is longer, I often just go to the nearest bus stop and simply ask a fellow passenger which line to take, without even trying to decipher the Hindi script in which the destination is written on the bus. Virtually every time I've met very helpful people who speak English, help me to the correct bus, show on which stop to get off, and sometimes even walk me to my destination or help to negotiate a good price with a rickshaw driver to take me there. It would be quite affordable to hire a taxi for a full day, as prices start at less than 10 € for 8 hours and 80 kilometers, but that would be much less interesting.

In addition to rickshaws and buses, I've also tried the subway, taxi, maxicab and a ride at the back seat of a motorcycle driven by a turban-wearing university student. Oh yes, the last one was without helmet, as you might guess. I also survived riding my own bicycle 23 kilometers from a suburb to city center. Locals seemed to be quite amused by that sight.

For the sightseeing, I've seen a number of temples and mosques, a couple of ancient forts and museums, and quite a lot of city life. Best parts have been the monumental and brand new (building completed in year 2005) Akshardham temple, and a couple of less famous sites where locals go. For example, I went to wander around in Delhi University campus and met a group of physics students. One of them took me to a local Gurudawara, a temple of the Sikh community, where people were playing and singing to say good night to the priests. The atmosphere was at the same time devout, sincere and cheerful — a captivating experience.

Food is tasty but not too spicy, and cheap. Most dishes are vegetarian, I think I've eaten meat only twice during my first eight days here. A typical meal consists of some kind of bread, a few vegetable based sauces and possibly rice, and costs between 0.5 and 1.5 euros. It's possible to spend multiple times that in a fancy hotel restaurant, but I've mainly eaten from street stands or in nice small cafes and restaurants where locals go as well.

Earlier I've advertised my positive experiences with Hospitality Club, both as a host and as a guest. In India another similar site called CouchSurfing seems to be more popular so shortly before coming here I joined that as well. Through CouchSurfing I met Saurav and Kanupriya, a nice couple who warmly received me when I arrived, and helped in many ways during my first days in Delhi. I also participated in a CouchSurfing meeting in a local restaurant with live guitar music and some 20 members attending.

Tomorrow I'll take a train to Agra and back to see Taj Mahal, perhaps the most famous sight in India. I'll go there with two other Finns which I happened to meet by accident when buying the tickets. After Agra I'll stay at least one more day in Delhi but will soon get out of the city and start cycling towards Jaipur, which is about 300 km away. Except for a few short rides in Istanbul and Delhi it's already over one month since I was actually traveling by bicycle, so I'm looking forward to getting back on the saddle again.

(Minor edit 2007-01-18: added names of my CS hosts.)

4 comments

Comment from: Jura [Visitor]  
Toinen suomalainen pöyrämatkailija samaan aikaan New Delhissä: http://www.pyorallamaailmanympari.com/
2007-01-16 @ 20:39
Comment from: [Member]
Kiitoksia vinkista! Blogin mukaan kaveri lahti jatkamaan matkaa kohti Pakistania tanaan, joten taidettiin juuri missata toisemme. Laitoin kuitenkin mailia ja tekstarin, katsotaan.
2007-01-17 @ 21:22
Comment from: Lilly [Visitor]
I have to admit I’m quite jealous. You say you eat from street vendors? Didn’t you get sick? I have been in Delhi for a week and have eaten in some family homes and at the small office I’m working in, but after a trip to a veg indian food stand in a mall (shiny and sanitized, i thought), I ended up in the hospital with an IV.
2009-04-04 @ 12:40
Comment from: [Member]
Hi Lilly, I did have diarrhea a couple of times during my three months in India but fortunately nothing too serious. Once it lasted for a week and wouldn’t go away until I took some antibiotics. As I knew I was going to spend at least a couple of months in the country I thought it would be better to get immersed and develop some resistance towards local bacteria instead of worrying all the time. So I ate almost everything, including food from street stands, fresh vegetables and fruit (which are often washed with local water) and even drank local water if the restaurant seemed to have some kind of filter system or if I was in a village which had a decent looking well and the water didn’t smell bad. I tried to use common sense, for example by not eating any meat or uncooked milk products from a stand where the food was likely to have been in the hot sun for several hours. Otherwise, I actually believe street stands can be safer than some restaurants: at least you have a chance to see whether the food looks fresh and how it is handled while the restaurant kitchen is hidden from your eyes. I hope you have better luck next time. At least don’t hesitate to try chai, the best chai is often served on the cheap street stands! :) Arto
2009-04-08 @ 01:45

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