Over the course of the many times I have been to Delhi, I have managed to visit most of the major sites around the city. One year, I went to see the Red Fort and the Jamma Masjid (Friday Mosque) with David and Jeong Ae when I was here with Adia. It happened to be a holiday and most of the shops in the Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square) were closed that day, so I did not get a true picture of Old Delhi. For that reason we decided to brave the crowds and visit Old Delhi with Ajay, Neeta and their daughter Dhriti.
On the way to central Delhi, Dhriti happened to spot a very funny sight. Next to us was an old battered Interstate Bus with a broken windshield. To compensate for the missing glass, the driver was wearing a motorcycle helmet with a full visor. Below the driver's side window was written the word "Pilot". He was now free to drive without the dusty wind blasting in his face, but I hate to think what it was like for the passengers. Once Dhriti spotted this funny scene, we had to race the traffic while I pulled out my camera and handed it to Anil to snap the picture out the front window. What luck, we were able to capture it and share it with you!
As we entered central Delhi, I noticed a sign on a hotel that used the logo of the London Underground. Instead of Piccadilly, the sign reads "PiccaDELHI". There always seems to be something that catches my eye and inspires me to share a photo with you.
The new Metro system has an underground line that runs from the famous Connaught Place (built during the British Raj) to the University of Delhi. We had made a trip on this line earlier in the week when we went to see Anil's old college. Neeta was not with us that day because she had to teach - she is the only one out of all of us who is not on a break. We wanted her to ride the Metro, so for this reason, we drove the car to Connaught Place and parked it in the new underground parking garage there. For security reasons, no passengers are allowed into the garage, we had to alight before Ajay entered the parkade.
After the short ride on the modern underground, we emerged from the station and entered the crowded lanes of Chandni Chowk. It was like stepping back centuries. One cannot adequately describe the crush of humanity there. We pushed our way out of the lane and braved the traffic to cross into an even narrower lane called "Parathewalla Gully". This is a lane famous for its paratha bread - stuffed flatbread usually cooked on a flat iron pan and served with plain yoghurt and spicy pickles. I snapped a photo of the sign that shows the date this particular shop was established - well over one hundred years ago. I was keen to try their food, but I have to say, I can't imagine a single one of my friends who would be willing to eat there. The secret is that the food is cooked quickly and is really hot. The place is so busy that there is no chance for the food to sit around and become dangerous to eat. It is a place that has to be smelled as well as seen. We ate our fill, and moved on up the lane to wander through the crowded shops filled with amazing goods. The marriage season in India is fast approaching, and all the women were out looking for all the festive decorations and saris to put on a wedding.
When we had more than we could handle, we headed out of the small lanes onto the main road that runs perpendicular to the Red Fort and through the central square. The road was gridlocked - autorickshaws, cycle rickshaws, bullock carts, huge trucks and the occasional car. We walked along the pavement in front of the shops lining the street - the crowd was so tightly packed that we were pressed fully against the people ahead of us. Anil was beginning to worry about the pack on his back - when we found a bit of space, he made an effort to move his wallet into a deeper pocket in his pack. It was then that he found he had been the victim of a pickpocket. I panicked for a moment, until he reassured me that he had left his credit card, foreign cash and traveller's cheques back at Ajay and Neeta's. In fact, after he warned me that morning about the possibility of pickpockets, he had moved his larger rupee notes to his pants pocket. For this reason, he was only out a small amount of money, but the new wallet that Ajay had just purchased for him was gone. So sad.
With this annoying event leaving a sour taste in our mouth, we headed back to the Metro and went to pick up the car at the parking garage. Unfortunately, it was the very time that all the others who had ventured into Old Delhi decided it was time to head home as well. The sun was setting and everyone was probably looking forward to a wonderful Saturday dinner. Ajay headed into the parkade and we waited near the exit. There was a big crowd of women with all their packages ahead of us, so we settled down on a cement wall to wait. I knew instinctively that the others would all have to be picked up first before Ajay would get out of the garage.
What a show - what we learned, and Ajay did not know, was that a large hole had been dug in one of the two lanes coming out of the garage. The hole was not there when we had used the garage a few days earlier. By now it was dark, and the drivers had to steer around the hole to get onto the one-way street. The hole was not cordoned-off in any way and before long we heard a "thunk" - the rear tire of one of the small cars landed directly in the hole. Of course, all the cars exiting behind were now caught in the lineup. A crowd gathered to discuss the situation, many simply laughed and walked away, but suddenly a group of men grabbed the bumper of the car and lifted it sideways out of the hole. Another reason to stick with a small car in India!
We continued waiting for Ajay to exit. He called us on his mobile phone to tell us that he was finally in the queue. He had spent fifteen minutes waiting for the driver of a car to return who had parked his car behind Ajay's. We continued to watch the charade outside - two more cars drove into to the waiting hole - one by the front tire and the third straddling the hole between the front and rear tires. Each time, a new crowd gathered, laughed and then lifted the car free. Finally an enterprising individual moved some of the dirt and broken stones to form a barrier that drivers could see in their headlights.
Ajay finally arrived at the exit, over one hour after entering the parkade to pick up the car. He had a harrowing story of the drivers fighting to be first in line each time the lanes in the parkade merged towards the solitary exit. The fumes in the parkade must have been horrible; we were happy to jump in the car and head for home. Our Saturday dinner was going to be late, but no less wonderful for all the things we had been through that day.
The next afternoon as we were returning from doing errands at a nearby market in the military cantonment area, we were passed by a rickshaw carrying eleven small children home from nursery school. I snapped a photo because even here, in the relatively open area where Ajay and Neeta live, there is over-crowding one would not see at home. Dhriti said there had probably been twelve children, but that one was already dropped off - three neat rows of four children per row. Poor rickshaw walla!