14th February 2011
It’s raining in Delhi. But not the monsoon weather I associate with India, the skies are treating the capital to regular wet rain, not unlike the type we get back in Blighty, complete with mist and indeterminate raindrop size. It’s not a problem though, we are happy to be here, the beginning of our Indian odyssey and already we can feel, a far cry from Do-buy.
We scan the line of awaiting taxi drivers and Joe spots our names on a piece of paper held by hands belonging to the sweetest smile. Virender greets us with urgency, a paper free outstretched hand to take our bags. He hopes to carry them both but we allow him just mine and Joe hoiks his own to his shoulder. When Virender lifts my rucksack to his back I clip the waist support for him, he giggles, a little surprised I think that I should be so tactile.
The drive to our home stay is typically noisy, and through the rain spattered windscreen we observe the suburbs of Delhi retiring for the evening. Buses take workers home and shutters on roadside shops are being drawn as another day comes to an end.
Virender negotiates the traffic, and when he’s not dodging the raindrops there’s an auto rickshaw laden with passengers or packages to contend with, perhaps a bicycle or moped similarly loaded. Buses whose drivers, as in most places in the world, think the road belongs to them, as well as vans, trucks and regular cars, all wending their way to destinations around the capital.
We arrive at a block of apartments in the suburbs, the rain still falling as our driver leads us to what will be our home for the next two nights; Maya’s Nest. We are greeted by a lady who is, at a guess, in her late fifties. She has a refined air about her and it turns out she is not Maya, but Asha, Maya’s mother. Maya waves at us from the room they share, she’s working at a computer seemingly engrossed in something far more interesting than our arrival.
The next day when I am being a little bit nosey I find a photograph of a young Asha. It’s a black and white print and it looks to be from the 60s, although it’s hard to tell but she seems to be around 20 in the photograph. But her strong yet gentle expression looks out at me in the inimitable Indian style of posing for photos; much like the Victorians, serious and intent.
We settle into our room feeling at home immediately and remark that we made a good choice to stay here. Asha calls through to invite us to sit in the dining room and Maya comes out from her technological enclave; she makes us the nicest masala chai and directions are given for the nearby mall where we might eat.
Our walk to the mall takes us just 15 minutes, along the way we see so much that is familiar about India, even at this Northern end of the country where we have not been before. The auto-rickshaws keen to get a fare, the low hanging cables and unkempt streets, and men, always so many men, walking, waiting, squatting, carrying, on their way to, from and in the middle of doing something. Industrious India.
Considering our recent reponse to Dubai it seemed only fitting that we should be heading to eat in one of the three malls that Vasant Kunj has to offer its residents. The first is a general mall brilliantly named ‘Ambience Mall’ and where we are headed, just next door is called Promenade. We don’t see the designer mall Emporio further down until the day we leave, it’s apparently the most expensive Mall in India once more reminding us that consumer is king here too.
It’s not something we do much back home, going to the mall, much less eating there. We had to visit the Churchill Centre in Brighton before we left, and the last time I was in one out of choice was when we went to the cinema at The Westfield, not something I’m keen to repeat. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that the only place I don’t mind the mall shopping experience is in the states, maybe because they created the modern mall, a derivation of the souk or market but on the whole I find they are places to be avoided.
But here we were, and it was fun. We cleared security – India is very security conscious since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai – and wandered through the mainly closed and almost deserted space on our way to the top floor. When we arrived we were surprised by the atmosphere, the food court was filled with well-dressed young people; couples, friends, laughing and sharing their late night food experience.
A novel and somewhat socialist system of payment was in place whereby would-be diners purchase a card that can be ‘filled up’ with cash to spend in any one of the 10 or so outlets. Certainly it seems to speed the process up and once we had our card – this almost not happening as we’d arrived so late, but a super funny and friendly cashier sneaking us in past the cut-off time – our food arrived quickly and with a great deal of cheer. We’d opted for ‘Tikka Town’ and our meal consisted of a veg and non-veg thali which was very generous in portion and surprisingly tasty for the venue.
On our way back to Maya’s we were met by another way of life indicative of India; a dog’s life. Just past the entrance to the mall a number of roads meet and a small patch of wasteland in the centre is home to a pile of garbage and a small brown and tan puppy. He sits alone, seemingly guarding a hole. We wonder what’s inside but as we show interest in him he stands and begins to walk tentatively over towards us, tail wagging gently, unsure as to our intention.
As he gets closer Joe points out his back, jumping with fleas. Much as I want to scoop this tiny creature into my arms, take him away from the rubbish and provide him with food and a clean, safe haven I know that this is a problem I am going to run into time and again on this trip. So we walk on, leaving the saddest eyes following our steps, and for a moment he pads after us, hope still wagging in his tail. I glance one more time and feel guilty for having paid him attention in the first place, knowing that we could never offer him the love every creature deserves.
Sleep wasn’t so easy to come by; I’d been struggling to shift a chesty, tickly cough for the past week. It had troubled me so much that in Dubai I’d barely slept a wink, so when coupled with jet lag, having lost a night’s sleep on the journey from Gatwick, I found my sleep pattern completely knocked out. Now it was Joe’s turn to cough and splutter so between the two of us our first night in Delhi, whilst comfortable was restless.
After an egg breakfast – always a good way to start the day in India – we were picked up by our driver who was to take us around the sights of New and Old Delhi. There is a huge amount to see but we didn’t have a huge amount of time, however Asha had given him a list of places to take us that would give a decent glimpse into what the city has to offer, but as it was raining again what we had time for might have to be viewed from the confines of a dry vehicle. But no matter, I had my 550D that I’d been longing to put to good use; we would soak up the history and the rain – Chak de India!
Good job Laura had sorted us out that lovely polarising filter, this day would certainly benefit from adding a little bit of blue to the skies. I snapped away as we approached the gates of The Rashtrapati Bhavan or The Official Residence of the President of India and we got out of the car at the gate where we proceeded to marvel at the hedges fashioned into elephants; my eye at the viewfinder and oh?
“Joe, I’m getting an error message, this isn’t good.”
I could hear the shutter move but it seemed not to complete its action to take the photograph. I may not have sounded so worried had it happened just the once, but even after removing and reinserting the battery as the error30 message suggested, the sound of a photo not been taken continued and the display flashed the error message once more.
I try not to despair thinking we will be able to get this sorted, after all, we are in the capital of one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, as well as being one of the most photographed, there’s bound to be a Canon outlet here or at least someone who can help. Our driver had since moved on to our next tourist photo opportunity where we alerted him to our plight. Despite his lack of English and our non-existent Hindi he was wonderfully helpful and after conferring with another taxi driver took us to a camera store in the renowned Khan Market. I had tried to urge him to take us to the Canon store but he made it clear this was a good place for us. How important it is to insist in India, but this was only day one and I was still in English mode.
Still raining yet still giggling we trudge through the puddles following our intrepid driver as he hunted out the store in the plethora of shop fronts offering all kinds of goods and services. When it was found the store appeared to be reputable enough being a Nikon dealership and retailing a number of cameras for all shooting possibilities and budgets. I explained the problem they said they would be able to fix it “no problem.” I was to call back in a couple of hours to check and they’d likely have it ready tomorrow evening. But of course this couldn’t be; we were leaving first thing in the morning. Ok, they’d call me and if it could be done I could collect it at 8pm.
On a practical impulse we purchased a point and shoot. We would hate to miss getting some shots of Delhi, and all being well if the Canon came back healthy we’d have an extra that would no doubt get used regardless. Off we go, take two…