I find it hard to write about our time in Delhi without worrying that I’m oversimplifying or misrepresenting the city or its residents… but here it goes!
We left Delhi last week after spending a month in a cozy, lovely apartment in the south part of the city.
We were fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with our Air B&B hosts and their daughter, who is the same age as our son. They were probably the most attentive hosts we’ve had: they checked in frequently and made a point to orient us to the neighborhood. On Brian’s birthday, they took us to Kingdom of Dreams where we saw a show that was like high-tech broadway.
Delhi felt like such a mesh of modern Western city and traditional India; observing the clothing worn in the women’s car of the metro feels like the a microcosm of this, ranging from very Western-style clothing to a huge variety of more traditional outfits from around the country. (The Delhi metro is fantastic, by the way – clean, quick, and cheap at 15-30 US cents for a ride.)
Everyone loved Theo on the metro. Everyone loved Theo pretty much everywhere in Delhi, and we met so many people because of our friendly, spirited three-year-old. (We try to remember this when his spiritedness results in more challenging moments.)
Our neighborhood was residential, but only a few minutes walk to the local market. This is where we bought food – though our cook Jaya obtained groceries for what she cooked, so we didn’t food shop as much as we might have otherwise.
I had masala chai many days at a chai shop / laundromat inside the market.
Not surprisingly, this has been an easy place for us to find vegetarian food. It was lovely (and novel) to be able to walk into any restaurant and find lots of tasty vegetarian choices. This won’t be the case for much of our stay in Asia, though it’s been easy to cook vegetarian food from the options at grocery stores.
There were multiple playgrounds nearby our apartment, most with one or two pieces of playground equipment and open space for running or playing cricket. Older kids would often adopt Theo and run around the playground with him, yelling, “come, come!”
Theo went to a great preschool about a 15 minute walk from our home. Because 15 minute walks with Theo often stretch into 30 minutes or more, we would normally walk halfway and then hire a bicycle rickshaw for the second half. We were quickly assigned a particular man who everyone seemed to understand was our driver regardless of where he was in the line for getting a passenger. He would greet us every morning with a smile and would share our happiness (with smiles and gestures) on the days when the Theo drop offs went smoothly.
On our walks to school (and elsewhere), we’d almost always pass people begging, often children or people missing limbs. While from everything I’ve read and heard, it’s better to not give money directly to those begging on the streets in India, it’s hard to walk by on a daily basis. (Though certainly not as hard as begging itself.) Salaam Baalak Trust or similar organizations are a great place to give money instead.
We arrived in Delhi during Diwali, when the city was exploding with fireworks and firecrackers. Whatever you’re imagining in terms of quantity and duration, you should probably multiply that by about a hundred to get a better sense of the reality of it.
Apparently, this is actually a reduction from past years – because of the air pollution, there was a push to reduce firecrackers during Diwali. Speaking of the air pollution – it’s pretty awful. The worst in the world, in fact. I was sniffly and coughing for most of my stay in the city. While I don’t think it was entirely because of the air pollution, it definitely didn’t help.
Sitting in traffic in a tuk tuk is the best way to feel the full force the of the Delhi air pollution. Other aspects of Delhi traffic are stressful as well. The concept of lanes is largely ignored, zooming alternates with rapid breaking, and honking is used as a form of echolocation. We used the metro as much as possible, but I still had some harrowing traffic moments in tuk tuks and cars. (To be fair to Delhi traffic, I didn’t see any vehicle accidents while here. I used to see accidents on pretty much a daily basis on my drive to work in Rhode Island.)
Delhi streets were definitely not neat and tidy; there was a fine layer of dust on everything, including the tree leaves, and I had to watch where I walked to avoid stepping in garbage or animal feces. However, we’d also pass garlands of flowers, elaborate Diwali decorations, and wedding tents. Even the trucks we’d pass would sometimes be decorated.
Of course, Delhi has about a million impressive structures and temples. We saw lots of them and enjoyed them, though we enjoyed our everyday lives in Delhi at least as much.
With its warm, chaotic, colorful messiness, Delhi felt like an incredibly human city. It also felt like there was so much left for us to explore. I didn’t feel ready to leave the city, aside from because of my aggravated sinuses. I hope I return.