Once outside the front hotel doors, the hot stale air of India surrounds me and an assortment of traffic goes whizzing by on the dirtied road. Bikes, cars, tuk-tuks, trucks, all form of vehicle is welcome here. To my right, a family bathes with warm water from their makeshift fire that now heats their breakfast. I wonder if they slept on the road or just prefer to carry out their morning tasks outdoors. I walk to the left and pass by some Indian ladies preparing for the evening’s festivities, a celebration of cows my guide explains. Cows are special here, they have many and frequent celebrations.
We don’t walk far before I realize I would be hopelessly lost without my guide, unable to navigate back to my hotel in this labyrinth of a city. New Delhi population: 18 million. New York City population: 9 million. This city is definitely overwhelming. Not only that, it’s a city of 18 million Indians, and I’m a tall blonde white girl, basically a walking tourist attraction. My new brown-skinned, black-haired friends are amused, intrigued. I entertain their requests for photos, embracing my momentary fame.
A tuk-tuk ride later, impressed by the traffic-maneuvering abilities of our driver, we’re at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial. Somehow separated from the noisy buzzing city outside its gates, the monument is serene, a respectful tribute to the man whose name is synonymous with peace. We remove our shoes and step onto the cool stone platform on which the memorial rests, eager to pay our respects. Gandhi’s supporters come here from all over the world to pay their respects, a pilgrimage of peace, a testament to the power of one man’s peaceful stance changing the world. Being here gives me chills, as it does for my guide. He has been here many times, yet I see a distinctive shift in him when we are here. His hat is off, his head is down, his smile replaced with a somber respectful look. Mahatma Gandhi continues to influence people in Delhi, in India, around the world.
The bustle of Delhi meets us outside the gates, as we head to the markets. I want to see the famed Delhi commerce, gritty and unregulated, but efficient and abundant. The market streets are crowded with folks hunting for their daily supplies. If I were only 5 feet tall I would be overwhelmed here, but I can see above the heads around me and I feel secure. There are shops for everything, fresh produce, bags of grain, flowers, clothing, kitchen supplies, pharmacies, and more. Beside one vegetable stand is a camel hooked up to a cart. He just dropped off a re-stock supply, and his day is far from over. He doesn’t look friendly like the camels I met in Dubai, and he shoots snot out of his nose at me when I get close for a photo!
We finish the afternoon with a trip to a Hindu temple, one of many situated around the city. The grungy exterior is misleading, as the inside is so beautiful that I long to join the loyal people praying in the center. With no shoes on, I feel a closeness to the spiritual energy of this room, as an additional one of my senses is being activated. I feel the cool marble steps on the soles of my feet, then the soft rug tickles my arches. A headscarf covers my hair, making me humble, blended with the crowd, able to think and feel and absorb the space I’m in without self-conscious worries. The temple is beautiful, and it’s been an honor to visit.
Outside the restaurant for dinner sits a snake charmer. Have I stepped into the Disney Aladdin movie? I didn’t know snake charmers were around anymore! He wears a turban and an Aladdin-like outfit, and his crazy eyes make me believe he does have a connection with his snake. He hums a tune on his wind instrument, and the snake stares into his eyes, weaving his head back and forth. I begin to think the snake would do anything the charmer wanted. Luckily he ends the show before I get nervous, and the snake goes back to rest in his round woven basket. It’s dinner time, and an orange, spicy, creamy chicken tikka masala paired with Kingfisher beer satisfies my belly and my soul. A delicious end to an exciting day. Delhi is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before.