By most accounts Delhi is a pretty awful place, but we thought we might like it. We like big cities and we had been in south Asia for 6 months, so we were used to the craziness and dirtiness.
But by the time we arrived in Delhi we were travel weary and not in the mood to deal with the challenges of India. We had just past the one-year mark in our travels and we were really ready to leave India.
We booked a hotel in the Paharganj neighborhood, known for its affordable lodging and main bazaar. We had nine days to kill until our flight to Spain and we just wanted to hole up in the hotel and eat western food. And that’s kind of what we did.
When we first arrived we took a rickshaw over to the Red Fort where we stood sweating in the 45C (113F) heat and snapped a few pictures. We didn’t go in because we have already seen forts in India. And also two tiered pricing . . . foreigners pay 500 rupees while Indians pay 35.
Then we made our way in the sweltering heat down Chandi Chowk, a road known for its street food. We ate samosas, drank lassis, and tried jalebi, an overly sweet fried dough similar to a funnel cake.
As we rode back to our hotel, I observed my surroundings. Vehicles weaving in and out of one another paying no attention to staying in a lane, cows pulling carts, people dodging the traffic to cross the street. Sidewalks so broken, it looked post-apocalyptic. Haze so thick you can look straight at the sun.
It seemed Delhi really was a bad as everyone says.
In Paharganj there are no sidewalks, so it is a constant battle to not get run over by cars, rickshaws, and motorbikes. And besides the excessive amount of garbage and poop on the roads, right down the street from our hotel was a garage full of garbage. Yes, that’s right a garbage garage! We had to hold our breath every time we passed.
We made one more effort to explore Delhi on my oldest daughter’s birthday when we went to Karim’s for dinner and briefly checked out the Jama Masjid mosque.
After that we pretty much stayed in our air conditioned hotel room in Paharganj, venturing out only to eat McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, or Subway.
I was embarrassed walking into McDonald’s almost every day that week. I wanted to shout, “I am not an ugly American! I promise I have eaten lots and lots of India food in the last 6 months. And it was delicious. But right now, I can’t stand to eat another bite, sorry.”
Surprisingly, I felt pretty safe in Paharganj. In many places in India, I didn’t feel comfortable wandering around by myself. But here I went out shopping alone and felt fine.
Also, the shopkeepers didn’t seem any more dishonest than other places we have been. In fact, they often started their prices so low, I didn’t need to bargain.
Even in this big city, the locals were fascinated by foreign travelers and often wanted to take our picture.
We thought about visiting Lodi Gardens, Humayun’s tomb, and the Lotus Temple, but couldn’t motivate ourselves to deal with public transportation. And booking driver cost more than we wanted to spend.
I kept wondering what our perception of Delhi would have been if we had arrived here first. Would the market have seemed exotic instead of chaotic? Would we have been thrilled by the cows in the road instead of annoyed by having to avoid stepping in their poop?
It’s hard to say. The excessive heat was definitely an issue, so Delhi might be more bearable at a different time of year. But it was hard to get around on a budget, much like Kuala Lumpur which we were also not big fans of. Needless to say, we were very excited to leave India and move onto the next part of our trip in Europe. But it turned out it would be more difficult to leave India than we thought . . .