After we had a good giggle about seeing our first cow in the street, a quiet state of observation fell over the group. As we looked out the panoramic windows of the bus, we began to see the reality of all that we read and heard we should expect. No matter how prepared we might have felt, nothing can prepare you for the experience until you see the streets of Delhi with your own eyes.
That being said, I’ll do my best to paint the picture. Everywhere you look, the sheer abundance of cars, busses, motorcycles and scooters, moto-rickshaws, bicycles, and people in one space is staggering. What’s more is the way all of these elements intermingle and coexist. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like complete chaos, yet somehow, it works.
I’ll begin with the traffic, the notoriety of which is well-deserved. The main streets are comprised two-to-three lanes in each direction, driving one the lefthand side of the road (a result of the British colonization). Although separate lanes exist, they are really more of a suggestion than a space within which vehicles are required to stay. Nearly every inch of the road’s surface is filled with compact cars, scooters and auto-rickshaws, weaving in out of each other. As soon as a foot or yard-length space opens up, it is quickly filled by any vehicle that can wedge itself into the space. Nearly every movement of the vehicles is accompanied by loud, repeated honks of varying lengths and volume, not to indicate someone has done something wrong, but more as a way of notifying other drivers, “I’m here. I’m moving!” The streets are an absolute cacophony of horns, engines, and sirens the drivers of which all seem determined to get a head of the rest. What’s more than the sounds and sights of the vehicles themselves, is that of the passengers. I think my heart skipped a beat when I looked out my window and saw a motorcycle carrying a small child, a man, and presumably his wife, holding an infant across her chest speed past our shuttle. I knew that scooters and motorcycles are used family transportation as their low price point makes them the first and often only, private transportation most middle class families can afford (Desai), but it had never occurred to me that I would see an infant transported in such a way.
Beyond the traffic, are the actual streets, the sides of which are lined with shelters of every sort haphazardly lean against fences, bridge pillars, and trees. Some of these shelters house vendors, selling food and drinks while others are homes. Intermixed with the shelters, are people of all ages. Some bustle along going to and from the market while others usher children between the moving cars. Others sit or sleep on the sidewalks and curbs, many of whom are thin, frail or suffering from the effects of a debilitating disease that has rendered them unable to walk upright. Some can be seen walking on all fours or crawling in some fashion, begging for food and money from the passersby. Young mothers, carrying toddlers approach the bus each time we stop, making signs to ask for food for themselves or their children. Other children run shoeless or naked beneath highway overpasses, as their mothers sweep away dust that has settled around the patch of cement they call home. The remainder of the roadside is covered in litter, which more stray dogs rifle through, looking for left behind scraps of food.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this scene is that scattered behind the sidewalks and curbs are businesses of all sorts, filling the storefronts. Some, as you might expect, are dated and severely dilapidated, but withstanding, while others are new finish outs, complete with well lit signs and beautiful window displays. However, these out of place stores, do not hold a candle to the sight of the massive hotel where we’ll be staying. What is commonplace in other major cities, sticks out like a great becon of wealth among the hovels of Delhi.
More to come…