Thursday, 13 April 2017

A City of extremes - Au revoir Delhi

Well its almost time to leave Delhi after 14 months. In a couple of weeks we relocate south, down to Bangalore or Bengaluru as its should now be called and we go through the process of making our 'new home' and I reinvent myself into Bangalore Bridget... I wonder who'll she will be this time? 

Delhi has been an experience. I can't say in all honesty I am in love with the city, I've had a fantastic time, visited some amazing places and travelled back in time more times than I can remember. In many ways parts of Delhi haven't changed since the time of the moguls. I've visited all the 7 cities that historically have made up what we now know as modern Delhi. The city certainly seeps into your being, its creeps up unnoticed and before you know it its home.

The colours, the noise, the people, the tiny streets, the shop/stall keepers, shops selling everything, literally everything. As I said right back at the beginning of my Delhi journey, its an onslaught to the senses and nothing has changed. It has become home, when we return from a trip we have the relaxed sigh of normality, at being home. When visitors arrive and comment on points, more often than not the poverty and the dirt, I realise how accustomed I have come to this being 'normal' I hope haven't become blasé over it all though. I have just learnt that I can't change it, no matter how much I would want to, just to help in many small ways.

I have found it hard to settle. I'm not sure why, although I believe much has been because from day one we knew it wouldn't be for the 3+ years we expected, after hubby was told on his first morning in the office that we would move to Bangalore some time.... and that has been hanging over us somewhat.

The people are amazing, both hubby and I love taking people shots and for him especially, the kids just love running up to him asking for their photos to be taken before they run off again. Also its been a time of bizarreness when Indians will approach and ask to have their photo taken with you 'selfie, selfie' (and often sneakily take) even on top of the highest place in Delhi or the remotest of corners. The diversity of people, faces, dress, you will never be lost for a photo to take!

Looking back we've done at lot, but barely a scratch on this city of around 19 million peoples.  A city of extremes as the title of this post states. From temperatures varying from 2 degrees (no central heating) right up to 50+ degrees in the summer when we are so grateful to hide indoors, cooled somewhat by the air con.

The refugee colony of Little Tibet along the banks of the Yamuna

Yes we've been fortunate to visit many places in Northern Indian (looking forward to exploring the south now) Of course there was Taj Mahal, although I've seen it so many times with guests that I think I can safely say 'I've done it' now. But there is also Red Fort Agra, Baby Taj, Fatehpur Sikri, Udaipur, Jaipur and so many others that we ran out of time for. Future trips will need to be planned! 

Taj Mahal needs no caption 

Experiencing Holika the night before Holi with the residents of the Old Town in Jaipur will always stay in my  memory
A lifetime could be spent traveling India to find all the ancient baolis (step wells) 

The painted signs on the backs of the lorries, saying Horn Please as they drive along the roads with street signs says No Horns!

Sorry but you can't park your elephant here! 

The large multimillion dollar homes within the Diplomatic and uber rich areas where on the street corners of these areas are families and children, children and more children, living, and begging and selling whatever is brought for them that day... blowup aircraft, flowers, peacocks feathers, books, sun visors etc etc.

I've queued for hours several times (even a friend on her holiday with me experienced this unique holiday attraction) when the government overnight brought in demonetisation, doing away with 500 and 1000 rupees notes. Causing several months of 'difficulties' as India attempted to become a 'cashless' society. I make no comment on the success of this, yes card payments are more available now but, whether this has really stopped 'black money' well.....

The dirt you can't escape from, whether its the dust that is everywhere or just the piles upon piles of rubbish that is discarded. Plastic mountains of detritus with cows, dogs and pigs living upon. This I will never understand. Yes the use of plastic is supposedly being curbed but little evidence of this is shown. The pollution that really kicks in after Diwali and lasts throughout the winter, where upon the government suddenly brings in new measures that will reduce levels apparently, such as vacuuming the streets (which I never saw happen and I was never sure where they'd actually put the dust?!?!) but without really tackling the route of the problem and which is soon forgotten when Spring arrives..... until Winter next year. The paan spitting, the men urinating and the daily stories of murder, rape, abuse, missing children and the almost lack of concern about human suffering can be hard to hear. The lack of schooling and respect for women and the poor. On the flip side there are thousands of people and organisations working to change this, it will take time but things are changing, although painfully so. 

I will miss my Delhi Ladies, these Indian ladies that welcomed this strange western women into their group and often their homes. We've shared many meals, visited historical venues and my first experience of an Indian movie was with them. They've told me off as I went exploring on my own, admonished me for staying out in the extreme heat, but all in a caring, concerned way. Their kind explanation of so many Indian translations. They have certainly enriched my stay here, and helped in a tiny way for me to see the real Delhi not just as an Expat. I'm sure we will continue our friendships going forward and who knows they may knock on my door in Bangalore en mass as they have said! 

Just a few of the Delhi ladies I like to call my friends 
This lady never stops smiling or trying to escape work to join us on our get-togethers! 

My expat friends have given the 'normality' that is needed here, especially so in Delhi, however many of these are now leaving or left, spreading across the globe, as Delhi seems to empty, as the cycle of expat life keeps turning, plus one good friend is relocating with me. It will be sad to leave P behind, but her business and life is here, but with many business meetings already held in Bangalore we're sure such future meetings will allow us to get together. 

My extended canine family will be a difficult wrench, but they are street dogs, albeit soppy ones, and their homes are the streets around F8. I hope we have shown the guards and drivers that each have a personality, that they are not to be scared of and react to how people treat them. Its many months now since we have seen sticks and stones thrown at them. Farewell Doby, Ginger. Old Dog (mum), White Dog and Waggy Tail. 

Oscar has happily been welcomed into the pack and they bow to the elder statesmen
Doby, the infamous naughty teenager! He hates the rain, loves his tummy rubbed and being in a house. He will sit and say please for his food. The biggest character of them all. 
Ginger. Daughter of Old Dog. Until recently she was Fat Ginger, but we sadly lost her sister Thin Ginger recently 
Old Dog aka Mum aka Grumpy! 
The ultra nervous White Dog, who trusts us now as much he is capable of. I wonder what has made him so scared. The other dogs bully him and he's the last to be allowed to eat.
Waggy Tail or Banana. Not really one of ours as he lives on the next corner but he's such a character I will miss this youngster 
OK another of Doby Dog just because....

If you're only in Delhi for a day or two, the Tourist 'must see' sights would be Humayuns Tomb, Qutub Minar, Safdarjung tomb, Lodi Gardens, Raj path and India Gate, Old Delhi, Red Fort (but not a patch on that in Agra) Purana Qila, I could list so many places that 'just have to be seen'. Old Delhi if you stay longer needs a holiday in itself to explore all the back lanes, you will see how the walls and bones of the old city are still in place and you truly step back in time, the only change being the modern items on sale. Yes Chandni Chowk is a great road to explore but its in the little back lanes that you will experience the best of Old Delhi.... get lost, its worth it! Then there's the religious places of worship, the Sikh Gurudwaras, the Hindu temples, The Buddhist temples of Tibetan colony etc etc etc

Humayuns Tomb
The Tomb of Safdarjung 
India Gate
My first baoli/stepwell Agrasen ki Baoli
The worlds tallest brick minaret, Qutub Minar

But apart from the main tourist sights, of which only a few were mentioned in the previous paragraph, try and visit the smaller lesser known areas. I've found the book 'Delhi A thousand years of Building' by Lucy Peck invaluable at searching out the more hidden places. 

As I write this and say that I have struggled to settle, I'm finding this apparent when I try to write this piece, there are so many extremes, contradictions, chaos, colours, noise, thoughts, places bombarding my brain as I try to explain and fail to put down on paper, that this post in itself is disjointed, which sums up all that is this unique city. A City of Extremes that cannot be explained or pigeoned holed.

Au revoir Delhi. 

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