I've visited many of the most populated--and consequentially congested and chaotic--cities in the world:
New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Cairo, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg (Russia), Vienna, Budapest, etc.
But never before have I opted for an air conditioned tour bus as my means of sightseeing.
In Delhi, I'm quite glad to have done so.
I've never been to a city where the streets were more immensely clogged with cars--and tons of tuk-tuks (mini electric vehicles)--and the driving, at least to a foreigner, so completely insane.
After arriving at my hotel on Tuesday afternoon--and the cab ride from the airport was quite an adventure, as I'll explain shortly--just trying to take a brief walk to get my bearings was rather daunting.
It was stifling hot with crazy humidity. I couldn't take a step without a street hustler showing up alongside to chat me up. There were dogs lying on sidewalks. The incessant honking of car horns made midtown Manhattan seem like a library. Red lights were apparently mere suggestions and with cars, cabs, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles all constantly jockeying for position, merely crossing the street--even at a crosswalk--seemed like a game of Frogger I best not play.
Coming after a 15-hour flight on which I didn't sleep nearly enough, a leisurely stroll held considerable theoretical appeal, But it quickly seemed best not to bother with. (I returned to my hotel and had dinner there.)
And this came after a somewhat harrowing, rather exasperating experience on the cab ride from the airport.
I really don't know if the driver was duplicitous, incompetent and/or worse. As recommended, I had prepaid for a taxi at an airport counter and went where I was instructed. But I'm pretty sure the guy who took me was bootleg as he instantly asked me for more money (under the ruse of my only having paid a "parking fee," which is BS).
I told him no, and eventually yelled at him to "just drive the damn car!" He soon stopped to pick up somebody who was said to be his brother.
The brother actually seemed like a better guy than the driver, but between the two of them they couldn't find my hotel--The Park--although I'd given the driver a Google Maps printout. And I'm not sure if I should be impressed or incensed that the driver narrowly missed about a dozen accidents, without a seat belt available for me.
Fortunately, they didn't seem to be taking me to a nefarious lair in the middle of nowhere, but once in the vicinity of the hotel they wouldn't turn where the Maps app locator seemed to suggest they should.
They took me to a nearby--but steadily further away--shopping area (Connaught Place) under the guise of stopping at a tourist information center for instructions. The brother wanted me to get out of the car with him and I said hell no, not without my suitcases.
And I then did get out of the car with my suitcases and essentially said, "See ya."
I knew where my hotel should be and was just gonna walk there. I started to do so but then was convinced that a tuk-tuk driver could get me there, which he did.
Though I was dead tired by the time my friend Paolo reached the hotel (he had visited Mumbai first), the time zone difference didn't allow me to fall asleep quickly or much of the night.
So today, Wednesday, I was glad to be reliant on an air conditioned coach with a knowledgeable tour leader named Sameer and nearly 40 tour companions.
Even at 8:30 AM when we started our journey around Delhi, the heat and humidity were rather sauna like.
Though Sameer pointed out several sights, such as the India Gate and Indian Parliament Building, from the bus--not ideal for photography but I can't really complain given the relative comfort amid the heat, a big of brief but heavy rain and the ceaseless mind-boggling traffic crunch--we had five main stops:
- Humayun's Tomb
- Jama Masjid mosque
- Lunch at an Indian restaurant within the Hotel Broadway (adorned with American thester posters)
- Gandhi Smitri - A residence where Mahatma spent the last few months before being shot and killed on the premises
- Gurdwara Bangla Sahib - Sikh temple
All of these rather impressive; I've become too tired to go into detail but you should be able to Wikipedia them. I put a few pix on Facebook.
And though I don't perceive making any lifelong friends, the tour seems filled with nice people. An end-of-day briefing by Sameer included some enjoyable interaction.
Others, including a man from Mexico City, echoed my perception that Delhi seemed more intimidating that other huge cities.
Obviously it's less Western than anywhere I've ever been--literally, excepting Australia--part of the appeal is that it doesn't feel American or European.
Other than the cab driver duo and a few pushy hustlers, I have high regard for people living with dignity in such a chaotic, relatively impoverished place.
If there are sections of Delhi with glass office buildings, stately old museums/theaters or vast tranquil parks, I have not seen them.
So I'm really not sure if a more gentrified, user-friendly Delhi exists (I haven't seen a Starbucks). But without meaning to disparage anyone or suggest that I'm not thrilled to be here, I can't deny the city has seemed more daunting than acutely delectable.
Onto Jaipur in the morning. Another reason I'm glad to have taken a tour.