2007 #5: May I Help You? Go Away!

Tuesday evening we went to Sadar Bazaar on a cycle rickshaw. An excellent way to travel as you can see everything around you well and watch this curious place as you go by. Sadar Bazaar has even smaller alleyways than Paharganj, which stretches the mind somewhat. It’s a lot trickier trying to follow Paul in the crowd there, as it’s even more intense, also. I dunno how he finds his way to these places – I just watch where my feet are going, watch out for rickshaws coming up behind and watch him racing along in front of me until we finally get there. It’s not exactly a leisurely pace for looking around the place, but the last thing I want is to be lost in that crowd! You just don’t see white faces around there, and asking for directions can be a very hit and miss affair.

We must have spent about three hours in this shop. We sat on bar stools at the counter and Paul ordered what he needed while I looked around, up, down, through glass counters, and then some. There is stuff everywhere, like Aladdin’s cave and it’s hard to look at everything because your eyes don’t know where to land first! By 9pm, after the power had gone out a couple of times and the alleyways were clearing and dark corners were everywhere with who-knows-what lurking in them, I was starting to feel a little anxious about walking back through this place. Paul just shrugged his shoulders and strolled back down the lanes again. It turned out fine, as we actually only had to go straight ahead for a few metres and we were back out on the street. Thing is, he takes the route down the lanes, left, right, left, right, etc, because that’s the route he was on when he first found the shop. Completely logical to him, but all too confusing for a blonde with no sense of North.

On the ride back out (rickshaw again) I was able to take a better squizz at our surroundings. It’s a fantastically atmospheric place with rubbish up to ankle height and multi-level squalor – many-layered brick or concrete boxes on top of each other that serve as dwellings, with sacking for doorways and women in sarees peeping out from them, silhouetted against light from bare lightbulbs. New Zealand seems so incredibly sane and tidy in comparison to this.

We also drove past families living on the sides of the roads. I saw one mother sitting on the footpath with three progressively small children lying on a piece of plastic. This was their home. It’s so hard to get your head around somebody living like this, when you know that in your home country no one has ever starved to death and we all at least have a roof over our heads.

Back to the rooftop where we lounged about in what now seems like incredible luxury, despite the fact the roof of the building next door has been crumbling away for years now and you often see bodies sleeping on the roof. I think that’s more to catch a breeze than a case of homelessness. After seeing places like Sadar Bazaar, our rooftop perch is a high-quality oasis.

We also went to the train station yesterday to get tickets for our first journey out of Delhi. I had to laugh at a sign saying “May I help you?” with an arrow pointing to the door. Polite way of saying ‘go away’? Turns out we couldn’t get our usual second-class non-aircon places on the train for the return trip, so we will be returning with an aircon bed each. Well, bed being a slight exaggeration. More like a slightly padded slab, six to a cubicle, reminiscent of sardines in a tin. Anyway, aircon should be interesting to see. Apparently it actually gets very cold sometimes, so I’ll be taking a shawl for this.

Last night, we had dinner at a dabha (cafe) on the side of the street. Well, raised off the street by a concrete slab, but not enough to take away the exotic experience of swallowing dust from the traffic along with your dinner. I also get a giggle out of how anyone can just come along and slump down at your table, or help themselves to your water jug or pinch your sugar. Talk about class.

While sitting there, a wedding procession went past. First came the musicians, with drumming and trumpeting – not necessarily playing the same tune. Which some one pointed out isn’t actually that easy to do. Then the living candelabra – men with many-layered lights on their heads. Then the horse carrying the groom and a little boy, dressed up in royal colours and dripping with gold. A few more lights and then the generator that actually runs the lights. Not to mention the traffic trying to fit all around them at the same time. Very entertaining, and we felt fortunate to see such a spectacle whilst dining on our thali. Later on, back on the rooftop (I think we may be starting to resemble bats with all the time we spend up there), they treated us to some lovely fireworks in the distance. Nice ending.

Okay, I’d better go. We’re off to dinner then into the madding crowd at the trains stations. Oh boy, my favourite thing (eyes rolling). We’re off to Rishikesh tonight. We’ll arrive at 5am tomorrow (another favourite thing of mine……same look).

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