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Recollections of a Rover “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization…” -Robert Louis Stevenson-

Losing myself, finding a city

INDIA | Wednesday, 16 April 2014 | Views [310] | Scholarship Entry

I am standing in a whirlwind of chaos. It sweeps me up in its heavy heat and then wraps me in a dusty yellow blanket.

My senses are overwrought: eyes flicker between nervous mongrels and rundown buildings; nose conflicted by the stench of old urine, and the inviting scent of spices drifting from scattered stalls; one ear straining to hear above blaring car horns, and the other trying to ignore the dishevelled bystander who softly croons an old Hindi love song to me.

This is lively Chandni Chowk. Centuries ago it belonged to the splendid Mughal Empire. And that’s what I'm looking for today – a glimpse into the past. More specifically, for Jama Masjid, a mosque that’s over three hundred years old.

My stomach audibly chastises me for ignoring it, so I buy a mutton kathi roll from a food cart on the street corner. The vendor hears my foreign accent and demands to know where I'm from.

“Mozambique,” is the reply and when I'm met with an incredulous face, I explain: “It’s in Africa.”

“Ohhh,” he says with a chuckle, “so far away”. He asks me if I like my country, and if it’s better than India.

“Well they're both very different…” I trail off diplomatically. I tell him that it’s a beautiful place and he nods thoughtfully.

As he turns to serve another customer, he mutters with a little sigh, “Someday.”

I smile and bite into my hot meal. The bliss of eating something so delicious calms my nerves and I stand still for a moment, chewing and trying to find my bearings.

How on Earth did I end up here? Around me, people shove past and yell out to one another. The tires of vehicles try to run over my toes, while I struggle to avoid soiling my slippers with putrid garbage and bodily waste. And in the distance, I can see the outline of the majestic Red Fort, an Indian icon. I am utterly overwhelmed by this novel scene, but everyone else seems to take the confusion in their stride – it is daily life.

After an hour of turning into packed alleyways and following the kind but misguided directions from locals, I have to face the facts: I am completely lost. An idle rickshaw driver sees my dilemma and offers me a ride out of the commotion.

“Kitana?” I ask. How much?

“40 rupees,” he replies.

I shake my head. “Tisa.” Thirty.

He beckons with his head, and I climb up onto his rickety bicycle. As we ride away, I turn back for a last bumpy gaze at the wonderful mayhem that’s fading away.

Searching for a mosque, I have found Old Delhi instead. Not a bad compromise.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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