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Pete Martin ¦ Transformational Journeys

Effective Chaos. First Impressions of India.

INDIA | Friday, 3 November 2017 | Views [511]

First Impressions of India ¦ Delhi Old Town Market #5

First Impressions of India ¦ Delhi Old Town Market #5

As always, when disembarking from a plane, it’s very rare to feel somewhere else until you are out of the air conditioned walkways of an airport. Passport control and luggage collection in Delhi are smooth and I head out of arrivals into complete chaos. Beyond the exit barrier, a phalanx of Indian men wave placards at me. If they slowed their antics, perhaps I could read the Western names written on the banners. How on earth am I supposed to spot my contact? Am I looking for my name or the tour company’s name? Even if the animation stopped for a few seconds, I’m not sure I could find anything familiar. I walk to the side to breathe. One of the throng runs to me and asks me which company I’m looking for. I tell him. He points immediately to one nondescript man somewhere in the crowd and then looks at me as though I was blind. My bag and I are whisked away to a car and the agent disappears again. My driver speaks no English.

It’s my first experience of India. I’ve been told (or, more accurately, warned) about India and about Delhi in particular. The transfer to my hotel is everything I’d imagined and more. The airport road soon leads into the more built up areas and everything I’ve seen on television or read about is there, from cows and dogs wandering freely in the streets, to the cars, taxis and buses fighting for space with bicycles, motorbikes, mopeds and rickshaws. The streets are chaos. Pedestrians are walking in the road in the wrong direction and the various and varied pedlars are at every junction. It is breathless. It is breathless and hot. All I can compute at the moment is that they (kind of) drive on the left. A little taste of home in this madness! Over forty-five minutes later of stop-start traffic and the bombardment of my senses, we arrive at my hotel in Old Delhi. The Hilton Hotel is fenced off from its surroundings. There’s a security guard with a gun on the gate. The boot and the inside of the car are checked thoroughly. With a final check under the bonnet by the guard, we’re allowed through the gates into the sanctity of the hotel.

I now head deeper into Old Delhi. Today is market day. There is no market place or market hall as such, so every pavement, gateway and entrance place is bustling with people around makeshift stalls. Where there is no pavement, gateway or entrance place left, the market spills itself on to the road. The two lane carriageway which has been coping with three lanes of traffic has to narrow to one to allow the market to function. This is crazy. My driver lets me and my guide out of the car to sample the mania. There are people everywhere, walking in every direction. There is no natural flow. The market-goers are buying, bartering, eating or talking loudly on their mobile phones. The market seems to go on forever and the noise is incredible. The wares are laid out on carpets on the floor and the buyers hover over whatever they wish to purchase. Each carpet stall is about two square metres and there seems to be about fifteen people circling around each one.

More goods are brought to the stalls by every means possible. People carry stuff on their heads, on bicycles, by rickshaws and by minivan. I discover for the first time a bike-barrow; a creature of Minotaur-like proportions with the head of a wheelbarrow and the hind of a bicycle. This is used to carry anything and everything and, when not being used for transportation, it is used for sleeping on until the next load is required. On the outside of the market, nearer the road, rickshaws bring more people to the market. Once they have deposited their passengers, they remain stuck, blocked in by both the traffic and the horde of shoppers. There are food stalls too. Fruit is ready-peeled and left on the stall with incense candles to ward off flies. Hot food is being cooked and the aromas fill the air. My guide calls it effective chaos. It’s fascinating, but I am thankful when we find the protective cocoon of the car again.

Jama Masjid, the principal mosque of Old Delhi, is in the middle of this chaos. Finally, we are defeated as the area is completely gridlocked. After fifteen minutes of being stuck in the same place, Mr. Singh, my guide, suggests we walk and I wish our driver luck in finding some way out of this mess to pick us up later. We have to criss-cross in and out of the traffic and then in and out of the stalls on the pavement. When I refer to a pavement, I refer to the side of the road where there are occasional slabs and kerbs made of concrete going in various different directions and against which cars, bikes and mopeds have been abandoned. We jump over sleeping humans and sleeping dogs. (As they say, let sleeping dogs lie). As we turn the corner, we see that one of the reasons for the gridlock is that two full sized tourist coaches are blocking the entrance to the mosque. My appreciation is reserved for the capability of the coach drivers, who have actually managed to get to this location through the marketplace traffic.

At the entrance, tourists loiter at the top of the stairs. Cameras are allowed inside for a small fee. Mr. Singh does not want to go in so I hand him my camera and my shoes and I wander in. I’m directed past a few female tourists that are being given gowns to cover their legs and arms. Once inside, it’s significantly calmer. The wide airy courtyard is mostly empty. The foreign tourists walk around slowly and the more numerous locals just sit in groups on the stone floor. A few kids are running around pointing and gawping at the white faces. The mosque itself is huge in height, towering above the courtyard, simple and plain with a repeated pattern in the stonework and absolutely no colour apart from its nondescript grey. On the top is one big stone dome, flanked by two smaller ones. I walk to the mihrab where only two people are praying. It’s so quiet and very different from the noise outside of the mosque. It seems to me that the Eastern religions need peace and quiet to pray and meditate because it’s so dammed chaotic everywhere else. I felt the same in Beijing and Shanghai as well as in Marrakech, Tunis and Istanbul. Around the courtyard edges, many locals are asleep in the shade or playing with their iPhones and chatting quietly. They look astonishingly poor, sleeping on old suitcases and bags and, it seems that, mobile phones are more important to them than shoes or housing.

Tags: chaos, delhi, india, market, revolutions, transformational journeys



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