Arriving at the glittering new hi-tech terminal at Delhi and driving at 10.30 in the evening past the huge new airport hotels on dual carriageways where the traffic was almost orderly we were struck by how the city had changed since we were last here about five years ago, how modern and cosmopolitan it had become. But as we entered the Parahganj area where our hotel was, we realised that we needn’t have worried: there was the same noisy chaos, jostling traffic, tricycle rickshaws, piles of rubbish, a crowd of men fighting to be served in the hole in the wall wine and beer shop, stray dogs asleep on the pavements, goats, bullock carts, street sellers and touts; and this morning there was the same sultry haze over the city which was as brash, colourful, pungent and exotic as we remember it.
The Hotel Ajanta has apparently had a face lift and is a lot more comfortable that some of the places we’ve stayed in in Delhi. There’s still the hard sell on tours and trips that you find in most Indian hotels. ‘Would you like a map of Delhi?’ asked the girl at reception.
‘Yes please, if they’re free.’
‘They’re just around the corner,’ ….where we found an open door to an office where their travel agent sat.
‘Good morning sir. Where do you want to go?’
‘We’d just like a map of Delhi please.’
‘Certainly sir. Where are you going?’
‘We don’t need any tours or travel advice, thanks. We have a flight booked for Srinagar tomorrow. We’d just like a map of Delhi.’
‘Srinagar! Why sir! That is my home city! Which hotel are you staying at. I can get you a good hotel. Do you need a house boat? A tour of the city is very good, sir ….’
It’s impressive. I suspect his ‘home city’ is wherever we were headed.
We made an unwise decision this afternoon to revisit some of Old Delhi’s highlights and took a tuk tuk to Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque with a courtyard able to accommodate 25,000 of the faithful, the nearby Red Fort and the Chandni Chowk bazaar. The journey there sapped most of our enthusiasm for sightseeing. Weaving in and out of the Delhi mayhem in a tuk tuk, it’s not the near misses, and there are plenty of those, that shred the nerves and make your head throb, or the traffic fumes, or the filth, or the harassment from beggars and street urchins whenever we came to a stop. It’s the unceasing, ear-piercing, brain-penetrating, head-splitting, conversation-stopping blare of the horns of the lorries, buses, cars, vans, motor-bikes and tuk-tuks. Burma’s capital, Yangon, had put a complete ban on the use of the horn anywhere in the city when we were there. I can’t imagine it affected the number of road traffic accidents and it certainly made for a more peaceful city. And to think that we complained about the summer traffic in North Devon. An audio recording rather than an image would give the best impression of Delhi.
But the roof top bar and restaurant at the Metropolis in PaharGanj is a sanctuary that we’ve retreated to on previous visits to Delhi. The mutton and lamb sheesh kebab and roti is excellent and the beer is ice cold.