Delhi is Maddening

If Goa is heaven in India, then Delhi is almost certainly hell. Delhi is maddening in all ways that a city can possibly be. Delhi will sharpen your wits and numb your senses. Delhi will come at you in full force from all directions at all times of the day and from all walks of life. Delhi will make you long for the “slow paced” life of New York City because compared to Delhi, everywhere is slow paced. Delhi will make you scream and yell and start to act in ways you would never dream toward other people and wandering animals. Delhi is the trip of all trips and you can get sky high from your own sensory overload.

I never dreamed of a place as crazy as Delhi. I have been everywhere from Cairo to Bangkok to Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro and most people describe those places as wild, crazy and in your face. They clearly haven’t been to Delhi because I never thought any of those places were even half bad.

As you fly into Delhi you notice a strange thing – that the air is brown. The air is brown because of an amazing combination of dust and pollution from any number sources including seemingly billions of rickshaws and taxis all contributing unmuffled exhaust into the atmosphere.

As you move closer to the city center and tourist ghettos of Connaught Place and especially Pahar Ganj, you are swarmed by traffic from all directions and from all different types of vehicles and vessels. First you have your obvious culprits, the auto rickshaws, rickshaws and taxis along with regular cars, buses and bicycles. Then you must add in random cows, horses, stray dogs and camels roaming the streets freely. Some of these unkempt beasts might be pulling a cart of something or other and some might be followed by a young child slapping it with a stick or something else torturous.

Finally, as you exit your rickshaw or taxi you must deal with scores of people trying to sell you everything under the dirt-blocked sun. Also, it seemed that if they aren’t trying to sell you something, they are trying to rip you off in some way. Again, all this was expected but just not to the extent in which it was actually performed. These people are relentless and ruthless. They simply do not give up and don’t care how many times you say no and scream at them. If you are lucky enough to steer one tout away from you there will always be a few more filling in for him.

I was staying in Pahar Ganj, a notorious tourist ghetto and the home of the famed Main Bazaar. In Pahar Ganj there are a few other things that you need to be careful of while trying to navigate these cramped streets and alleys. Although it is very difficult to explain the absolute lunacy of this place I will try to be as thorough and graphic as I can.

On the Main Bazaar, which is impossible to avoid if you stay in this area, there are so many people that it is impossible to move how you want to. There are motorbikes, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bicycles and cow pulled carts usually taking up the center of the very narrow street and honking away relentlessly as if they are infatuated by the sound it made. Additionally, aside from the ridiculous throngs of people walking on either side, you need to avoid the local Indian men chewing and spitting this disgusting red tobacco-like substance.

I am not exaggerating when I saw many people chewing and just spitting this stuff into hordes of people without even giving a look to see if someone was standing where they were about to spit. It was absolutely disgusting and the streets tended to be stained red as well. Aside from trying not to step in red tobacco spit globs, you also wanted to avoid stepping in a variety of feces. Cows and dogs roam this area freely and with that freedom comes the freedom to go to the bathroom wherever they please with no recourse to them. The only recourse obviously, is for the people who step in the crap or spend their entire time trying to avoid stepping in it.

So as you are looking down trying not to step in anything and looking out of the corner of your eye to make sure a rickshaw doesn’t pick you off, you must also contend with the abominable air conditions. The pollution is so bad that I had to wear a bandana over my face to shield my breathing and obviously sunglasses to keep little particles of whatever out of your eyes. In addition to this, you must also contend with people continuously coming up to you and trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do and not letting up. Also, the temperature can range well into the hundreds Fahrenheit and you will be caked with sweat. But the best part is that if you run your nails over your forearms, they will be black from all the dirt in the air. I actually timed it and it took less than five minutes for this phenomenon to occur. Finally, as you might imagine all of these factors: pollution, crap, hot temperatures, garbage and filth lead to an unexplainable stench that I don’t even have a good comparison for but it’s what I would imagine a landfill would smell like. Ahh Pahar Ganj!

Now I want to be fair to Delhi, there are a few notable things to see, led by the Red Fort, which is very impressive, and more importantly it can give you a reprieve from the constant hassles of the touts. Delhi however, is not for the faint hearted or, let me rephrase that, Pahar Ganj is not for the faint hearted.

Delhi is of course broken into Old and New Delhi and there are many nice parts of the city but the overwhelming memory that I will take from it, and I know that I am not alone, is just how dirty and disgusting it was. As I think aloud on this piece, I have seen poverty a lot in Asia, Africa and Latin America but I believe why India is known to be so bad is that there are simply so many people on the streets and living in squalor. It is very sad and I don’t mean to belittle these people but it is hard to see and watch the sheer volume that it takes place in all of the cities in India, not just Delhi.

I enjoyed my trip to India and I saw some amazing things and beautiful places and met some great and interesting people. I was all over the country but Delhi is dizzying, maddening, frustrating, annoying and sad. It is a microcosm of modern day India. The rich people live out of sight and all you see is the bottom of the caste system. Delhi is a labyrinth of your mind and a maze of your senses where the word “enough” doesn’t exist. I am glad I had the Delhi experience but I had “enough”.

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  1. I am originally from India but I live in the UK now. I have been to Delhi only 3 times since leaving as a young boy and even as an Indian, you are right, it’s madness in Delhi

  2. Delhi sounds insane, Im sure the food is brutal too

  3. Great description of Delhi, really captures how crazy it is

  4. Hey.. as much as i hate to admit it, but u are right… mostly… I am from Delhi and i realize how hard it must be for a foreigner..
    Here is how you can survive in Delhi.

  5. Anshuman Narain says

    Kinda your bad dude… Why the heck do tourists stay in Paharganj anyway? Unless you are a hippy who wants to get high all day…

  6. Dude, if you choose to go to the most ghetto, crap infested part of a city then it is YOUR fault to assume and think that the entire city is like. I have been to Delhi and stayed at the Maurya Sheraton and hung around the Golf Links, Defence colony and certain other areas of south and central Delhi. I also visited the satellite town called Gurgaon and thought it was exhilarating and an absolutely wonderful experience with posh clubs to hang out in and ridiculously delicious food to eat. From someone who has traveled so much of the world I expected a more mature, balanced perspective on certain cities. But I feel you still have a long way to go in terms of truly enjoying your journey and your stays at these destinations. I feel it is unfair on the natives of a people that a young westerner shows up, chooses to stay in a craphole of a part of town and then label the entire town as such.

  7. Lee, as someone born and brought up in Delhi I would like to tell you that a few things that you mentioned are absolutely correct. Delhi is fast paced to the extent of CRAZY and there are way too many of us! But to be fair, you only saw one side of the city and hence once side of our culture. Pahargunj is a place where even we as locals don’t go, and I never understood why travellers actually prefer to stay there than the many many lovely places in the city.

    Like you mentioned you have visited Delhi many times after and enjoyed yourself more, wish we could actually read about those experiences too!

  8. Hi thats an awful picture of Delhi that you have painted.
    I was born in delhi and probably die here to. Its not that newyork has ni ghettos or how whites treat black Americans ,hispanics or for that matter Asians.if you choose to stay in one dollar a day accomodation its not fault of delhi people
    Similarly you have to understand though traffic situation is bad here and brown is our air but we are still willing to work on the issue by adopting grean fuel. We are huge city with lakhs ofmigrants coming in everydĂ y for work so i think that is why the chaos.
    Lastly people in developed world are also similar ,believe me i have seen multitudes of homeless Americans, heard stories of mugging in metroes ….. but we indians do not believe in seeing the downside instead see only the positives

  9. Mannn visit Kerala next time. U will love it. Get details of tourist spots before landing…Get all the lists of places and just go everywhere.

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