Delhi: first impressions

View from the back of the airport taxi © Emma Field

View from the back of the airport taxi © Emma Field

Every traveller and every travel guide warns you of the culture shock that awaits first-time visitors to Delhi. Expect chaos, they say: cows, horns, beggars, smog, stray dogs, touts, scam artists, traffic, overwhelming noise and swarms of people. Delhi has all that, and more.

Past trips to Bangkok, Yangon, Beijing and Marrakech have all helped to prepare me for the chaos of India’s capital, although no city goes quite to the extremes of Delhi. What no-one really mentions is quite how run down parts of it are. Delhi is the capital city of one of the most populous cities of the world. India is a major world power, yet its capital’s streets buzz with the apparently unorganised movement of people, street stalls, animals and vehicles. Pavements, where they exist, are frequently rubble, heavy cables dangle ominously overhead, and men urinate openly in the streets. Cows wander freely and stray dogs doze in the middle of the road. Yet I adore it.

I could feel myself settle easily back into traveller mode as we careered through the traffic in a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Paharganj. On the way we saw a man on a motorbike sneakily hitching a lift on the back of a colourfully decorated lorry, an abandoned, loose-axled taxi with tree branches stuffed in the bumper for hazard warnings, chickens in cages, bright saris hung out to dry, peacocks, the Centre for Psychic and Spiritual Research, bicycles, overloaded mopeds and multitudes of people weaving throughout it all. It was love at first sight…and first sound…and first whiff.


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