India Trip | January 2014 | Post 1 - New Delhi
In January 2014 I travelled to northern India with my friend Alessandro, who flew from Madrid via Dubai, and me from London via Amsterdam. From Delhi we began a large loop that took us to Agra, then to Varanasi via an overnight train and then on to Rajasthan, where our driver Gopal took us from city to city, Udaipur – Jodphur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner – Pushkar – Jaipur.
My intentions for blogging about my trip is to share with you more photos than I currently have displayed on my website (I shot over 10GB of images), to tell the story behind the images, and to share my experiences of what is a truly hectic yet incredible country.
New Delhi & Old Delhi
I arrive at the airport just before 2am in the morning, tired and exhausted from the flight since innumerable children have decided I wasn’t allowed to doze off. On arrival I wait for what seems like an eternity at baggage reclaim, having to eventually fight my way through the multitude that has amassed to collect my bag.
As I emerge from the terminal into the thick January New Delhi fog, I make eye contact with a blanket-clad man standing among a throng of taxi drivers with my name scribbled on a piece of paper. He insists on taking my bag and energetically precipitates towards the road. I quickly realize that small talk is not his forte, but I try and make conversation anyway. Being from England, the weather is of course my first topic of conversation, “frightfully cold isn’t it?”. No response. He stops at the curb and pulls his cell phone, a Nokia 3210. It turns out he isn’t the driver at all and we wait for a while in the cold damp fog, until his friend comes to a screeching halt in a Mahindra minivan in front of us. My bag is thrown into the back of the van, as am I, and we set off before I’ve even sat down. I wrestle with the seatbelt for a while until I manage to finally clip it in as we weave in and out of the poorly-lit traffic. We pass huge Tata lorries on the left and on the right, whose drivers all use their customised horns generously.
Along the road, clusters of men, hunched down, huddle around open fires, fighting the nightly chill. Dark shadows move in the gloom and stray dogs roam the streets. We arrive at Hotel Arjun, in the Main Bazar ahead of Delhi, and I am greeted by the porter and bell boy, who carries my heavy camera bag and 17kg bag - on his head - up three flights of stairs. I tip him 50 rupees, the only small change I have, but he appears very grateful. The room is spacious and clean, with a small flat screen TV, and ensuite bathroom (albeit sans shower curtain). It’s 3am now - time to call it a night, Alessandro’s flight is scheduled to arrive at 10.30am from Dubai so I set my alarm for noon and put in my ear plugs to block out the humming of the small mini fridge on the floor. I’m out like a light.
I’m awoken by what I think is someone knocking at the door, but looking at my phone it’s only 8am, no way it can be Alessandro. It turns out they’re just cracking on early with some repairs to the building. I turn over and sleep through until noon. Not long after 12 the phone rings, it’s Alessandro at reception. We catch up quickly, having not seen each other since Alessandro's visit to London several months previously, and he drops off his stuff in the room. Down in the lobby, we organise a driver for the next couple of days who will take us to Agra and drop us off at the overnight train to Varanasi, as well as a driver to take us around Rajasthan in several days’ time. Though not the cheapest mode of transport, we are short of time, and a driver will afford us much more flexibility for our trip. What’s more, in January, northern India is often shrouded in a thick fog that delays trains and flights, as we will come to experience several days later for our flight to Udaipur from Varanasi.
Our driver for the next few days is Ude, a heavy-set man of around 50 years, who periodically opens the door to spit out his tobacco. Despite his broken English, we make it to a restaurant where Alessandro and I eat a grilled vegetable Jalfrezi with naan bread, accompanied by none other than a couple of Kingfisher beers. Having had our fill, we set off to explore Old Delhi - the Lal Qila (or Red Fort) and the market of Chandni Chowk. No one seems to adhere to the lane markings and people cross in the middle of the street – it would appear that rush hour is at any time of day here. As we trundle through the traffic, a small hand taps on the window and a drummer boy and dancing girl, spotting two white faces in the back of the car, rush to perform some acrobatics on the pavement alongside us. I also take a portrait of a man in the car alongside us, who winds down his window for me.
We pull up near the Red Fort, where Ude tells us he can’t go any further in the car and that we must make our own way on foot. We jump out and start the walk over to the entrance of the Red Fort. Old Delhi is an assault on the senses - within moments were are avoiding the torrents of urine spilling their way down to the road from an open latrine, a man being sick, as well as overly-inquisitive stray dogs. It’s all part of the fun. We pass street vendors, someone selling popcorn, someone serving nondescript Indian food from a trolley, as well as people selling clothes and men asleep on their rickshaws. At the Red Fort we join the queue for foreigners, 250 rupees entrance for us compared to the 10 rupees for Indians!
The Red Fort, built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, boast some impressive architecture, though compared to the other forts we’ll visit on the trip, this one appears a little run down and in need of some TLC. As we stroll around the palace gardens while the sun sets, we are asked to be in a handful of group photos. Whistles sound and the guards begin shepherding everyone out. We follow the crowd out and venture into the market area of Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk.
It’s even more hectic here than it was in New Delhi. Every rickshaw driver that passes asks if we want a lift, there is an incessant beeping from every car and tuktuk, and an acrid smell fills the air, akin to the smell of burning plastic.
As night falls, we head back to Ude. We drive back through the mayhem that is 7 o’clock traffic in New Delhi to the hotel where we say goodbye to Ude for the evening. We’ll see him again at 8am tomorrow for the drive to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal.
Sam Gillespie | Photographer
+44 7717 234 225