When we arrived in India, we had been on the road for about three and a half months, making us seasoned travelers, or so we thought. We arrived at the Delhi Airport, and with only a small queue for customs and relatively quiet terminal we thought the cautions about the chaos of India was surely overblown. “We lived in New York, now that’s a busy city. The warnings must not apply to us,” we thought. But our arrival in India provided a healthy dose of humility as little can prepare you for the sensory assault that is day one in Delhi. We quickly learned that there was an adventure in store for us.
The traffic, smog and noise were like nothing we had seen before. Throngs of people everywhere we looked. Cows and goats roamed about freely. Cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled autorickshaws, that serve as taxis) and bikes crowded the streets, weaving in and out of traffic with complete abandon for rights of way or even lanes. The blaring horns were the only constant. One of our favorite taxi drivers told us in order to drive in India you need three things: a good horn, good brakes and good luck! Hot, crowded, loud, and teeming with life – this was the India we had come to see.
We spent our first few days touring the sights of Old Delhi: the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque, with room for 30,000 faithful for Friday prayers), and toured the many Bazaars. The sights were beautiful and the energy of the city palpable. From the smells – both good and bad – to the tastes to the loud hum of car horns, shouting, and work being done that surrounded you, India was all that it promised and more. A fun feature of visiting these sights, is that domestic tourists, unaccustomed to seeing Western tourists in their home cities and villages, were eager to snap a picture of themselves with their new American “friends.” Catherine was quite popular – from families giggling as the youngest children excitedly posed for a picture with her to full-on family photos in which Cat was handed a baby to pose with for shots to show family members back at home. It was good fun and the pictures were typically hilarious, and in some cases, quite adorable.
We visited the many other parks, monuments and sights around Delhi and feasted on the food at the city’s many restaurants and dhabas (street-side food stalls). John’s favorite experience was a visit to the Dargah – a shrine to a Muslim Sufi saint in Hazrat Nizamuddin, this place of pilgrimage is where many locals come each night after evening prayers to pay a visit, and hear the Sufis playing music and singing prayers on the marble courtyard. We were the only westerners present in a sea of locals here to pray. Donning head covers and leaving our shoes outside, we walked barefoot into the crowd and found a place to sit among the faithful. After days in the chaos of Delhi, this place felt peaceful and safe and we were glad to be a part of it.