Day three in India. Or four, possibly - I'll have to check.
Delhi is a great city. I feel a bit guilty about enjoying a place which has such poverty and squalor (especially coming straight from Dubai) and when Jonathan seems to hate it so much, but I still love it. Every day, every hour, is crammed with minutes and seconds and incidents.
I feel as though I'm still catching up on sleep after the flight, where I got none and had to build my bike outside the terminal at Indira Gandhi International before riding into the city. I had been warned about the amount of hassle and touts and scamsters and pushy taxi drivers at the airport, but they must have taken one look at the enormous, misshapen box I had my bike in, and gone "sod that". The inevitable crowd gathered but it wasn't at all intrusive - they were quiet, attentive and asked a few polite questions while I chased nuts and washers across the marble floor. More like a polite audience at a lecture than a street crowd.
And that's what's pleased me so far about India, at least about the bits of Delhi I've seen so far; I worried that I'd find the predicted levels of hassle and intrusiveness overwhelming, but it's been manageable at worst and hilarious at best. Lots of people smiled and waved at me when I was riding, and it's hard to be bad-tempered when that happens. Once I reached Paharganj, the area around New Delhi Railway Station, any time I stopped to check my notes or guidebook or simply gather my thoughts, someone would immediately approach me to offer a cheap room rate. I quickly realised that I couldn't remember the name of the hotel where Elsa was staying, and I was unlikely to spot it as I wandered, and I decided to follow a gentle old chap whose approach I found much more charming than most, and he has led me to a decent, cheap hotel. I'd already toured the area a bit, so I didn't worry about where he was going.
In that brief wander, I saw so much of what I'd expected and hoped for - cows and dogs and goats in the street, street food everywhere, beggars and touts and market stalls selling tat or valuable statues or cheap knock- offs. Later that day, walking around with Elsa, there were street monkeys and a Sikh temple and gardens and parrots and kites, kites everywhere. The feathered black kind, that is, though there were a few string kites as well.
Seeing the city with others was great as well - Elsa clearly loves the place, and as we were sitting on the balcony above the city watching the sunset way above the hurly-burly of the streets below (I've been using the phrase "hurly-burly" quite a lot) I said that I was looking forward to Jonathan's reaction, as it would tell me whether I'd simply become inured to the amount of attention while out on my bike, where I am the centre of attention in every town, city and village, or whether it's not actually as bad as the guide books make out. Here in Delhi, in Paharganj which is backpacker central, I feel quite anonymous.
I'm masochistically pleased to report that Jonathan does seem overwhelmed. I was surprised and pleased that he accepted my offer to meet me here - since his job had finished after New Year I knew he had the time, but I didn't know whether he had the money or the inclination. He'd had even less sleep than me on the flight from the UK but at least he had a proper hotel to stay at - the same as Elsa, so we met there and went out for drinks. Connaught Place is central and has a fair selection of eateries so we went out for Elsa's last night and Jonathan spent the whole night re-telling the story of his walk around the block when an auto rickshaw driver kept warning him that the place was too dangerous to walk around. In retaliation Elsa and I ordered a load of cocktails, but Jonathan doesn't drink that much so he was jetlagged, stressed and sober in-between two progressively more drunken people.
The next day I thought he'd benefit from seeing Raj Ghat, the memorial to Gandhi set in beautiful parklands and which I'd found to be an oasis of calm in the hurly-burly of Delhi, an escape from the madness of the rest of the city, where even the Indians took a rest, as no one tried to sell me anything while I was there.
Sadly, it was closed for the Republic Day celebrations. Still, Jonathan enjoyed the auto rickshaw ride through the traffic. We did visit the National Gandhi Museum (which is different from the Gandhi Museum and the Gandhi Memorial), but Jonathan didn't get the moment of serenity I'd planned as preparation for the next bit on the itinerary (I might not have mentioned there was an itinerary), the streets and alleys of Old Delhi. We went via Jama Masjid, where I refused to pay the 200 rupees to get in as it's supposed to be free and it's only a tax for taking your camera, which I wasn't going to use as I'd been there yesterday. They chucked us out. This probably did little for Jonathan's serenity.
Back around the corner, I suggested we try one of the other entrances to the mosque, but he didn't seem that bothered about going in any more, especially after seeing and refusing to use the toilets. I'll admit, kneeling to take a piss is new to me.
Maybe it was a bit much. We tried and failed to shake off this cycle rickshaw rider, who followed us around the corner outside the Bearing District just as I was trying to walk Jonathan to the Firework District to see the huge Catherine Wheels. There's a district for everything.
Jonathan seemed keen on having a look around the old streets, and I thought he might enjoy seeing it from the relatively spacious seat, rather than having to dash through the warren like a rat in a maze. I normally hate using animal terms to refer to humans, but no word seems more appropriate than "Warren" for the crush of people and narrow alleys and shops that form Old Delhi. Even though I have a good sense of direction and I kept an eye on the map and I'd been around there yesterday, I felt a bit claustrophobic, and the day was drawing on. I could have done with more cues from Jonathan, but I was really enjoying the ride - the driver put on a bit of a show and gave us loads of information about things we were passing and pointed out things to photograph, and there were nearly fisticuffs in the street along Chandno Chowk. However, Jonathan was not enjoying himself, so we asked the driver to drop us back at the hotel. Since we hadn't agreed a price, the end result was dissatisfaction all around, as Jonathan and I were trying to pay the price for a taxi ride and he was asking the price for a guided tour. He wasn't as knackered as he made out, either, and I'm not sure he really did have a family to support...
So that was the end of that night: when I walked back from Jonathan's hotel to mine I passed a huge wedding party being held in a massive marquee and I nearly went back for him but I couldn't be bothered and I didn't think he'd want to anyway. I wandered back to my hotel, past the Wine and Beer shop where they hand the cheap whisky out of a hole in the wall, and the workshops of handcrafted Hindu idols, and the railway bridge where the homeless people and dogs sleep. A guy appeared, furtively, out of the shadows and said "hey my friend, you buy this?" and waved a 16Gb memory stick at me. I was quite disappointed.
Today, I have finally sorted out an Indian SIM and internet access for my phone, though I hadn't realised (cos the phone shop didn't tell me, though the guy at the Idea shop explained it wonderfully) that my Sim only really works in Delhi.
Yet another weird conincidence in a trip that has been hallmarked by weird coincidences: I had got sick of waiting for Jonathan and wandered down to Connaught Place to organise my phone, and he had texted me when I was there to say that he'd just woken up. I replied and explained that I was at the mobile phone shop which I had taken him to yesterday and that he should meet me at the same coffee shop we'd visited yesterday.
Turns out, he didn't receive that text, but he still decided to brave the Delhi madness and head to the same cafe, which is where he was when I called him. He said later, he was surprised at my reaction as I seemed very matter-of-fact but that was because he was simply where I expected him to be...
So today started late and felt very relaxed.
Tomorrow, Jonathan and I are cycling to Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills. That is, assuming he agrees to cycling out of the city.
Link to Delhi photos on Flickr