Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wider explorations.

Starting from the very first hour I set foot in Delhi, I began the long, confusing, trial-and-error process of orienting myself in this sprawling mega-metropolis. It’s fair to say that the city has been designed to confuse the hell out of even the savviest traveler.

First, some basic geography. Delhi is composed of three main parts: New Delhi, in the center, is the colonial city, the aftermath of British settlement; Old Delhi is in the north, the historical remnants of ancient Mughal rule; and South Delhi, where my flat is located, is the result of recent business expansion from the main city on south.

Now, let’s zoom in on South Delhi. This part is further divided into districts, which are also subdivided into individual neighborhoods. For example, I live in Dayanand Colony within Lajpat Nagar within South Delhi within Delhi. You’d think that for such layered organization, one could systematically find their way around, this assumption is quite untrue.

For starters, absolutely none of the streets in Lajpat Nagar are labeled. For the newcomer, if you don’t have a map glued your nose as you walk, it is impossible to know what street you’re on. Secondly, the neighborhoods (e.g. Dayanand Colony) have blocks labeled alphabetically, except that the alphabet doesn’t go in order. Some of the streets curve so it is possible to lose sense of cardinal direction.

I’ve never relied on my navigational sense to this extent, ever. I have to go almost purely by feel.


This morning, my new Japanese friend Yasu showed me how to hail an auto-rickshaw, and we took the 30-minute ride to Connaught Place, where his work is located. Connaught Place (CP) is the heart of New Delhi. It’s a shopping mecca, the central tourist hub, and is an assault of the senses. The layout is in concentric circles.

As soon as I sat down to orient myself, I was immediately accosted by a local. I took his conversation as simple curiosity, and so I smiled and replied briefly. Soon, four or five others joined in the chat, and didn’t mind nosing into questions that westerners would find personal.

“I’m a shoe-shiner, but I can’t shine your shoes! (I’m wearing sandals) Are you Japanese? No? Korean? Malaysian? Chinese? I like Chinese people. Japanese people walk away if I talk to them, but Chinese people are nicer. How long have you been here? What is your salary? Do you have a husband? Where do you live? Where do you work?”

Perhaps delighted by my indulging their innocuous questions, they kindly showed me to a tourist information booth that handed out free maps of the Delhi area.

I wandered aimlessly around the inner circle for a while, stopping in a few bookstores, killing time before lunchtime. When the heat got the best of me, I ducked into the nearest air-conditioned place I could find: a McDonald’s, boasting menu items like paneer salsa wrap, and chicken maharaja mac. Tempting, but I stuck with my ice cream.

What I really was waiting for was the opening of Kake da Dhaba (literally translated “Uncle’s Restaurant, near Super Bazaar on the map), legendary to budget Delhi foodies. It was cramped, paint-peeling-off-the walls, and completely overrun with people. The kitchen downstairs took up half the floor space, and the entire place had ten seats, upstairs and downstairs combined. The clientele were completely men, the majority of whom looked like middle-class businessmen on their regular lunch break.

I ordered palak paneer, a pureed spinach dish with cubes of unfermented cheese, and served with naan baked in a tandoori oven. It was swimming in ghee and virtually exploded with taste. The first half was everything I asked for -- savory, rich, heaven on the taste buds -- but my appraisal changed in the second half when I started feeling the generous butter and salt content. Still, I couldn’t have picked a more memorable place to have my first real Indian meal.

By the way, I committed the ultimate social faux pas at the restaurant. I ate using my left hand. Considering how much amusement I took from the rule before I came to India, I still can’t believe it slipped my mind that the left hand is reserved for unsanitary purposes only. At some point, I looked around and noticed that people were one-handedly tearing their naan, and then it struck me. Here I was, happily stuffing bread into my face with my left hand, brushing off the stares of others as foreigner-induced, when perhaps they were really shocked and disgusted. Oops.

After my filling meal, I walked a bit further along Connaught Place to the Palika Bazaar (located on the map), a huge underground market for scarves, saris, electronics, sunglasses, fake goods, clothes, and nearly everything imaginable. Booth after booth after booth, around and around, selling all the same things, accosted personally by every single shopkeeper, offers yelled after me, items waved into my face. I left the market pretty quickly, but not without haggling a couple of silk scarves to half-price first.

outside one of the Palika Bazaar's many entrances

My final stop of the day was the Lakshmi Narayan Magir, a Hindu temple located just west of Connaught Place. Photography was not allowed inside, but the place was enormous and paved almost entirely by marble. Icons of deities were distributed within, and on the walls were etchings of prominent gods, goddesses, stories from the religious epics, and verses from the Vedic texts. I wandered around the surrounding garden for a while afterward.

figurest of elephants everywhere / back view of the temple

walkway into the gardens / vendor of worship materials

A thoroughly exhausting day ended with my gleeful discovery of wonderful street food stands just a ten-minute walk from my flat. I had chicken shawarma wraps, dipped in a parsley relish and yogurt (vendors on left), and Chinese dim sum with chili dipping paste (vendors on right).

I'm trying to learn how to take better photos. Most of them are terrible right now, but hopefully I'll improve my skills as I become increasingly frustrated that I can't rightly capture how being in Delhi actually feels.


Lexie said...

i am horrible with a camera - i like to blame my lame photos on my cheap digital, but seriously, i am horrible with cameras!

i oooh and ahhhh-ed at the elephant and shop photos! the colors are so nice.

i loooove these daily posts! i'm so excited for you!

Jon said...

Glad to see you're getting by!

What kind of camera do you have? Do you have to worry about it getting 'lost'?

Faye said...

I'm using a Canon Powershot A650. It's a point-and-shoot, but it's got a million megapixels and manual modes that I'm slowly learning how to use.

If by lost, you mean stolen, well yes, there's always a chance, but I carry it on me everywhere and I keep a keen eye on it.

Stacy said...

In Morocco it's a faux pas to eat with your left hand, too. And as a fellow lefty, I know how you feel. My general rule is: I eat with my left because I tend to spill all over myself if I try otherwise(but I am getting pretty good at the right now) and if I am eating out of a communal dish, then I grab with my right. Anyways, don't worry about it too much!

So excited to read more! :)