One of our passengers explores the Red Fort and gets a lesson in the Indian code of the road while exploring Delhi on Day 2 of his Taj Express tour.
Sunday morning in Delhi, and although it’s spring, the air is cool. Pre-tour meeting and we prepare to board the coach for our first day on tour. As we wait outside the hotel, our first beggar approaches us with outstretched hand. It is a lady in traditional sari with child in her arms. While most of us board the coach, one female member of our group, a softly spoken lady with dark hair from Kangaroo Island [South Australia] stops and gives a bread roll and banana to the appreciative mother and young child. The coach door closes over and the vehicle slowly accelerates away from the kerbside and the grateful, waving mother and child. Our tour is underway and symbolically and substantively we have now been welcomed to India.
Although the hour is early and it’s Sunday [which although significant in western Christian cultures is probably not so relevant in India], the Delhi traffic is still hectic. Our coach winds its way through the narrow pot-holed streets into the central business district en route to the ‘Red Fort’. The footpaths are packed full of local Delhi people doing business and after circling a large grassed area [that we would probably call a ‘parkland’ here in Australia] that is playing host to literally dozens of games of cricket [the true single religion of India], we find ourselves in a Sunday morning traffic jam. Despite the frantic efforts of a sole Delhi policeman, the traffic is crawling. On the footpath near us a market is evident selling coats, jeans, boots and belts. What is also apparent is that all of the customers at this market are males! Who would have thought it – in Delhi the men go out shopping while the women stay home! This India place is certainly different to home!
After several hours of relative peace at the Red Fort, sight-seeing and admiring the grandeur of this UNESCO certified monument – not to mention the huge black birds [they are called ‘Kites’, I believe] that circle around its turrets, we return to the normal hectic chaos of Delhi street life. Our next ‘assignment’ is a rickshaw ride from the grandeur of the Red Fort through the alleyways of the ancient Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi to the equally grand Jumma Masjid [Mosque] – the oldest one in Delhi dating from the time of the Moghuls who built the Red Fort. We find a likely looking rickshaw man and take a seat on his chariot. I find myself seated next to a young dark-haired English lady. “Oooh, this will be exciting”, she says in a soft Midlands accent. We slowly start moving and our veteran ‘pedaller’ finds his rhythm.
The first stretch of the ride is on a fairly major street where we dodge slow moving cars as we laugh nervously at what would be an unbelievable scenario in our respective [Western] worlds. The laughter becomes really nervous and really raucous as he turns off the ‘main drag’ on to the famous narrow lanes of Chandhi Chowk which literally means ‘Moonlit Market’. I would not like to take this ride in moonlight let me assure you! Our rider accelerates knowing what lies ahead. We navigate our way forward with the cycle bell ringing frantically through twisting, narrow alleys [about 1-2 metres wide] at increasing speed paying no heed to pedestrians or those who live in this labyrinth. Finally, we clear the alleys and find ourselves alighting – giggling by this time – from our rickety rickshaw in the shadow of Jumma Masjid. My young ‘Brummy’ friend was right – that was exciting…..
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