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A girl’s guide to Delhi

I am in Delhi again, this time closer to the throb of the city. I traveled here yesterday on the overnight train from Varanasi where I had been for three days. Varanasi is a city on the skirts of the Ganges. A tourist hotspot for travelers and natives alike it is full to bursting. I was glad of finding a room close to the river and away from the humdrum of Ricksahws and Taxis on the main roads. As with almost everything I have seen so far on my trip, the Ganges and Varanasi was not at all what I had expected. It is (surprisingly enough for India’s holiest city) a bit like Blackpool but with Ganga and Gods. The temples, hotels, burning Ghats, restaurants, street sellers, snake charmers (I also spotted a hedgehog charmer!), animals, Sadhus and cricket playing children all crowd for space along the rivers Western stretch. Everything is colourful, so colourful, the women in their Saris, the holy men swathed in Saffron robes and covered in white Ash, the numerous tents and boats and flags, not forgetting all the glitter, tinsel and sparkling banners. Everyday is an event and every event a ceremony. Through all this flows the holy mother herself, the hopelessly polluted ‘Mother Ganges’ whose murky waters stink of life. Thousands of people flock to the riverbanks daily and in it they may do any number of things which in my society are omitted from the human gaze – daily it is bathed in, pissed in prayed upon, drunk, stolen swum and shat in and if your lucky decomposed in. This is, unmistakably, a river of life in all its inglorious glory.

Culturally Varanasi and the other cities of North India that I have scraped the surface of are an assault on the senses. Unfortunately I have for the moment at least been unable to see past that assault. I am it seems a creature of habit and expectation. Years in fact decades of social conditioning are difficult to shake off. No matter how hard I try I find myself wincing when people so easily drop their litter in the streets adding to the stacks of decomposing filth. I get a twinge of anger every time I wait for someone to pass me in the street only to get pushed on through by the person behind me. I am continually worrying about how people can walk around in the muck with no shoes. I am always giving to beggars. The force of nurture is very powerful indeed for I have left things behind in Britain, people I love, Maltesers and a hot bath, all of which I happily waved farewell to but those habits ingrained in my consciousness remain steadfast. Perhaps I need more time?

These are not the only barriers to cultural exchange which I have come across. Sadly being in India, being female and being alone are a difficult combination. The only attention I get (and there is a lot of it) is male and they either want to sell me something or marry me. On the streets of Varanasi for instance you can be offered Marijuana, LSD, magic mushrooms, cocaine, a boat ride, taxi, hotel room, silver jewelry, and clothing all in the same breath. If I do become engaged in conversation one or the other will certainly come up and if I am not being begged to consume I am being asked about marriage. Indian men seem fascinated with our marriage customs. When on the train to between Gorakpur and Varanasi I was deep in conversation with a man who was bowled over by the idea that a woman could possibly ( although not simultaneously) have more then one husband. I didn’t even go into civil partnerships! As a result of this attention I find myself becoming another person in action and thought, I avoid eye contact always wearing my sunnies, describe myself as already married, and never if I can help it get into a conversation. Viewing from a distance I am a spectator and for this reason don’t feel that I have been able to completely immerse myself in the Indian culture in the slightest.

I have had a few releases from this daily detachment – 2 Yoga classes for instance were a joy. I had a female instructor and was the only one in the class. She pulled me, twisted me, stood on me and laughed with me. It was wonderful. I unraveled. No sooner would the class have begun though then it was ending and I again had to put my barriers back up.

Last night, I cheated. Booking myself into a slightly swankier then the usual guesthouse i enjoyed T.V, a hot shower and comfy bed with no bugs! This morning feeling slightly guilty about last night’s decadence and hole in the budget I promptly checked out and returned to my own kind. Today I spent wandering around the streets of old Delhi in true Fen style – just walk, no map just keep walking remembering the little things like go left up that street by the fried chicken stand to get to the train station, then past the mosque to its entrance and down the alley of spices to the taxi rank, exploring I loved it. Now and again I long for respite from it all like when I do start to get lost and have no water left but hell I can always find some more, or the uncontrollable urge that I get to throttle all the Rickshaw drivers who seem to be magnetically attracted to me, always at my heels or swerving in my direction. Despite these things when I am exploring I am in my element.

Tomorrow I begin my journey to Sri Lanka in search of waves and I can’t wait to wash myself in the sea and get rid of all this grime!

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