After a very smooth landing at Delhi Airport and a step back in time through retro carpeted arrivals, we headed outside. My imagination was working overtime. What would it really be like, many people have said that nothing can prepare you for the real impact, then not everyone has been to South Africa! We were dragging our suitcases across a busy bumpy, but acceptable road to where our minibus was waiting. Here we met our tour guide Anup Seth who would be a constant throughout our trip and an incredible guardian and resource of all things Indian and Hindu in particular.
We sat in the airconditioned mini bus and felt strangely cut off from the immediate hustle and dangers of the roads outside. Our driver was like a professional stunt driver dodging and negotiating what seemed impossible driving conditions. There were bicycles, cars, tuk-tuks, buses, people, cows, motor bikes did I mention people, and donkey carts all competing for the shortest route across the roads. Total mayhem it seemed.
We got to Hotel Pluto, our first hotel. There were strange smells everywhere to make sense of in my mind pulling out connotations from all sorts of places in my life. The hotel had beautiful colonial dark furniture in the lobby and the staff were very friendly. I did however not drink the complimentary squash on arrival. My first meal in Delhi was at what they called a 'cocktail bar' and I just had what Ian, our English Guide, was having, as he has been to India many times - potato wedges with a dip - then into the fray...
Our first Delhi experience on foot. O my goodness. I cannot begin to describe the sensations and emotions that surfaced in the walk through the streets to get to the Spice Market. We were up to our heads in a pool of people, skin to skin moving, trying to walk and trying to get through over uneven paths and stepping to avoid dog poo and cow dung and water of all sorts of origins. Anup told us if we wanted to cross a road, we literally just had to step out in faith and not look right or left at all because as soon as you did, other traffic think you are giving them way! A white car scraped past my knee and a horse by my ear and people pushing through past me, I was petrified.
I tried a couple of times to lift my camera to take pictures, but the overwhelm was just too much. I could feel tears stinging my eyes and a fear grabbing hold of me, but I did not know what exactly I was scared of. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. Usually when you go somewhere you know what to look out for, but here we were shuffling and pushing our way through thousands of faces and I did not know what my fear was. Was it that I may get run over by a car or truck when attempting to cross the impossible roads, or a cow horn in my side or a knife? Or was someone going to shout at me for taking their picture or was I going to get lost and never find my way out or was I going to get sick from the coughs and sneezes around me... I put my camera down and chastised myself for being such a whimp and so stupid and not a photographer at all. Then I started coughing as well and had the most horrendous burning tickling sensation in my throat. We were indeed in the Spice Market. It was an ants nest of activity with people who work in the spice market carrying heavy bags of spices around, vans stopping to upload or off load. They all had scarves or covers over their mouths and were constantly clearing throat and spitting and coughing as the smell of the spices all mixed together were extremely strong. There was every spice you can imagine and most amazing colours. Ian and the others were doing well taking amazing pictures here and I felt like someone had stripped me of all photography knowledge, I just felt numb and wanted to get out of there. Jane who would be my super travelling comerade for the next 21 days was having the same experience. We made our way out into the spice shop where I did buy some saffron for Sally and then we headed out into the streets once more on the way to find a 'throw shop'.