Huddled in a small corner of New Delhi exists a part of town that predates the British boulevards – Old Delhi – and, setting off, my path took me straight through it.
New Delhi is a planned city, established by the British in the beginning of the 20th century. Many parts of it are a joy to drive – the boulevards are wide and lined with old trees. Riding from the Estonian Embassy to India Gate took no time at all. But Old Delhi is different. Reaching it, the roads get so packed with traffic that even people cannot squeeze through. Here it felt as if I was finally getting a proper introduction to India – loud, colorful, smelly, crowded, filled with places of rich history and wealth, and poverty. Riding through it is an experience in itself.
Crossing the Yamuna river just north of Old Delhi takes you out of Delhi into the state of Uttar Pradesh and the smells just kept piling on. Ignoring the arguments presented by my nose I made a stop on the side of the road to take a look around. Beside the highway, large swaths of land were covered with loose garbage, sacks of trash that had ruptured or were about to, and shacks propped up in the middle of all this. Within this improvised dump there were people – some rummaging through it, others seeking shelter from the sun inside the sheds. I truly wondered for a bit whether people here had evolved an ability to turn off their sense of smell. And then, before the wondering crowd around me could get too large, I moved on.
The suburbs of Delhi get poorer with distance. No green lawns or white picket fences here; it is all stacks of irregular houses propped wall to wall with only narrow alleyways to provide access. The farther you get, the less paint and other decorations the houses will have. Pretty soon I found myself looking at houses of only red brick standing desolate-looking in the middle of a barren field. No colors here. Dust had covered what little there had been. The color soon returned in the form of more garbage heaps and my faith in the future of humanity sank. This was sad.
What sealed my opinion of India’s future was two teenagers on a bicycle. I overtook them on their rickety old thing as I was cruising along, but seeing a foreigner they got all excited. Their way of showing it was to start sprinting, rush up and crash into me. To their misfortune my bicycle and I landed on top of them. Fun fact here, Indians teenagers slide no better on paved roads as anybody else.
One of them started nursing his scraped knee immediately. The crash had torn through his jeans. The second looked to be in similar condition, yet I could find no pity in me at that point. That would come later. For now I was working on instinct, and instinct reminded me that I’d been the victim of similar attempts of robbery before. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. My bike seemed to be in working order. Good. Bags were attached and undamaged. Parts of me seemed to be working properly as well, so I got moving immediately. On the saddle I took one look back to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind and nothing there was trying to come after me. Instincts.
I had scrapes and bruises on my left side, but in hindsight that was a lucky accident. For me, nothing was broken or even bent. The guys had probably just wanted to show off and lost control of their rusty thing. Stupidity, not malice. But nevertheless this proved a very adventurous start to the trip. Also my appreciation for the bike went up – it can take a decent beating.