My overriding memory of India is of noise, colour and movement. It is never still! There are literally thousands of people crowding the streets of Delhi, and I couldn’t help wondering what they were all doing and where they were all going!
On our first day we travelled in a motorised rickshaw, or ‘tuc tuc’. Our driver weaved in and out of the busy streets, expertly avoiding the many pedestrians and other rickshaws crossing our path. I don’t remember seeing any cars, though I suspect there must have been some!
At the side of the road we encountered stalls selling fruit and clothes, with not a pavement in sight. We were so close that we could have reached out and touched them if we’d wanted to! It all seemed very chaotic and totally alien to us, yet somehow I never felt in danger and had total confidence in the man at the wheel! Maybe it’s because we didn’t go very fast!
Chandri Chowk is a famous part of Delhi for shopping, and here we got out of our tuc tucs to briefly explore the shops. I found it hard to feel relaxed here, because it was so crowded. But three things about this trip are etched in my mind.
First, the jungle of overhead wires and cables that littered the streets! I’ve never seen anything like it. Our guide, Mr Sharma, told us that when new cables are fitted, they just leave the old ones where they are. It looked terrifyingly dangerous!
Secondly, we ventured off the main road to a side street where we visited a jewellery shop. Here it was quiet and peaceful. The contrast was stark and impossible to understand, as we were only a few metres away from the hustle and bustle.
Finally, the monkeys! They made their daily appearance on Kucha Mahajani, a street close to Chandri Chowk, and mesmerised us as they ran and swung and jumped along the walls of the building opposite. We were thoroughly intrigued! I have since learned that Delhi’s 30,000 monkeys are a problem for the community as they can steal, attack and even kill.
Our visit to New Delhi also included a drive past the government buildings. It’s not permitted to stop in this district of the city, but from our minibus we caught a glimpse of the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House) and were able to visit on foot India Gate. This is similar to Britain’s Marble Arch or France’s Arc de Triomphe, and commemorates Indian soldiers who fell in the First World War.
The highlight of our trip to New Delhi, though, was our visit to Gandhi Smriti (Gandhi Memorial). This is the house where Gandhi lived with friends for 144 days before he was assassinated there in January 1948. We looked at his room that was stark and bare and at his few possessions – a watch, a spoon, reading glasses, a desk, a bed.
We traced his last steps as he went to evening worship and saw the spot where his killer lay in wait to shoot him. It was sad and moving, and yet at the same time inspiring and hopeful.
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By Debbie Singh-Bhatti