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Bludgeoned and Beaten By…Old Delhi In The Rain – Delhi, India

Bludgeoned and Beaten By…Old Delhi In The Rain
Delhi, India

Old Delhi! A neighborhood packed to truly anarchic levels with fun, zest, scent, stink, spirit, and color. Any stay in Delhi would be incomplete without a visit here. This is, I swear to you, my firm belief. It is not, however, based on personal experience.

People be warned: when you go to Old Delhi, let the sun shine. Let it shine! Bright and true. Let there be not a grey cloud in sight, for if that cloud looms, my friends, you will risk finding yourself not in Old Delhi, but in… Old Delhi In The Rain!

Yes, Old Delhi In The Rain! The place to be if you want to get nearly run over multiple times by vehicles large enough to kill. Old Delhi In The Rain! The number one destination for tourists seeking to get mud deeply infused in their flesh. Old Delhi In The Rain! Year after year, ranked by Michelin India and Motor-wallah Magazine as the best place in Asia to buy a spare carburetor for your 82′ Renault coup.

The Auto Rickshaw : Stealth Assault Vehicle
The Auto Rickshaw : Stealth Assault Vehicle
Shortly after we left the hotel, the rain began. Traffic and parking in and around Old Delhi grew confused – supercomputers would be incapable of modeling it. We communicated to our driver that we’d be back at some point and that he should please be there. He looked at the traffic and shrugged, intimating a “never say never” attitude. Common sense screamed gobackgoback, but we were on a schedule. Upon arrival we planned to amble amiably about, soak in the “lively” and “bustling” atmosphere of this famed neighborhood, and try to find a tiny sweets shop the guidebooks raved about. We would climb to the top of the minarets in the Jama Masjid, Delhi’s massive mosque, and at the foot of the mosque we would eat at a tucked-away restaurant, a forgotten landmark, but renowned at least amongst travel writers. We then would fancy ourselves Delhi-wallahs.

The first dent to our plan occurred when I got hit by two (2) rickshaws in five (5) minutes. They don’t look like a death machine, those rickshaws. But they are.

On we trekked.

Old Delhi proved to be a tangle of avenues and tiny backstreets packed tightly with fourth-hand apparel shops, bootleg 8-bit video game bazaars, jewelry stores, sweets shops, spice marts, and the biggest used auto parts market in the universe. Maps were of no use. Granted, my friend Vimal and I were never to be synonymous with Lewis and Clark, but in Old Delhi In The Rain even Pocahontas would feel constrained to pause and wonder which way West was. First, there are no street signs. Second, the street signs that are not there are possibly all wrong. Third, nothing screams “ask me for money” and “tell me I look like Brad Pitt” as much as being white and thumbing through a Lonely Planet.

So Lonely Planet got a little lonelier, tucked back in our pockets.

After an eternity of walking around Old Delhi In The Rain’s mud-bathed, crap-strewn, slop-ridden streets, being followed the entire way by children who even by Delhi standards were persistent in begging for alms, we found the restaurant. It was hidden in an alley branching off another alley, and sitting neath the rump-end of the mosque. At the time we entered we were the only foreigners in the place and every last person, stone faced, looked at us – in hostility or bemusement? I could not say. I trusted it was the latter, but in my head images flashed: hostage videos on Al-Jazeera, gunmen in bright green masks, me desperately trying to convince kidnappers I am Canadian and not American.

Those marks up the sides of my pant leg: them's rickshaw marks!
Those marks up the sides of my pant leg: them’s rickshaw marks!
Vimal and I ordered our food, then furtively smeared sanitizer onto our hands. The utensils were put on our table, and they didn’t look very clean. They were probably clean. I am certain they were clean. But they didn’t look it. We wanted to smear them too. (We did not.)

When the food came, it was, to our consternation, soupy, and not boiling hot. Rule #1 of eating in India: avoid anything soupy unless it is boiling hot, and even if it is boiling hot, avoid it. What would be the consequences of refusing the dish? Would an ayatollah charge out the kitchen doors and hack off our heads? I imagined my head hanging from the tops of the mighty minarets of the mosque, a warning to all Lonely Planet readers: this is Allah’s curry, praise be upon it.

We shoved the food down our throats and ran away.

Too proud to concede a defeat that was obvious, we continued trudging about the mud of Old Delhi In The Rain. We passed by several tourists flipping through Lonely Planets, fruitlessly querying maps Vimal and I had long since abandoned. They were looking for that sweets shop the book mentioned, but we’d abandoned that idea too. We’d even decided to skip the Jama Masjid, feeling it would be ridiculously disrespectful to walk in as we were, caked in mud and looking a touch like refugees.

Some time later, who knows how long, defeated, bludgeoned, irritated, and soaked, Vimal and I navigated our way out of the maze. The pleas and come-ons of the beggars and sellers did not reach our ears, so focused were we on finding our driver. Miraculously he found us. And then the sun came out.

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