After one night at Kuldeep Friends Hostel–which was not a hostel as advertised but rather a guest house, and the worst one I’ve ever experienced, no less–I’m now staying at Hotel Metropolis on Main Bazar Road near the Ramakrishna Mission. I’m just steps from the Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Metro Station and one stop away from the solidly middle-class Connaught Place shopping district. The vibrant working class neighbourhoods of Old Delhi, Paharganj, Sadar Bazar, and Karol Bagh are all within walking distance.
Of course you don’t have to walk very far to find something interesting in Delhi – the entire city is chock full of exotic sights, smells and sounds. My plan for Saturday #122 was to get up early and spend the day wandering with no particular destination. This is my favourite way to spend a day in just about any city. When it’s time to head “home” I would hail a tuk tuk or rickshaw and ask to be taken to Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Metro Station. Asking for “Hotel Metropolis” would surely inflate the fare by a factor of two or three and “hailing” a tuk tuk is never an issue as at least one tuk tuk driver a minute asks if you need a ride.
At least that was the plan when I went to bed on Friday night. My Circadian clock had other plans. In the relative tranquility of a private room with thick concrete walls and heavy blackout drapes, I slept until nearly 1:00 in the afternoon. Apparently I’m still running on something much closer to Toronto time where that was 4:00 a.m.
I had a lukewarm shower (as good as it gets in this hotel) and headed out in search of something to eat. The first place that I came to looked interesting. The guy was operating out of an open storefront (as opposed to just setting up shop on the street) and he had locals lined up six deep for whatever was in a a large aluminum pot. I stood in line for a few minutes before concluding that none of us were going to be served anytime soon. Something about the gas. The kid running the place fiddled with the gas meter for a minute before striking it with a wrench. Sensing that an explosion might be imminent, I moved on. Briskly.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes I heard “Hello, my friend” at least 10 times. Whether you acknowledge this greeting or not, you’re guaranteed to be hit with a barrage of questions that invariably starts with: “Which country you are from?” I’d like to think that people are just being friendly but after a while you realize that what they really mean is: “You have lots of money and I want some of it.”
I walked down Main Bazar Road in the Mantola Mohalla neighbourhood for about 10 minutes before settling on a snack bar that was serving chai and cheese naan for Rs 40 or about 85 cents Cdn. Local men occupied 4 of the 6 stools so I figured that it couldn’t be too bad. No sooner had I placed my order than an Indian man of about 30 sat down beside me. To my great surprise he did not kick off the conversation with WCYAF (Which country you are from?).
After about a minute of small talk he got to the point. He claimed to be a Christian preacher from a small town north of Delhi and he was in the big city to pick up supplies for the Sunday School. I knew that a request for a donation would be coming sooner or later. I also highly doubted that he was a preacher or that he had ever been to Sunday School. I told him that I simply wasn’t interested in talking about religion and that he shouldn’t assume that I am a Christian just because I’m a white guy from Canada.
“Yes, but you ARE a Christian. I can tell that you have the Lord with you,” he continued, just as my naan and chai arrived at the table. “You will please help,” he persisted.
I know this may sound rude but I told him that I simply couldn’t help. I then set what I’m sure is a new World Record for the quickest consumption of hot chai and cheese naan.
I waded into the crowd of people who were shopping for Diwali treats, presents and fireworks. The Hindu holiday is Sunday and from what I remember from last year, it’s one big opportunity to set off eardrum shattering fireworks amongst crowds of pedestrians.
I had walked no more than 100 meters when I felt something brush up against my left thigh. I looked down but saw nothing. A few seconds later I spotted the preacher heading in the other direction. I hate to think the worst of people but I can think of no legitimate reason that he would have quickly followed me AND apparently had his hand in my left side pants pocket – the very pocket in which I deposited my phone and money when I paid for my meal. Of course I transferred said money and phone to my right pocket when I was safely out of view of everyone at the food stall.
Come to think of it, today is the one year anniversary of the day that I lost an iPhone to some very slick operators on the other side of Delhi. I had been standing in the midst of a jostling crowd, trying to buy ridiculously cheap booze from an open window. I kept my right hand in my pocket for all but three seconds when I waved at the vendor who was about to give my change to someone else. Apparently three seconds is all the time it takes for a professional pickpocket to liberate you from the arduous task of safeguarding a flashy phone.
(The booze vendor closed up shop a few hours later. I’m sure the people who were jostling to “buy” the half-price booze were all in on the scam. It was all a rather elaborate set-up to relieve tourists of their wallets and phones.)
If you get the impression that I’m jet-lagged, slightly cynical and not exactly loving Delhi as much as I did last year, you might be right. I’m definitely jet-lagged, probably a little more cynical than usual, and I am definitely looking forward to the next two weeks in a smaller town to the south of here.
On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a little hole-in-the wall to buy soft drinks and snacks. I have ice and whiskey at the hotel and figured that it might be nice to have some Coke and ginger ale on hand should any of the other hotel guests care to join me for a cocktail. I picked up four cans of pop and a large canister of Pringles before asking the price. This is not advised when dealing with street vendors in Delhi, especially if you are a pasty white guy with “Canada” plastered across your chest.
The guy took out a calculator and came up with a total of Rs 1400. I did the conversion to Canadian Dollars in my head and figured that while $3 was cheap, the guy had very little overhead and was probably making a slim profit. I decided not to bargain and counted out Rs 1400.
“Happy Diwali,” called out the vendor as I walked away. “Happy Diwali, I replied.”
Back at the hotel I put the drinks on ice and entered the sale in my expense tracking app.
Oh-oh. The Trail Wallet app displayed the price in both Rupees and Canadian Dollars. Instead of $3, I had just forked over $30.27 (Cdn.) for four cans of soda and some two-year-old Pringles.
Like I said, Happy Diwali, buddy.
Some photos from my afternoon stroll: