First Impressions of India So Far

We truly were expecting the very worst when we flew into India earlier this week. The stories from other travellers about how incredibly filthy it is, animals and excrement lining the streets, scams on every corner – that it was one of the most frustrating places to travel. Then there’s also the news in the media – the violence and disrespect towards women, and the ever-worsening pollution… you can understand why we were a little apprehensive about visiting.

We’re pleased to say that whilst all of the above are issues here in India, that we have been pleasantly surprised that our experience so far has been nothing like we expected – it’s a thousand times better than we thought it would be.

Arriving at Indira Gandhi airport in New Delhi, we were immediately impressed by the cleanliness and efficiency of a very modern airport. Being approached by dozens of taxi-wallahs as we exited the airport, vying for our business, was a little confronting but the reality is – that’s exactly what exiting the airport is like in any major Asian city.

Traffic is MAD in Delhi, as we quickly realised, hurtling down the freeway and weaving in between other vehicles down the freeway to our hotel. However, as we have learnt over the last few days – you eventually get to your destination relatively unscathed, with only a few near misses. Once again, it really has felt like any typical Asian city where practically no one observes the road rules – Delhi just has a few extra cows…

We’ve walked on average 10 kilometres a day, along main roads and side streets, market places, to and from attractions and through public transport hubs – a variety of different streets. Whilst yes, there is rubbish everywhere, some places more than others – it really is not that bad. At all. It’s terrible to see of course, however most people tend to keep the area around their business premises – whether that be a hotel, restaurant or a street food vendor – relatively clean, sweeping rubbish away from the thoroughfare and off to the side. We’ve come across other places in our travels just as dirty – if not more so – so it was not as terrible as we were expecting.

There’s been maybe two or three moments only over our three days in Delhi where we both wrinkled our nose and held our breath for a few moments due to the smell. This is mainly due to public urinals which can be found all over Delhi. I think that as we are travelling in the cooler months – its the start of winter here in the north – that the smell is not so bad. Summer and the heat would likely exacerbate the smell from these public toilets and areas with lots of rubbish – but overall, it barely smells. In fact, walking past drains in the streets of Thailand have smelt worse than the few seconds of the smell of urine in Delhi – it passes very quickly.

We have been incredibly impressed by Delhi’s attractions. There is SO much to see in India’s capital – its so much more than just a big city, with thousands of years of history to be discovered across its many monuments. Best of all, they’re extremely well kept, well sign-posted, easily accessible and cheap to visit – we haven’t paid more than 250 Rp (approx $5.50 AUD) per person at any monument.

Red Fort, found in chaotic Old Delhi, is impressive from the moment you see its towering walls from the streets. We spent several hours gaping at the incredible architecture, trying to imagine how such a structure was built over 500 years ago. A quick cycle-rickshaw over the road will take you to the nearby Jama Masjid – India’s largest mosque, with room for over 25 000 worshippers. It was a beautiful place to visit, and so wonderful to see many happy, care-free people visiting with their families and friends.

The stunning arches of the public audience hall in the Red Fort.
The stunning arches of the public audience hall in the Red Fort.
Masjid-i Jahān-Numā - the largest mosque in India with a capacity for 25 000 worshippers.
Masjid-i Jahān-Numā – the largest mosque in India with a capacity for 25 000 worshippers.

Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi is a 16th century mausoleum, and one of the best in Delhi. It’s perfect symmetry, lush gardens and opulence was an influence in the design of the Taj Mahal. We were one of the few tourists there, and were able to enjoy most of the monument in complete serenity, and able to capture some amazing photos such as these.

The UNESCO protected site of Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi.
The UNESCO protected site of Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi.
It was so quiet we had the place to ourselves!
It was so quiet we had the place to ourselves!

We took the Delhi Metro – again, incredibly impressed by how clean and efficient it was, reminding us a lot of Singapore – to the Greater Delhi area, visiting the Qutb Minar Complex and nearby Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The main attraction at the Qutb Minar Complex is its 73m high stone minaret – the tallest in India. How they built something so impressive as this over a thousand years ago is something we just couldn’t comprehend. We had the nearby Archaeological Park completely to ourselves – it houses some of the most impressive relics of the old city of Delhi, and we were lucky enough to have the lovely security staff take us beyond padlocked gates to visit some of its tombs.

We also paid a visit to the iconic India Gate, the Gandhi Smriti memorial (the last residence of Mahatma Gandhi and location of his assassination in 1948), and Gurdwara Bangla Sahib – a golden domed Sikh temple. Our afternoon visiting this beautiful temple was probably our best experience yet. We were befriended by a couple of locals, a brother and his sisters – a little older than us, who showed us around, explaining the customs, taking us to have a meal provided by the temple, talking about India and its people and our travels. We exchanged numbers and were invited back for a meal with their family, which whilst we didn’t have time on this visit, we hope to do so when we return to Delhi in a month’s time.

The golden-domed Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple.
The golden-domed Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple.

The best, and most impressive part of India so far? It’s people – it’s friendly, helpful, wonderful people. As a female, I was expecting (and had been told) that I would be disregarded and not addressed – however its been the complete opposite. Every ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ that I’ve uttered has been returned with a warm, lovely smile. The majority of those we’ve interacted with have been very helpful with giving instructions and advice. There’s been a bit of harassment, don’t get us wrong – it hasn’t all been roses – generally from those in the auto-rickshaws who have tried to lock us in to a days worth of transport, city tours, and stopping at their cousin’s brother’s aunt’s shop for handicrafts. But we reply with a firm no and eventually they let it go, the conversation turning to where we’re from and our plans for India and discussions about cricket…

We have met some of the loveliest, friendly people in India so far.
We have met some of the loveliest, friendly people in India so far.

Delhi is the hardest city to cope with in India, everyone has said. Well, we think we can safely say that we coped. We took taxis, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, trains and the public metro. We only got ripped off once, and only taken to a ‘dodgy’ tourist centre once – where we didn’t buy anything and were in and out within a minute. Everything we’ve eaten has been delicious, and there’s no sign of sickness yet…

We survived! And what’s more – we loved it. Fingers crossed that the rest of our travels will be just as enjoyable with as few a problem – but hopefully with a little less traffic.

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First Impressions of India

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