Greetings From Delhi

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Back in Delhi

Last Monday night, I flew from London Heathrow to Delhi via Jet Airways. I took a random punt on this airline and it was a pretty lackluster experience. The aircraft was quite old and backdated. I had an aisle seat in the middle aisle row of seats. The two seats of the four in the middle were vacant. On the other end of my row was an old Sikh who got very drunk and disorderly and later incurred the wrath of the airline staff who refused to serve him more whisky. There sadly was nothing entertaining, charming or witty about him and he was a constant pain and drone for most of the flight. I spent the majority of my flight either taking advantage of the in-flight entertainment system or listening to my iPod.

Delhi was just as I had envisaged it to be when the plane landed at Delhi airport. The entire landscape from the runway was blurred by thick blinding smog. As everybody began to disembark from the plane, I realized that I couldn’t find my navy blue retro cotton scarf. Amongst the mess of used airline blankets and headphones, I couldn’t see it. I again looked in my bag. No luck. I broached this to the airline staff but it was a futile quest. Ah fuck it, I concluded. Lets get out of here.

I waited over an hour just to change £30 into Indian Rupees at the Thomas Cook bureau de change at Delhi airport. The recent demonetization events in the country involving the sudden withdrawal of all R500 and R1000 notes, representing over 80% of the country’s money supply, compounded with the tough restrictions on how much money one could withdraw or exchange meant that one was by law not supposed to exchange more than R5000 a week. I was with a group of other fellow travelers including a group of Peruvian tourists who’d just flown in from Hyderabad and they were equally dejected by the whole thing.

I decided to take the modern metro airport express direct to New Delhi station instead of haggling with a cab driver. At the entrance to the station there was a security check with austere Indian police in charge. The express train blazed through vacant and baron swathes of outer Delhi. The heavy smog made all the surrounding scenery translucent and vague. Many trees were either dead, dying or suffocating by the smog, pleading desperately with the gods in vain for rain. They would have to wait until at least June next year. At the top of the smogged skyline was the sun, heavily veiled to resemble one of those glowing white coated energy saving lightbulbs rather than a piercing brilliant white hot glow. People had to have lungs of steel to live in this city.

Arriving at and exiting New Delhi metro station gave me my first official taste of India since the last time I arrived here almost 10 years ago. All the famed filth and fury slowly began to unravel and reveal itself to me. As I made my way towards the entrance of the main bazaar thoroughfare of the legendary tourist ghetto of the Paharganj district via the hectic and high pressure New Delhi Railway station, I bump into two long-term travelling backpackers. Both look like they’ve allowed India to get under their skin and truly connect and flow with the rhythms and current of this fascinating, multi-faceted, mind blowing, full power wild soup. Peter is from Germany and his partner Olga is from Russia. They both met in Rishikesh. Peter had in fact traveled to India by bicycle from Germany. In Iran he was involved in a road accident and this delayed his trip as he recovered in a Tehran hospital.

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The Paharganj district of Delhi

We all walk together through the mess of the main Paharganj bazaar as Peter tries to find a Post Office and I try to find the Hotel Vivek. Not much has changed along this main thoroughfare of mayhem since I last graced this road as a fresh faced 23 year old backpacker. Back then I foolishly didn’t book accommodation for my first night. Furthermore, I got overcharged by my taxi driver from the airport with hardly any past travel experience under my belt. I had thrown myself in the proverbial deep end. Arriving in the Paharganj all those years ago was like arriving in the middle of some bombed out extra-terrestrial mess on another planet in another galaxy. I was always getting harassed by unsavory touts and constantly trying to avoid being hit by a passing motorbike or rickshaw. I carried my heavy backpack with no reservation, not knowing which hotels to enter or avoid. I remember settling on a veritable fleabag of a place which had these soulless dirty busted rooms for around the R200 mark a night. My current room at the Vivek is no great shakes and the mattress is pancake-thin but this is like the Best Western compared to that place. Before I check into the Vivek, I say goodbye to Peter and Olga. Perhaps I’ll bump into them next at a temple somewhere in Sri Lanka? Who knows.

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Back in the Paharganj after an almost 10 year absence 

Instead of going to bed, I dump my things in my room and re-enter the Main Bazaar. I walk back towards New Delhi station and onward towards Connaught Place. It is here where I discover a marvelous open air secondhand book stall. Mountains of books are piled on top of each other like mini towers of Babel. By now I find myself feeling the undesirable effects of Delhi’s air pollution. Its not only my mouth which feels like one great field of ash and dust. My eyes are stinging like I am walking through clouds of sulfuric acid. I need a bottle of water sharpish and some vitamin C tablets to phase out the carcinogenic mess of free radicals manifesting inside of me. What I’d give for an incubator of premium quality South Pacific air!

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A great secondhand bookstall by Connaught Place 

As I trudge around Connaught Place, the sun has already gone down. There are impossibly long lines of people outside every functioning ATM hoping to withdraw some limited Rupees. It doesn’t matter that the current daily limit has recently been increased from R2000 to R2500, I can see more chance of pigs flying than achieving a successful and hassle-free ATM withdrawal. Yet I fortunately have another option for getting cash in the form of my scarce supply of hard currency. I genuinely feel sorry for the locals who have been affected by this.

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People queuing up outside an ATM in Connaught Place hoping to withdraw some scarce Rupees 

I look for a street vendor selling bottled water. I find one offering me R20 for a liter bottle. He even says that he has change for a R2000 note as he palms me nineteen R100 notes along with the rest of my change. I am extremely grateful to him. For the most part, carrying around one of the recently issued R2000 notes is like carrying around a King Cobra. I can’t take it everywhere.

I chat to some random locals in Connaught Place. The people I speak to genuinely want to chat and the conversations never turn to money. For dinner I pay a visit to Hotel Saravana Bhavan for some delicious South Indian food. There are already people waiting outside with their names on the waiting list. I sign myself up and wait around 20 minutes before I am allocated a seat. I am seated opposite a middle aged Delhiite. When the time comes to order I go for the Thali Special. All this glorious food hits the spot. Afterwards I take a rickshaw back to my hotel to rejuvenate.

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Outside Hotel Saravana Bhavan

 

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The Thali Special at Hotel Saravana Bhavan

The next day I wake up at 11am after over 12 hours of sleep. I exit the hotel just before noon. A secondhand book shop catches my eye in the Paharganj. The owner even has another larger shop around the back bursting with books. I conclude that this must be the best stocked book shop at least here in the Paharganj. I purchase a secondhand copy of a book of teachings by the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

For me the heart and soul of Delhi is its old city around the high pressure Chandhi Chowk. I took a metro train over there. It is a monumental sight, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I was last here, it was a mind-blowing and overwhelming experience. As soon as I exit Chandhi Chowk metro station, a bicycle rickshaw driver decides to stick himself to me like glue. He becomes a magnificent liability. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve missed this chaos. I finally manage to break free of him by very diligently crossing the carnage of Chandi Chowk traffic where there is something resembling a pavement on the other side. I spot a peanut wallah and purchase a small bag for 10 Rupees.

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Chandhi Chowk

At the end of the main Chandhi Chowk thoroughfare is the monumental Red Fort. This exotic clay-red juggernaut of a fort was constructed during the height of the Mughal period. I enter the outside grounds but I do not go inside as I’d already visited the fort during my last trip to Delhi. Soon I get chatting with an affable local named Satish and we have our photo taken together by the entrance.

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In Chandhi Chowk

 

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With Satish outside the Red Fort

Chandi Chowk may be hectic but for an even more glorious, full powered and disheveled experience, nothing beats the labyrinth of bazaars, streets and hidden alleyways around the nearby Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.

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Old Delhi street scene 

Like the Red Fort (and the Taj Mahaj in Agra), it was designed by Shah Jahan, a famous Mughal emperor whose reign was often said to be the golden age of Mughal architecture.

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The magnificent Jama Masjid

The streets and bazaars around this jewel of a mosque are special to me. We may be living in the digital age, but walking these streets I feel very much connected to the past lives, energy and spirits of this part of the city. This is ancient Delhi at its finest.

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One of the streets surrounding the Jama Masjid

One particular memory of this area which never escapes me are the reams and reams of black electricity wires tangled and coiled like snakes everywhere and hanging by the most fragile of threads. Seeing these wires so naked and exposed is like seeing my body with much of my skin removed and all my arteries transporting blood around my body for all to see; I am still alive and going but mess around or damage them in any shape or form, and it’s curtains.

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Notice the mess of electricity wires

I spend a long time sat down on the steps at the top of the Jama Masjid watching this fascinating maze of life. I simply observe it and don’t attempt to make any sense of it. I am so happy to be here and the longer I sit here watching it all unfold in front of my eyes, is the moment I know that I am truly in India. It’s marvelous to be back.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

The Slider Gets A Versatile Blogger Award!

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It gives me great pleasure to announce that The Slider has been nominated for a Versatile Blogger award by Depression Is The Enemy. This is the second award The Slider has received and I am very humbled to have been nominated for this award by someone who writes extensively about mental health issues which means a lot to me. I am also always in awe of those who publicly share their own journeys with mental health issues as this is becoming an increasingly acute problem all across the world. I’ve already written a couple of articles on my blog focusing on mental health/self help topics and I intend to write many more pieces and even share more information about my own mental health challenges some time in the future.

I feel that the Versatile Blogger award fits very well with my blog as, since The Slider’s inception only six months ago, I have already written many articles covering an entire range of different topics from my passion for art, music, and poetry to my interests in travel, self-help/mental health issues and even technology.

 

7 random facts about me:

1. I love to travel the world and have already visited vast swathes of the globe. However the the trip I’m most proud of is my 2008 trip where I travelled overland (without planes and only via buses and at one point a motorboat) from Los Angeles all the way to the Argentinian city of Ushuaia located at the bottom of South America on the island of Tierra Del Fuego. I have also been to the most eastern point of the Americas (Ponta do Seixas in the city of Joao Pessoa in Brazil) and the most western point of Africa (Pointe Des Almadies in Dakar in Senegal).

2. I have a lazy eye.

3. I get obsessed easily over particular things I love. There are certain films I adore which I used to watch constantly. Get Carter, Sexy Beast, Chopper and more recently The Great Beauty are a handful of films I’ve watched way too many times although the film I’ve watched an insurmountable number of times is The Big Lebowski. Even today that film still has the power to light up my life and make me fall off the sofa in raging fits of laughter whenever I find myself taking life a bit too seriously.

4. I am a huge fan of all kinds of music. The first major concert I ever attended was a massive homecoming show by The Verve in their hometown of Wigan in 1998. It was a magical and electric concert and I’d never experienced anything quite like it in my life before. At the time The Verve were one of the biggest bands in the country. However the musician I am most proud of ever having had the pleasure to see (and even meet afterwards!) live is a very old Mississippi Delta bluesman named David “Honeyboy” Edwards. Born in 1915, he was a friend and contemporary of the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson who was rumoured to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for amazing out of this world guitar skills. What’s more, Honeyboy was also present on that fateful night in 1938 when Robert got poisoned by a jealous partner of one of the many women he was sleeping around with. He subsequently died a very slow and painful death.

5. Remaining on the subject of music, I got my first guitar when I was 13. It was an electric black and white Fender stratocaster. The first song I ever wrote was a song called Malcoordination (I will not say who it was about) when I was 15. Looking back on the song and lyrics now, I am so glad it was written during the time it was when there were no smartphones and the internet was much less developed. I formed my first band with a bunch of school friends when I was 16. We disbanded when I left school at 18. Since then until the age of 22 I’ve been in various other bands. From the ages of 19-23 I think I wrote enough songs to fill a few albums. Nowadays I haven’t been too involved with my music although perhaps one day I may get back into it.

6. I’ve been an artist since day one. My latest series of paintings was completed in South Africa earlier this year. You can view my entire art archive by visiting my website http://www.nicholaspeart.com

7. My favourite country is India. There is no other place on Earth quite like it. I will be returning later this year and boy am I looking forward to it!!

 

I nominate the following blogs for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Creative Ideas For Starving Artists

Thriving Under Pressure

Lemon Tree Services

Elizabeth Hamilton

thatmishmash

David Paul Marshall

Riding effortlessly on a large green turtle

Adam ShawBiz

Ceece’s Travel

silverfox175

 

 

Rules to be followed:

1. Thank the person who nominated you

2. Share the award on your blog

3. Share seven random facts about yourself

4. Tag 10 bloggers with less than 1000 followers and let them know they have been nominated

India In Durban

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Durban

 

Durban is the city with the largest Indian population outside of India. Originally called Port Natal, the city was renamed Durban by the British after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, the governor of the Cape Colony. Originally a sleepy settlement of less than 1000 people, Durban’s expansion began in 1843 when Britain annexed the Colony of Natal. In the space of ten years, there was a large wave of immigration from the UK.
The city grew phenomenally throughout the latter half the nineteenth century. It was during this time that many indentured Indian labourers were brought over by the British Empire to work on the sugar cane plantations and railroads of the Colony of Natal and this is the source of the enormous Indian population in Durban.

 

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On Yusuf Dadoo Street (or Little India)

 

Dr Yusuf Dadoo street (or Grey Street as it was formally known) is the heart of the Indian community full of bazaars, Indian shops and cheap hole in the wall eateries selling quarter bunny chows, curries, rotis and birianis at rock bottom prices. Ah yes, the legendary bunny chow which is unique to this neck of the woods. You can get bunny chows in other cities in South Africa but if you want the real thing this is the place to be. There are a few stories regarding the origin of the bunny chow but one goes that it was invented by a group of Indians immigrants known as Banias (an Indian caste) at an eatery called Kapitan’s in the city. The bunny chow is a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. In Durban it comes in three different sizes; full loaf, half loaf or quarter loaf. The quarter loaf, the smallest version, is the classic or qota as its sometimes called.

 

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A quarter veg bunny chow courtesy of Patels restaurant

 

Dr Yusuf Dadoo street is also home to the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere, the Juma Masjid.

 

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Juma Masjid mosque on Yusuf Dadoo street

 

Right by the mosque is the Madressa Arcade full of traders selling everything from blankets and old radios to secondhand shoes. For a brief moment I feel like I am wondering through a souk in downtown Meknes.

 

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Inside the Madressa Arcade

 

Adjacent to the Madressa Arcade is the Ajmeri Arcade featuring a very cool record shop, Ajmeri Record King, which has vast piles of battered vinyls which might not be much on the outside but if you persevere you may find the odd ruby in the sludge. I found a couple of rare Stax records. The shop also has a good and comprehensive selection of CDs of music from across Africa.

 

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Ajmeri Record King record shop inside the Ajmeri Arcade

 

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Inside Ajmeri Record King 

 

The nearby Victoria Street Market, first established in 1910, is an important market in the city.

 

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Victoria Street Market

 

Inside the market there are a few Indian shops selling spices and other products. The first one I enter, RA Moodley has a decent selection of different spices. As well as traditional Indian spices there is a spice pile called Nando’s spice and another entitled KFC spice. RA Moodley is also a hovel of miscellaneous Indian trinkets and products. About four portraits of Sai Baba, the controversial Indian guru, including a photo of him on the weighing scale, adorn the interior of the shop.

 

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RA Moodley spice shop

 

The next spice place I enter, Delhi Delight, is run by a kind and charismatic South African Indian gentleman who gives me and some Cape Townians a tour of his shop and all the spices on offer. I am intrigued by his own Delhi Delight brand spice concoctions which range from medium to very hot

 

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Delhi Delight spice concoctions

 

The final spice shop I visit is a more modest affair than the other two yet I will never forget the Mother In Law Hell Fire spice pile. I love the name so much I think I will swing by here before I depart Durbs for a sample.

 

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One spice it would be rude not to try

 

Durban is also the city where Mohandes Gandhi lived for sometime during his time in South Africa. When he first arrived in Durban he lived on Grey Street. Two important Gandhi related landmarks in the city are a bust of him at Tourist Junction (old Durban railway station) in the city centre and the Old Court House nearby, where he spent much time when he worked as a lawyer. There is also a street in his name close to the southern end of the city beach but watch your back in this part of town, especially around the junction with Anton Lembede street. I was mooching around there one afternoon and some miscellaneous black student with a surf board walked up to me and indignantly told me I was crazy to be walking around this part of town and insisted on hailing down a local mini van taxi to get me out.

 

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Gandhi bust in the city centre

 

Outside of the city and off the N2 highway is the Phoenix settlement, close to the Inanda squatter camp, which Gandhi founded as a self sustainable community and to build on his philosophy of satyagraha or passive resistance.

In my next post I will be listing my favourite Indian eateries in this marvellous city.

 

by Nicholas Peart

20th June 2016

(All rights reserved)