When in India people will always ask “do you like India”, and my response is always the same “yes, I love India”, and it is genuine. I know India is a tough place to like at times, the dirt, chaos, horns and complete nonsensical rules that make even the smallest things difficult to do. A lot of people vow never to return, and most probably never do. Yet India has a real draw, natural beauty, an amazing blend of cultures, foods, and people. India really is incredible.
Except for Delhi.
Delhi is awful.
Most tourists roll up into New Delhi and before even leaving the train will begin to get a flavour of what is in store. The stench of faeces, especially on a hot day will hit you like a sledgehammer. If it has been raining, a mosquito will assert its place on your leg and begin the sucking you dry of everything you have, something that you will encounter in Delhi until you leave. An Indian guy that speaks great English but doesn’t quite understand the meaning of the word no, will make himself your entourage.
Virtually every backpacker will stay in Paharganj and if you manage to cross the road from the station without being mowed down by a rickshaw, you will find yourself instantly where you need to be. With one problem. If you have pre-booked a hotel you have been ripped off, if you haven’t, you are about to be ripped off. That really is the theme in Delhi, getting ripped off is certain, but just how much you get conned out of is what separates tourists. Westerners carrying loads of souvenirs, wearing Indian attire and shadowed by a ‘guide’ are all too common.
All of the hotels in Paharganj are dives. And if you have a room at the street side, sleep will be a luxury due to the fact drivers in Delhi are addicted to blasting their horn. No one actually takes any notice, and there doesn’t even need to be any one on front, just random blasts of horns. When you consider Delhi has about a gazillion rickshaws and taxis on the streets it literally just becomes a horn fest. And time doesn’t matter, don’t for one second think Deepak whizzing along at 3am will consider anyone other than his addiction to blasting that horn.
Getting a room is half the battle. Random dudes roam around asking if you want a hotel, desperate for a slice of commission. Use one of these guys but know you’ll be paying for your room, and the guys cut. These folks will not under any circumstances take no for and answer so try not to engage in any form of conversation. They will get aggressive, it happens. When you find a hotel, they will make sure they go in ahead of you claiming they have brought you and seeking some cash monies.
WiFi wont work, and food will likely have you running for the nearest toilet which will of course be a cesspit of epic proportions. Tobacco spit marks down the walls, broken toilet seat, and when you finally have relieved yourself in what is certain to be a sweat box, there will be no toilet roll. Or soap.
Paharganj is essentially a city within a city, built on a tip. Rubbish, flies and dirt everywhere. On a rainy day it is muddy, on a dry day dusty. The flies are hardcore and will hop from faeces to your face without a care in the world. Rickshaws, motorbikes and cars drive down every alley way and seem to take pride in forcing you to jump out of their way, or making it impossible for you to pass. Walking around Paharganj is an art in itself. Not only are you avoiding the traffic, flies, dirt and probably every disease going, but expect constant hassle from everyone and anyone. The classic Delhi pickpocket scam happened to me, you are walking, usually crossing a road and two men stop directly in front of you forcing you to stop and try get past, meanwhile little Sanjay has his hand in your pocket. If you ever see two men randomly stop in front of you, you are being robbed. Obviously, only an absolute idiot would walk around Delhi with open pockets and things in them.
In fact, following almost a decade of travel in some 58 countries only twice have I ever been attempted pickpocketed, both times in Delhi. And don’t expect the police to do anything. Delhi police are masters of not giving the slightest sh*t about anything whatsoever. They will stand and watch you being scammed, especially at the railway station where scams are so commonplace it’s almost a passage of right. Approach the police in Delhi and you will get laughed at and probably, they will join the scam.
In Delhi virtually every single person in the city is out to scam you. Anyone that speaks to you “Hey, where you from” is doing the whole gain your trust then scam you. Rickshaw drivers will quote you some of the funniest prices you’ve ever heard, from New Delhi to the Lotus Temple is about 16km and should cost about 100INR, certainly in an Uber it is 120INR. Rickshaw drivers will quote eye watering prices rivalling NYC taxi fares.
I love walking and walk almost everywhere, but in Delhi it is so hard due to broken pathways, litter and constant hassle. It is exhausting and even a quick jolly to the shop is fraught with constant scam attempts. If you go to visit a sight expect multi tier pricing where foreigners pay about 20 times more than Indians, expect some random guy telling you a guide is a necessity and when you tell him no, expect him to just try and be your guide anyway.
Add to all the above the brutal temperatures, mosquitos and lack of ability to sleep due to noise and very quickly every day just becomes an exercise in battling exhaustion and tolerance.
The sad thing is, Delhi has some great places to visit, but these are so few and far between that it just isn’t worth it. I urge you to avoid the city, and certainly don’t make it your lasting memory of India.
If you are leaving by train, grab some drinks, some balloons and as the train pulls away from the station celebrate the fact you survived and have left probably the worst, dirtiest, skankiest and most disgusting city on earth.