Living Delhi / Tuk Tuk Bhaï
11:05 p.m., the aircraft lands at the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi. After passing through customs and the various formalities, I buy, in the hall of the terminal, a sim card from a local operator, and call my contact.
I had contacted Nittin and Savita few days earlier on a couchsurfing platform, and out of their phone number and that they are willing to host me, I don't know nothing of what will be the rest of my trip. A leap into the void, giving free rein to chance to bring me there or sees fit. That's what I wanted. To provocate Life and destiny, and also to test my own ability to get by in a totally unfamiliar environment. (Don't do that if you're not an Expert Traveller !!!)
On the phone, Nittin tells me to get a cab and give the phone to the driver to explain the address, what I do, then the driver returns the phone to me: "it's ok, the driver will take you to us, to our place. Welcome in Delhi! "
On the road, I look out by the window, the avenues and the tranquility in the streets at this hour of the night. Then the taxi enters a neighborhood, and drive slowly in the street, looking for the right lane and found it. When the taxi stopped in the lane, the driver gets out and tell me to stay in the taxi, he will ask if it is the right address. a few seconds later, he comes back with Nittin, which opens the door of the taxi and shook my hand with a big smile "Welcome in India!". I get my bag from the driver, I pay him, and then we climb the small iron stairs that provides access to the staircase of the building. some more stairs, a door and there it is.
Nittin, Savita and their son, Kavya, Live has three in a small studio of a dozen square meters, just enough to contain the double bed, a metal cabinet, a few boxes and bags filled with clothes or business and a small kitchen area upon which a gas stove, some utensils, spices and some other dishes containing flour, tea, etc ... The bathroom (a faucet, a large bucket with a small one and squat toilet) is on the landing.
Nittin put my bag in a corner, then we sit down on the bed to drink hot Chai with Savita, smiling. We meet while Kavya sleeps on the bed next to us and then we end up going to bed. To sleep, Savita settles me down on the ground, next to the bed. Despite the night and the fan, it is warm, and the change of climate in addition to fatigue make me fall asleep quickly.
In the morning, I am awakened by the mooing of a cow....! Opening my eyes, then I remember where I am: in a building of an alley of a neighborhood of New Delhi, in the city. No doubt, I am in India and it is a sacred cow that wakes me up for my first day. Moments later, Savita hands me a hot Chai and small biscuits, while explaining that Nittin left to the store. Kavya, him, watch cartoons on the small TV placed above the cabinet while nibbling a biscuit. Soon I'm going to shower, and puts light clothing because of the heat that already reigns. Once dressed, first finding: I have forgotten my camera in France ! (The day before taking the plane, I had a rabbies shot, which left me totaly out, and after a few last pictures, i had put my camera back in the wrong bag...). So i sent a message in France..... A few minutes later, Nittin is back, and want to take me with him to the store to introduce me to his friends, colleagues. Nittin works a little further down the street, he runs a small store with the brother of Savita. There he introduces me to everyone, we discuss, smoke, drink Chai etc ... After a moment, we leave with Nittin to go buy samosas to a seller a little further in the street, crowded and full of activities this time. We go back home and give some samosas to Savita, who guards Kavya with her friend Ruby, then we go up on the rooftop of the building to eat and chat.
Later Nittin went back to the store, I went to chat with the girls and spent some time on my computer to see just what is to see in New Delhi.
By late afternoon, I went to join Nittin at the Store, where we had a beer with friends before going to the apartment. On the way, we stopped to buy vegetables, requested by Savita, to a merchant in the street.
As my first name, Pierrick, was a bit hard to pronounce for them all, we had to find me a nickname.... We changed a letter, took-off some others, and i became "Perry".
The next morning, after a chai and a shower, Nittin takes me on his motorbike to take me at the "Lotus Temple". There I go around the monument and take a certain pleasure to stay there, a moment. Then, following the advice Nittin gave me before he left, I crossed the deck facing the entrance of the temple, and follow the way to a Hindu temple, the Kalka Ji. This is one of the oldest temples in Delhi, So automatically, one of the most sacred. The Indians call it "Mother India Temple". contrary to what one may imagine, this is a small temple, but in which travels an impressive flow of pilgrims coming to make offerings and prayers. There has to see the number of shops and vendors of offering of all sorts, littering the walkways leading to the temple to understand that the place is really important for the pilgrims ... Later, I take the subway all near and head to Connaught Place, one of the main square of the city. There I go around but can not find much interest in the various stores, international retailers therein. The flea market and all the little vendors installed here and there arouse my interest more ... I found an ice-cream seller, with the heat I can not resist ... Immediately, two kids come to me and ask if I can offer them one. Given the ridiculous price of an icecream, I let them choose which of their choice. Five minutes later, I realize that I left my guidebook on the edge of the cart of the seller. I go back to the seller, but no trace of the book. I found near the two children who finish their ice, but they either do not know anything. I decided to quickly go around the booksellers and all second-hand booksellers to see if one of them would not have got my book to redeem it, but i did not found any track of my book. never mind.
The next morning, I turn on the spot for a second attempt, but without success. so I went to visit the National Museum quickly and then decided to take the subway to visit the Qtub Minar, another famous monument of New Delhi.
Leaving the subway to visit the Qutb Minar, Amit approaches me, as he does with most tourists who come here. We talked a bit, and the case is made, I sit in his rickshaw towards the monument. We sympathize quickly, While weaving in the traffic. He passes me thoroughly pieces of Indian techno, which, of course, makes me laugh. Arrived at the Qutb Minar, the window is closed for half an hour ... Neither one nor two, Amit, whose nickname is vicky, leads me not far away, to the house of friends of his who live just next to the monument, their roof terrace directly overlooking the historic site. Then, as we still had time before the reopening of the window, he took me not far away in the Dargha, at the Duna. Arrived there, I was asked to oter my shoes and cover my legs (I'm was in short pants.) before entering. We sat on the carpet, with the other people (Muslims, Hindus, etc ...) An Imam and a "Baba" were there too. All these people talk, debate quietly while sharing tea (Chai), pastries, and a chillum*, which passes from hand to hand ... Three hours later, I said Amit/Vicky that it's getting late (21h) and thet i should go back to my hosts, who should start wondering where I am able to spend ... having thanked and welcomed all those present at the Duna, we leave again in Tuk Tuk, always with loud music. Amit took me directly at Sangam Vihar, where I found my hosts. Appointment is made for the next day, end of the afternoon.
* "Chillum" and "Hookah", have somehow a relgious meaning for Hindus, and an important place for social ties in Oriental and Hindu Cultures...
The next day, late afternoon, I found Vicky at the subway exit, talking with an Indian family. He introduced me to them as his "brother". Among them is a woman in Sari, who commands respect, she gives off an impression of calm strength. Vicky introduice her to me. Her name is Babita Verma, she's a Member of Parliament, representative for the state of Gujarat. We discuss sympathetically, she shows me pictures of her greatest pride: her son, actor in Bollywood. After a quarter, they leave, and Babita insists, handing me her card: "If you have any problem, contact me!" Nice! A friend of Vicky, well, just near there, a small mobile canteen, which exhale a spice flavored smoke. He handed me a small paper plate "Here, taste it!". It is 6:30 p.m., I am absolutely not hungry but impossible to refuse a present ... So I eat the plate containing a ball of rice dough, drizzled with a spicy vegetables sauce. Meanwhile, Vicky has found his last customers of the day: three Indians who crammed into the back seat of the Tuk Tuk. Vicky press me so that I finish my plate. I finished, so, quickly, and asks his friend how much I owe for the dish. the answer is straightforward: vicky tell me. "Nothing. Its free for you, you're my" Brother ",what the cook approves, with a grin. So I sit next to Amit, on the small seat at the front of the Tuk Tuk, and we start towards the entrance of Qtub Minar to drop off our three Indians. on the road, passing another tuk tuk, driven by Luv, one of his friends. He looks at me amused and wonder "is that you, the French guy? ". I nod." Vicky told me about you, welcome to India ". After our three Indians posted a good destination, we share a little further, meet the friends, "Bhais/Brothers" of Amit (Luv, Rahul & Mahi), who chill posed in their tuk tuk parked on the roadside. it is seen, everyone contributes, and a tuk tuk is leaving to get beer, the other to get something to eat. Fifteen minutes later, we find ourselves in the same place night has fallen. we station tuk tuk against each other, allowing, through openings, to discuss together, sitting in the tuk tuk. We talk about everything... of Life, Religions and rituals, which vary from country to country, Europe, India etc .... while drinking beer (Kingfisher), and smoking, I make them hear some songs on my MP3 key, they make me listen (while singing) famous songs from the Bollywood cinema ...
We have fun like kids, and it's just great!
Then, the guys, started to call me "Bhai", which in hindu means "Thug", "Hoodlum", but means "Brother", in the heart & soul language. And then, if ever I call them "friend", it's worse than an insult.
Already 22h, it starts to get late and I have not warned Savita and Nittim that I will return late. We split, some stay there, others leave in Tuk Tuk and Vicky take me to drop me at the bus stop. In a small street, he stops: "come and sit in front." I do not understand why, but I do so. Once seated beside him, he looks at me with a smile from ear to ear: "Your turn to drive now!" .
Later, a little drunk in the bus bringing me to Sangar Viham I am, of course, the only foreigner and I raise a big smile, like one of a Buddha: Tonight, I drove a tuk tuk in Delhi ! People around me respond to my smile, I feel good.
Once at home, surprise! The apartment is empty, no furniture, and of course no-one ... This afternoon, Nittim & Savita had to visit an apartment in another neighborhood ... For a moment, I wondered what to do .. . then, I knocked on the door of the neighbor apartment, to ask if they knew anything ... as the door was open, I hit and pushed a bit the door and i felt on Savita, and the others eating. They had changed apartment, but had not gone very far ... We were now in a larger apartment, with two separate bedrooms (one for the family, one for the guests, couchsurfers*), a kitchen, a bathroom and separate toilets.
* see the links below...
Days went on like that, and i slowly made my marks in Delhi: In the morning, i used to go walking in Sangham Vihar*, to the grocery, or the juice-shop, to get fresh carot/beetroot/lime and massala (of course) juice, to go buy some fruits and have breakfast back at the flat (with biscuits and Savita's Chaï....). Then i used to go to visit some areas, or some monuments in Delhi, and in the end of the afternoon, i was going back to Qtub Minar Metro Station, to meet my friends and stay a few hours with them before going back to the flat, late in the evening. I started to feel pain (like a strong headache), so i stayed a few days at home, cured by Savita and Ruby. We thought it was some kind of Flu, or Influenza, but in fact it was a tooth infection that came down (temporarily) thanks to the antibiotics i took...
Then, came "Holi"...
Holi, is the celebration of the wedding of Lord Krishna. This celebration last for a few days, and is famous through out the world as the "Color Festival": During those days, people are partying in the streets, and spread color powders on each other, as a kind of "blessing game" (The origin of this "color game" comes from traditional weddings: to take a woman as his wife, a man must put a red spot on the forehead of his bride.). To me, i stayed In Sangham Vihar, and spent Holi with Nittin, Savita and their friends (Sometimes, Holi can be a bit dangerous because of drunk people...).
*Sangham Vihar, as later, Dakshinpuri as known as some of the "worst" areas in Dhelhi... The only "problem" i had during my whole stay in those areas was to have my suglasses box stolen in the bus (in my backpak) .because i've been careless. All the people I met there quickly became friends, buddies, some with a bit of reluctance at first, because for them, it was inconceivable that a white foreigner could be interested to talk and make friends with them ... Of course, i rarely went alone (at night) in the streets of Sangham Vihar, never in Dakshinpuri, except to come back home. I always had a simple and respectfull attitude with everyone, and i've been carefull not to arouse too much attention, envy...
A few days later, I got my camera back, at last. First thing I did was to go out in the streets and shoot all that i could see.
Next day, with a Couchsurfing friend from Argentina, Carolina, I went back to a monument near Connaught Place, where i had been before: Jantar Mantar.
Jantar Mantar is a parc of 13 impressive architectural astronomy instruments dating from the beginning of the 18th century.
Then, i took Carolina to Qtub Minar Metro Station, to introduice her to my friends.
There, Luv welcomed us with a smile, and took us to a Chaï seller close to there, to have a Chaï while waiting after Vicky. Half an hour later, Vicky was there, and we all went to the dargha, to chill there. At night, Vicky took us back in sangham Vihar, at Nittin & savita's home.
Vicky had offered to take us for a tour in Delhi the next day, so the next morning, at 11a.m, he was there to fetch us. He first took us to Iskcon Temple, the biggest temple dedicated to Lord Krisna in Delhi. We left him on the parking, and went to visit the temple. Surprise, half an hour later, when we came back to the parking, Vicky had left ! Gone working...
So we went through the park just beside, and went to the Lotus Temple, where we stayed a little. The, we went through the bridge and i took Carolina to the Kalka Ji Temple. Later, i gave a phonecall to Vicky, who came back to fetch us and took us back home where we had a drink.
The next day, in the afternoon, I met him, Luv, Rahul and Mahi at the Metro Station. After a chaï, Vicky and Mahi took me to Mehrauli Archeological Parc, to visit great ruins. Then, we went to the dargha, and late at night, i took the bus to go back to Sangham Vihar.
Time was then, for me to leave Delhi, and all my "Bhais" there, to continue my trip, going to Rajasthan. So I spent a last end of afternoon with my brothers in Qtub Minar, and at night, Vicky invited me to eat at his house, where I met his whole family: his Wife, his two childrens, two of his brother in laws, and also his parents, etc...
The last day, I spent it with Nittin, Savita & Kavya. We where both sad to separate, but we knew that we would meet again, because i would probably come back to Delhi later in my trip......
At the end of the afternoon, heart heavy, i left and took a rickshaw to take me to the train station, from where my train to Jaïpur was leaving at night.
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This whole "story" (part 1 & especially, part 2), are dedicated to the Memory of my "Bhai", Bankebihari "Luv" Dixit, who sadly passed away in an accident 10 days ago. Tuk Tuk Driver is a dangerous job. May what he had made the message of his life, "Share the Love", inspire many.