I’m sitting at gate A17 looking at the runway; it’s quite beautiful at night. An ordered set of lights leads the way for a bit and then disappears, into the night, and the unknown. As I wrap myself up in my scarf I watch the little hairs on my arm stand up, I’m really doing this. The lights from the plane flicker and I’m anticipating my boarding call for flight EK 57 to India.
The warm air envelops me as I step out of the airport into immediate frenzy that only grows louder and faster as I head into central Delhi to begin my Himalayan adventure. There’s something enchanting about India and I feel it the second my backpack slams onto the dusty pavement. Every single centimeter of my vision is filled with energy, colour and noise. After I’ve checked in to my hotel the first order of business is to get my hands into a delicious local curry.
Here’s one place I’m not scrutinized for being a veggie. Almost everything is vegetarian. Not quite knowing what to order I ask the street corner vendor what’s good and he mumbles something pointing to an array of bubbling, super scented, colourful and encouraging curries. So I just say: “yes, I’ll take that.” Naan gets made right in front of me and I go outside to eat with the regulars where we get our hands dirty and our tummies satisfied. No Joburg curry comes close to how scrumptious this was.
Delhi is a sensory overload. Taxi’s bicycles, dogs, kids, beggars, salesman, hooting, tuk tuks, spices, dirty water, fresh fruit, bright colours, singing, patterns, light and dark, lines and squiggles. Overwhelming but at the same time… a place you kind of want to get lost in.
Waking up the next morning, I waited in bed hoping to hear the maddening sounds begin outside but this was a much quieter Delhi. I peaked outside and saw people on their way to work, children carrying books to school and woman peacefully sweeping their part of the street. So strange to think this is a regular day for them and a complete kaleidoscope of newness for me.
Curry again for breakfast – chickpeas in spicy gravy, chopped fresh onion, pickled peaches with beautiful proudly puffed up chapatti. I let the juices run down my wrists and get all over my face as I dipped, smeared and swallowed warm, comforting, spongy loveliness.
Walking around the streets and alleys of Delhi, each one with its own story and character. Elegant patterned wedding cards down one street, beautiful antique jewelry down the next. Splashes of floral orange and pink spatter against a diamond glittery backstreet for wedding shoppers. A cable system drapes and frames each alley – so messy it makes the wandering mind of a teenager seem as ordered and regimented as stitches on a uniform. “Sweet Chaos” as they call it and I’m falling in love with it all. As I head towards a big musky red coloured Mosque there is more shouting, hooting, singing, goats, rickshaws, artisans and beggars.
I stroll around the place of prayer, where children are playing on the stone floor and feeding birds. Before I leave I pass two women dressed in burkas whose eyes crinkle as they smile at me under their scarf coverings. Something warm resonates in me as we exchange glances. We are so different and yet we are the same.
My last dinner in Delhi is at a charmingly understated South Indian restaurant where I point to what looks, or rather sounds, good on the menu. My food arrives and looks a bit like a thick-based pancake with crunchy vegetables and spices ribboning colour through the batter. I’m also presented with golden Dahl, thick coconut pulp and a bright orange pickled paste to dip and smear it with. There’s something extra sensory about eating with your hands and as I snatch the last little but of Dahl off my pinky finger I can’t help but feel a bit like a child again.
I leave Delhi behind me as my train begins its slow slumping over metal slats into rural India and up towards my next stop in the Himalayas. The sluggish ga-thamps get faster and soon I’m staring at a blur of culture racing passed me through the train window. It goes by so fast that each time I look up, the scenery has changed again.