With a population of almost 13 million (official) inhabitants and with nearly 23 million (official) residents in its greater metropolitan area, Delhi is a crowded place. And an intense place. It is quite probably the most intense city I have ever visited and that is saying something. I can think of no other city that left me so exhausted after venturing through its bowels – even just for short periods of time.
Delhi is a constant assault on delicate Western senses… Every step taken in public is a battle as one must shove through a crowd and also avoid either sewage running through the streets or oncoming traffic (which often drives up onto sidewalks). My first time out exploring around our hotel, I notice a naked boy weaving down the street with long, pale worms dribbling out of his ass. The air pollution casts a constant gray pall over the city that prevents the sun ever really breaking through as well as burning one’s throat and stinging the eyes. Deformed people hobble around begging for handouts. Another time out, a man whose leg was covered in blood and pus and was literally rotting off, collapses in front of me. No one helps. We join everyone else in just stepping over him. The oppressive crush of humanity strips one of their humanity. The heat is stifling and inescapable. Everyone wants something from you – almost always trying to scam you or sell you something. Or both. Another time out, a filthy man with a dying child in his arms tugs on my sleeve, pleading for help. There is nothing I can do. Starving and often frightened and confused animals, especially dogs, dodge and weave through the crowds. Sometimes a cow will come barging through or just lie down in the middle of a street, adding to the traffic chaos. Another time out, we see a man beating another man with a motorcycle helmet. We stop to watch, but no one else even seems to notice. Many Indians stop us and beg to be allowed to take a picture with us on their mobile phones. The roads are a continuous cacophony of horns and shouting. At night, one realizes how many people in Delhi are homeless and are merely surviving from day to day because at night, every flat surface – sidewalks, rooftops and (dangerously) even sections of the streets – are absolutely covered with men, women and children struggling to sleep. If they can afford it, some will sniff glue to help them pass out and temporarily escape the misery that is their life.
It’s a lot of suffering condensed in one place, but if you’re looking for an intense experience and a place with a hell of a lot of energy, Delhi may well be the answer.
I shot this clip while riding a rickshaw through Delhi. I think it helps bring to life what I was trying to describe above: