Delhi, India is one of my favourite cities in the world. It brims with energy, life and excitement, and is a no-holds barred insight into the daily lives of millions. A cultural epicentre, Delhi brings together the history of the subcontinent and fuses it with fast-paced modernity, with lashings of class, substance and style. As with most of my visits to Delhi, my friend Gordon and I started our day with a walk around the city‘s heart, Connaught Place.
Connaught Place is positioned perfectly between Old and New Delhis, and the Canberra-esque design sees radial roads expanding out from concentric circles. As we circumnavigated Connaught Place, we walked through crazy street markets selling everything from cushion covers to sunglasses. We walked past high end stores, each with their respective security details out the front to keep the riff-raff outside and the merchandise inside. And we encountered a youth festival which occupied Delhi‘s Central Park.
The atmosphere was alive with hope and expectation, the streets teeming with young people from all walks of life. I caught a glimpse of one man’s t-shirt, which read “No job? No Friends? No Love? Come to Delhi!” And I suddenly remembered why I love Delhi. A fine example of the New New Delhi is the location of our first dinner of the trip. Sidewok is a beautifully decorated pan-Asian cuisine restaurant, headed by the ex-head chef of the salubrious Oberoi hotel chain. As we tucked into our Pad Thai, spring rolls, Vietnamese grilled chicken and tempura vegetables, Gordon knew and I had it confirmed to me that we were on to a good thing.
Like so many big cities, Delhi is a melting pot. There’s Old Delhi, and then there’s “the old Delhi“. There’s New Delhi, and then there’s “the new Delhi“. Together, they converge and make one fascinating whole. Gordon was continually surprised, as was I, at how perceptions are challenged at every turn. Just when you think that you have it all figured out, something else makes you wonder… There’s the perfectly paved road edges. And then there’s one of the main radial roads, which is being dug up.
There’s the crazy traffic – our driver from the airport took us the wrong way down a divided road just to get us to the hotel in time. And then there’s the Metro, an underground railway system which compares with that of Singapore and Hong Kong, and which would be the envy of Sydney or Melbourne. There’s the smog which hangs thicker in the air in December than in any other month – an environmental plague of third-world cities. And then there’s Janpath, which is far more manicured and pristine than many of Islamabad’s boulevards. In short, a conundrum, and one which perfectly sums up the India of today.