In my previous post I described my first morning in Delhi as I walked around looking for “Hotel Broadway.” I only got through the first hour of the day’s journey. I continue:
I am in the heart of Old Delhi at the western side of Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and I stumbled upon a bunch of scavenging birds that scatter as I inadvertently startled them and almost get a mouth full of vulture feathers.
The Mosque is huge and I am starring at the western face of a structure that, I guess, has a clean rectangular footprint. Neither my guidebook map nor my concierge map shows this rectangular footprint, and each map has a different configuration of streets surrounding the mosque. Ha. I am not worried because I am at a major landmark, and I’m reading the landscape as I see it, the best I can. I decide to turn right and head towards where my guidebook says Hotel Broadway is – just for a look, just for giggles, because I am betting that there is no way the hotel is around here.
This road is much wider and the buildings are set off from the road, giving the mosque its much-needed breathing space. Along this stretch each building is a storefront with, what must be, an automotive shop in every one of them. There are piles of car parts everywhere: bummers, wheels, mufflers, and stuff I don’t know what they are called but that I know fits into a car somewhere. There is a patina of grease and a few engine blocks scattered about. That’s to the right, on the outside edge of the road. To my left, closer to the mosque are parked cars, abandon cars and rickshaws of all kinds in random, dusty order.
I don’t want to give the impression that it is somehow easier to negotiate the street because it is wider, because it is not. Cows, dogs, people milling about and two-way traffic and honk, honk, honking.
“Don’t worry, Sam. You will eventually find the rhythm of India.”
I walk to the corner of this road that goes all the way around the Mosque and I can only turn left. I follow the southern edge. Still no public entrance that I can tell, and I come upon a road I’d been looking for that is perpendicular and where the guidebook says the hotel is. I first have to enter a maelstrom:
“Hello, Sir” “Where do you go, Sir” “Rickshaw, Sir?” “Where you from? I show you around, Sir!” “Hello? HELLO, SIR” “Come. Come HERE, SIR” – I am in a field of empty bicycle rickshaws and they all want my attention and I am amazed that traffic can pass because there are so many of them. At least I know that other westerners come through here (I, in fact, see a few), because these rickshaw drivers are waiting for us! I am surrounded, but keep moving. They are up close to me. Traffic tight. People bunched. This is when I decide to access my New York attitude: “No” “No” and “NO!” It doesn’t work. “Rickshaw. Yes, come.” “Yes. I take you” I feel a tug at my shirt: “where you from?” And, that crossed the line. I swat his hand away – “back OFF!” It worked, but it was too much. Said in fear and too loud that belied a lack of confidence. I’m new here and everything about me screams it. I move away toward this perpendicular road, and … it’s not really a road. It is an alley. Narrower than anything I’ve been on thus far. I don’t hesitate. I go in. The “Where do you go, SIR!” “Sir. Sir?” “Richshaw!?@?!” “SIR!?!” all fade.
I noted that my guidebook map says Hotel Broadway should be on my left a few steps in, or is it further down on the corner of the next off shoot? I couldn’t really tell. The map is not very detailed and I just assumed that a major hotel would make itself present. I’m not fazed: there is, as I expected, no hotel. But, where am I?
I walk further down this alley, which is filled with shops and what looks like doors to residences and, of course, traffic. There are no cars, but plenty of bicycles, rickshaws, motorcycles and people, people, people. The commerce spills out into the alley, taking up precious space that the moving traffic – two-way traffic! – would use if given the chance. Everything here seems more, kinda, legitimate(?) than the other streets I was on earlier. There are Knick-Knacky things and food being cooked and fabrics and stuff. People buy things with Rupees. I could also buy things here, and they wanted me too! “Come in, Sir.” “Yes. Please. Good price” “Yes. What do you want?” “Come.” I’d, however, pay a lot for it. More noticeably there are people, Indians, who look like they are going some place, like they have a destination. Regardless, I need to regroup and there is no private space, no free space, to stand and think and look at my maps, which for some reason I still believe can be useful. Honk! Honk! a motorcycle putts along at 2 mph threading a trail through the people, brushing up against women in sarees, school children with school books and a cow. I spot a door that is ajar. I move to enter: I don’t care if it is someone’s living room. I enter and it is. Or, rather I guess it is. I look at the two inhabitants sitting on the floor; they look at me. The gaze is longer than – what!? – my culture, their culture, would allow? I don’t know. I don’t move; they don’t move. We look. I give a smile and a chuckle and a half-hearted wave. I step out: forget the maps.
There is one more thing to try. I head down the alley. “Where is that other turn off?” I think. The alley slopes down, gets narrower and I think: “Naw … this is taking me into a new geographic zone, a different urban niche.” My guess, which turned out to be right, was that I was heading into an older part of the city with tight, windy alleys filled with shops and markets. I had a choice: do I abandon my original plan of finding “Hotel Broadway” and start exploring this part of the city? Or, do I solve this puzzle?
I solve the puzzle. Here is one key to exploring and to not getting lost: always have a place in your mind that if you went back to you know exactly where you are. That way if you find yourself confused as to where you are, you go back to that place and start again. I was doing this my whole way to Jama Masjid. I was making mental notes of landmarks and distances, looking behind me and seeing where I had just been, building a mental map so I didn’t need the physical map to get back to my hotel. Many people make the mistake of pushing forward when they are confused and then get hopelessly lost. Some get lost in the wilderness, walk around in circles (it really happens!) and die that way.
I turn around and start to backtrack. I plan to go back to my hotel and ask my concierge what “straight” means (see previous post). I go up the alley, pass the rickshaw gauntlet (hello, Sir. HELLO, SIR! Where you from?), go around the Mosque, pass the auto repair shops, see some loose feathers and turn down the road that lead me here. I walk for a minute or two and I catch darting movement from above. Monkeys. I had forgotten that monkeys roam the streets of India as well. These are my first, and they get on some electrical lines overhead. I instinctively move out from underneath them and closer to the center of the street (there is not so much traffic at the moment). They follow along with me for a bit and then race in front. Two Monkeys – and they perch on some wires directly over the center of the street where I need to pass under them. They stop and look at me. I walk as if I belong and give them no attention (read: no eye contact), because to do so would give then more importance than they are warranted and perhaps trigger an interaction. I pass without incident.
I walk through the second intersection I described, pass the metro station, get to that first crazy intersection, and – no – I didn’t imagine it: the place is just madness. I get to the bridge. I step over the wooden leg, cross and find the shortcut through the alleyway. I get to my hotel and notice that the concierge watches me as I come down the alley and enter the front door up to the desk. We look at each other. Pause. I wait. He says with an Indian softness, “Hm… You walk fast.” I pause, again. I breathe. I keep my gaze and mirror his softness, “Delhi is some city” He looks down at his papers and his desk and gives a little Indian Bobble Head movement. It is 10 am, 2 hours from the time he gave me the concierge map.
I say, “I couldn’t find Hotel Broadway. What do you mean by straight? Can you show me exactly where it is on your map?” He does. We talk. We are mellow. I get explicit instructions and he adds some Delhi lore and helpful hints. I walk out …
I did find the Hotel. It is on a major road – not the one I’d chosen earlier – and it has funky décor and the menu looks good, but I never made it back because …
I was taken for a ride … the subject of my next post.