Delhi to Dibrugarh, Assam, North-east India. Flight time: 2 hours 25 minutes. Blogging with a view of the Himalayas.
It’s day two of our ninety days holiday. Neither of us are homesick but this morning Sarah said she wants to FaceTime the cat.
Till now, FaceTiming a cat was not a known side-effect of Malarone. I’m going to suggest a paper for the British Medical Journal.
We need the pills because we’re heading in to the north east of India, the lush, verdant, jungley north east, home to tigers, rhinos, pithas, tenga anja, hundreds of tea plantations and millions of blood-thirsty mosquitos.
We spent a day walking around the centre of Delhi, along its majestic boulevards Janpath and Rajpath, between its grandiose Lutyens buildings of red and brown sandstone, gazing at India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, visiting the national museum and slowly getting used to the 30 degree heat.
We stayed in an area of Delhi called Paharganj, filled with narrow roads, earthy and real, over-crowded and vibrant, filled chockablock with stalls, shops and bumper to bumper with cars and rickshaws, and the odd backpacker in search of an authentic urban India.
It’s said to have a seedy vibe to it, with pimps and drug dens but if you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it; the area is characterful and unapologetically grubby
Our hotel was comfortable – five floors set in a hamam style with a faded-glory charm about it, that had excellent views of the skyline from its top floor cafe.
It was a pleasant stay apart from the banging sound from the room above in the evening, a little late for knocking in nails or somewhat early for another type of activity of the same name.
Auto rickshaws galore
When you’re a visible foreigner in India like Sarah, you’re susceptible to getting picked on by hawkers in Delhi. It’s a fair cop, they’re trying to make a living, but sometimes it’s hard to get rid of auto-rickshaw drivers (Tuk tuks) who just cruise up and say ‘where to?’
Despite lengthy explanations that we’re just going for a walk, they often drive along slowly asking the same thing again and again. When my protestations in English didn’t work, I started to rattle off some French sentences and on several occasions they just drove off. It was liberation. or should that be fraternite, liberte, egalite.
It didn’t matter that I said to them le singe est dans l’arbre, le jambon est sous le chapeau. (‘the monkey is in the tree, the ham is under the hat’). It worked. As Shakespeare once said, though this be madness, there be method in it.
(Later in the day this backfired. I got stood up by three Uber rides in a row. The bloody little cars, these 🚗 on the app; one would go down my phone’s screen at snails-pace, reverse, rotate clockwise, rotate anti-clockwise (taking the mickey), come closer again, wait for three minutes while just one minute away and finally CANCEL. I stopped speaking out-of-context French, hailed an auto-rickshaw, grovelled shamelessly and got ripped off. This was payback).
Tourist SIM-card grovel
In the evening I wrote a strongly worded email to a mobile network. I’ve been scammed I told them. The tourist SIM card you sold me at the airport doesn’t work I’ve waited the four hours you told me it needed to be activated and I want my money back! I didn’t bother with full stops but I did use an exclamation mark, something I use very sparingly. I soon got a reply from a Customer Experience Executive saying they were sorry but they would look in to it. Almost then I got an SMS saying that my phone had been topped up and was ready to use. Grovel number 2; I hastily wrote to them again with an apology. It was a fair trade for 1.5gb of data a day for 80 days for a princely total of £8.
Haus Khaz Village, known as HKV to those in the know
We met up with my niece who’s studying at Delhi University. She’s been here for two years now and is really savvy and independent when it comes to knowing the city. It’s always good to hangout with cool 20 somethings because they know cool places to hangout. (Author’s note: This comment not to be taken out of context).
She took us to a cool new place in Delhi called Haus Khaz village or HKV for those in the know.
Despite sounding a bit like a new super-virus, HKV is a neighbourhood in south Delhi with about 50 bars, restaurants, galleries and cafes with an olde worlde charm. It has a policed gate, so very little through traffic, which gives the people a relaxed strolling pace with a Sunday afternoon feel; the bars and restaurants have splendid views over a lake cupped in a small forest, where at sunset, throngs of crow-sized bats hang out, literally.
We also managed to catch up with old friends Sid and Kay who treated us to a new restaurant in Lodhi Colony.
Delhi airport, more happy and less grabby
Delhi airport has changed so much over the years I’ve visited it. Gone is the grubby feel this place once had. The rush of the porters so eager for tips you’d be de-bagged in a moment, or a mystery hand would appear to unwind the taxi window and then demand a tip in any currency. Today the airport is glitzy and squeaky clean, with the glam of Swarovski, Hilfiger and Mac boutiques and not a grabby hand in sight.
Flying past Mount Everest
This flight I’m on now, from Delhi to Assam, is one of the most enchanting because of its view of the Himalayas.
From the left window, you think you see a thin line of clouds in the blue. Then you start to notice jagged flecks of grey in the clouds, sides of huge peaks surfacing the cloud line. They soon emerge head and shoulders above the clouds, the rooftop of the world. We are about to fly past Everest, Makalu, Nuptse and Lhotse, in the Himalayas, four of the five highest peaks on earth.
How Indians pronounce Himalayas
I love the way Indians pronounce himalayas. Him-AAAAHHH -lyas. So regal, so divine. And with the ‘aah’ a nod to a certain enlightenment. Many Indians believe these mountains are the abode of the gods and some peaks are so sacred they are forbidden to be climbed.
The Nepalese have an equal reverence, calling the mountain, Sagarmatha, ‘Mother of the Universe’; the Tibetans call it Chomolungma meaning ‘Goddess Mother of the World’.
In contrast, we call it Everest after a surveyor called George.
In contrast, westerners have always seen the Himalayas differently, as an adventure, a challenge. When Hilary summitted Everest he famously said to base camp, ‘We knocked the bastard off’.
I can hear voices speaking Assamese around me. The chopped syllables, the rounded consonants and throaty k. They have a homely familiarly although the voices are from strangers.
This post ‘Flying Past Mount Everest to Assam’ first appeared on the blog http://www.heyloons.com and is part of a series I’m backpacking around South East Asia for 90 Days