We are in Delhi!
Our cab ride from the airport to the hotel last night was an eye-opening experience. We were told to spend some time observing the local rules of traffic to get used to riding here. A few minutes later we concluded there are no rules. Pure chaos! Lines, traffic signals, turn signals, etc are merely suggestions. There is a constant cacophony of horns and diesel engines all around. And this is at 11PM at night! What have we gotten ourselves into?
There's also a lot of security around here. Lots of soldiers carrying rifles and plenty of metal and bomb detectors everywhere you go. Our hotel security made our cab driver pop open the hood and trunk and placed mirrors under the engine before they let us onto the premises! Very different world we've landed in!
Bird seeks shelter from the rain. View from our hotel room this morning.
Woke up early the next morning for our first full day in Delhi. We're supposed to pick up our bikes today and what do we see when we look out our window? It's pouring monsoon buckets out there! If we could only do one trip where it doesn't rain, it would be a miracle. Called the bike rental place and they said that we could pick up the bikes at 4PM, so we had the whole day to kill.
Auto-rickshaws having a conversation on the busy streets of Old Delhi
Neda checking out the traffic
We took a cab to the metro station and then headed for the Red Fort, which defines the heart of Old Delhi. This part of town was exactly what I pictured India would be, an assault on all the senses: the ever present horns of gridlocked vehicles jockeying for space, a lot of poverty on the city streets, people and stray dogs asleep on the sidewalk, and the hot damp air of Old Delhi holding on to the animal and human smell of sweat and excrement. The squeeze of people crammed up against each other means that any concept of personal space has pretty much disappeared.
Traditional prayer flowers placed on a garbage bin
One of the electronics bazaars just off Chandni Chowk. Neda is amazed that all the stores here are powered off one guy's electric bill. He must be on vacation this week...
When we reached the Red Fort, it provided a temporary respite to the crowds as we walked around the beautiful grounds and toured through the old buildings built by the Shah Jahan as a residence for his royal family. Neda and I are viewed as quite the curiousity here. There aren't that many foreigners walking around, so we are targets for a lot of looks and stares, many people warned us of pickpockets around Old Delhi. We were very paranoid about our belongings! But in general people just walked towards us, gathered round and wanted to gawk. I felt very self-conscious!
Outside the Red Fort
Inside the Red Fort
Beautiful grounds of the Red Fort
After a couple of hours walking around the markets of Chandni Chowk just outside the Red Fort, we were getting a bit tired from the heat, humidity and unwanted attention, as well as also feeling very jetlagged (we're about 10 hours ahead of you folks in the Eastern Time Zone right now), plus we had to make it to the bike store to pick up our motorcycles.
Amazing architecture inside the Red Fort
Most people here speak English, but every time we get into a cab or go to a store to interact with local people, their accent befuddles us to no end. They seem to understand us perfectly, but the Indian accent is too thick for us to decipher. What ends up happening is that Neda and I look at each other to see if either of us understood - nope. Then they talk slower (and louder). Just like we do to ESLers back home. Shoe on the other foot. I think travel not only teaches us about other people, but it also reveals more about how *we treat* other people when the roles are reversed. Indians have way more patience with foreigners than North Americans do. We are so thankful for that.
Here's a sight you don't see on the streets everyday: Illegal U-turn...
We arrive at the motorbike store in Karol Bagh, the west end of New Delhi. This is a more industrialized part of the town and the area where the store is located is entirely made up of used motorcycle and scooter sales and service. Thousands of two-wheelers line the streets in front of the stalls and stores, sometimes three deep. Lots of single-cylinder Honda models that I didn't recognize. We walked down a steep ramp into the basement of Inder Motors, where the owner, an older Sikh gentleman named Lalli Singh and his staff were preparing our beautiful Royal Enfield Bullet 500s. He explained to us that we were a bit of a rush job as today was Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. This meant all of his Muslim employees were on vacation, so he was working with a skeleton crew today.
Inder Motors workshop
After going through some paperwork, he took us to where the bikes were and demonstrated how to kick start the Enfields. No electric starts on these bikes! They had removed the starter motors from these bikes because of constant seizing problems. So we spent an hour learning how to kick start these finicky beasts. Fuel petcock and choke were already familiar, but decompressor lever? After this, Lalli took us to a less crowded street to practice riding with the bikes. I think this was more for his benefit as I think he wanted to assess our motorcycle skills before renting them out to us.
Lalli explains to Neda how to kick start the bike.
After an hour of practice, we wanted to kick the bikes alright...
Back at the shop, he had his mechanic Pinky go through all of Fixing Royal Enfields 101. And 201. We basically learned how to take apart the bike and put it back together again in case anything went wrong. Pinky didn't speak any English, which made Royal Enfield Wrenching Class very interesting. After packing one of the bikes with enough spares that we could build a whole new Enfield from scratch, we looked outside and it was pitch black and pouring rain again. Lalli offered to give us a ride back to the hotel and Pinky and another mechanic would ride the bikes back in the dark and rain, which was very nice of him. Navigating the confusing Delhi streets in the dark and on wet roads and on bikes we've never ridden before would have been overwhelming!
Pinky is showing me how to build a Royal Enfield from scratch. Almost done! Just need to remove the starter motor and we're good to go...
The best part is that as part of every bike rental, they bless the bikes by giving offerings to the gods in return for a safe journey in a religious ceremony called Puja. It was too late to do this, so Pinky would come by the next morning and perform the ceremony and also give us an escort out of town! Looking forward to it!