Friday, 4 February 2011

Delhi: Waiting for The Moment

New Delhi, India’s capital, is paradoxically both a very walkable city and a difficult place to get around on foot.

It’s walkable because the British built the spanking new capital for their Indian empire (inaugurated unwittingly in the last years of The Raj in 1931) on a very flat landscape south of old Delhi, and linked it with straight roads meeting at circular intersections.

That these roads are largely lined with shade trees, particularly in the residential areas, is another positive for the stroller.

There are some fine things to be seen on a walk through New Delhi’s streets. Yesterday, on a cool winter morning, I took a long walk from the Taj Mahal Hotel up to the monumental India Gate erected for India’s war dead after World War I; headed west along the broad ceremonial avenue known as the Rajpath toward the President’s residence; then north past the 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory into the commercial area centred on the concentric circles of Connaught Place.

It was an interesting walk, but with two challenges for the determined walker.

The first are the very many citizens of Delhi who wish to sell to the passing tourist their goods or services. Though generally good natured, they are persistent and it can be a challenge deciding how to deal with the non-stop offers, especially as you approach the touts’ paradise around Connaught Place.

In the course of a few hours I was offered many taxi rides and shoe shines, and a variety of products including the portable head massager, a kind of flexible metal whisk which is pushed down over your head to stimulate your scalp.

These traders can be a nuisance due to their sheer numbers. If you’re not interested in what they’re selling, however, a polite negative and then a steely determination not to engage any further, moving forward relentlessly, seems to do the trick.

The other challenge is not so easy to dismiss: the ferocious traffic which makes crossing a road here seem a Herculean task. There are many painted pedestrian across roads where there are no traffic lights, so there’s no guarantee of an enforced pause. At other places, there’s no designated crossing but a need to get across.

Standing for the first few times at the edge of a seemingly unceasing traffic flow, I felt puzzled as to how to proceed. Usually I’d keep an eye on my fellow pedestrians and cross (sometimes at speed) with them.

Then, on my own, I observed the traffic more closely and realised that the key was in recognising one thing: The Moment.

Inevitable, no matter how busy the traffic flow, there would come a moment when then was a gap in its pattern, long enough to allow one to get across the road. Sometimes The Moment was very clear - a large break in the traffic that allowed me to briskly walk across.

At other times The Moment might require a quick sprint. And there was occasionally The Hidden Moment: when the traffic flow seemed unabated but in fact contained a pattern of gaps that would allow one to alertly cross.

All the psychologists say we should be living more in the moment to aid our mental wellbeing. In New Delhi, being entirely focused on The Moment can also help you get around.

Disclosure time: On this trip I travelled to New Delhi courtesy of Thai Airways and received discounted accommodation at the Taj Mahal Hotel.

Note: If visiting Delhi and feeling indisposed to walking, I recommend hiring taxi driver Kapoor by ringing local mobile number 099 58637588. He's a good driver who can be hired for a few hours for a negotiated fee, or for short trips at the usual taxi meter rate.