India

One Silent Spot

Old Delhi's Red Fort (Photo: Noel Rodrigues)With more than 22 million people in its greater metropolis area, Delhi is one of the loudest and most hectic cities in the world. In every street and alleyway of New Delhi there is a constant wall of noise that confronts you as you wander around this fascinating urban sprawl. So I was amazed that when I visited Old Delhi - the city's notorious market district - I managed to find a moment of complete tranquillity.

The day began with a journey from Connaught Place and the relative comfort and luxury of New Delhi into the more cultural and demanding area of Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi. For this trip I decided to test out the new metro system that had been put in place underneath the entire city.

I have to admit I was amazed by the efficiency, cleanliness and all around Western experience that was delivered from this shiny new method of transport. A stark contrast to the admittedly more entertaining, if not slightly terrifying experience, of navigating Delhi's congested network of roads above the ground.

As we disembarked from Chandi Chowk's bright white metro station we had to head up from the cool, clean underground and head into the light and heat above. As you emerge from the dark the first thing that hits you is the bright sun temporarily blinding you but, as you're other senses kick in, it is the smell that overpowers you most.

It doesn't take long to find the source; just around the corner is a pile of garbage covering the area of a house and it is, quite literally, baking in the midday sun. In and around the rotting garbage you can see small children running wild, leafing through the refuse and playing on it as if it were a park attraction.

As you continue around the corner you are hit by a veritable wall of noise. The main street is absolutely rammed. Lining each side of the street there are hundreds of stalls and shops, all accompanied by a desperately loud salesman attempting to pedal his goods to the passing locals and tourists. This is almost drowned out, though, by the constant beeping coming from the road itself.

All over Delhi the roads are rammed with auto rickshaws, cars and coaches, all trying to make their way through the congested roads. However here in Old Delhi there is the added factor of normal rickshaws, cows and people all trying to get their share of the unruly roads. All beeping and shouting as they go.

You realize fairly quickly that it would be an impossible task to try to negotiate your way through the overcrowded network of alleyways and roads especially when, for a small fee, you can hire someone to guide you around in a more stress free manor. 

With this in mind, hailing down a rickshaw is your best bet. I stepped into mine and asked for a tour of the area. Shanil - the driver- immediately took up my offer and swerved straight out into the wall of traffic. He then proceeded to zip in and out of lanes, fitting through impossible gaps, all the while shouting out tourist information to me.

After a terrifying ride down the main road he pulled a u-turn and decided to speed down the wrong side of the road against the onrushing traffic, before mercifully pulling to a stop. We were at a world famous spice market and the guide wanted to give us a tour around the stalls.

The market itself is bustling with colour and noise but, much more importantly, the aroma it gives off is amazing. Every single shop and stall is filled to the brim with every spice imaginable and they mix together to give off a smell like nothing you will experience anywhere else in the world. It literally tingles your nose and tantalises your taste buds to an almost unbearable extent. 

Shanil walks us past a number of these incredible stores - keeping the beggars and the shop keepers at an arms length and navigating us through the busy pavement - before disappearing into a darkened building. Somewhat apprehensively I make a snap judgement and follow him in.

Inside the building is a store room crammed to the roof with giant bags of spices. There are hundreds of sacks all filled with chillis and ginger, stacked in bags three feet high and just as wide. While all around them shop keepers and assistants are running around carrying the giant bags outside. It always amazes me that these tiny Indian men can lift such huge weights and carry seemingly impossible loads with what appears to be the slightest of efforts.

After rushing through this store room, I was taken up several flights of stairs before once again emerging into the bright sunshine. Although unlike before it is not a wall of noise and stink that confronts you; instead you meet a complete silence that catches you off guard. Just three stories above the madness below you can't hear a single syllable of the chaos and the eerie silence is incredible. After two weeks of constant noise it is unbelievable to be standing in silence, a feeling amplified by the fact that, despite the phenomenal congestion below, the only other inhabitants you can see is a group of eagles circling high above.

From up here you are also afforded the opportunity to gaze down onto the mad house below. Amazingly from up above you can see some structure to the chaos as all the people seem to be moving in the same direction, a fact you would never be able to appreciate from a place within it.

You allow yourself a few moments to take in this incredibly rare moment and savour the silence and tranquillity, before gearing yourself up and descending back into the pandemonium below, albeit somewhat calmer and more prepared for the hubbub that will swallow you below.

About the Author

Jack Nicklin is a 23 year old extreme sports instructor from England, who is currently spending a year backpacking around Southeast Asia in order to avoid real life. He graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in England in 2011 with a degree in journalism. He recently set off with his girlfriend and a few pairs of flip flops to make the most of his current freedom before the money runs out and he has to return to embark on a career as a broadcast journalist.

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 Full name: Republic of India

 Population: 1.2 billion (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: New Delhi

 Largest city: Urban Mumbai (by population)

 Area: 3.287 million sq.km. (1.27 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Hindi, English and 14  other Official Languages

 Major religions: Hindu, Muslim, Christian,  Sikh, Other

 Monetary unit: Rupee

 GDP per capita: US $3,700

 Internet domain: .in

 International dialling code: +91

 Source: CIA World Factbook