The delectable and displeasing scents of Delhi

I enter the street through the shiny glass door that sighs heavily as it opens, gently breaking the airlock that separates me from the pristine marble floor and wall tiles lining the foyer and the turmoil that lives on the other side.
The doorman, an elderly gentleman dressed in a crumpled uniform hanging wearily from his shoulders, has jumped to attention from the lopsided, rusty brass handled chair that defines his importance as hotel guard, warding off unwanted visitors lurking in the darkness of night and as the concierge, providing a friendly greeting to guests as they come and go from his hotel.
I exit the building, practicing the five Hindi words I have learnt, with the old man.  He laughs, looking exceptionally pleased with my attempt to speak his native tongue, and after responding with a paragraph of fluent hindi, he laughs again, this time at my bewildered response to the garbled sentence I have no chance of understanding. ’Taxi Miss?’, ’No thanks’, He cocks his head to the side and looks at me with a puzzled expression. Using an exaggerated swinging arm movement I indicate we are going exploring on foot. Smiling, he returns an understanding head wobble. He politely waits for us to leave the perimeter of his designated area before retreating back to his chair, letting his eyelids drop gently to rest until the next guest enters his domain.

From the moment I leave the sanctuary of the hotel, the assault on every sense in my body begins….

I am immediately enveloped by a delightful conglomeration of sights, sounds and smells. I tingle with anticipation as my brain goes into overload in an attempt to take everything in.
A dingy food stall with a torn piece of tarpaulin hangs precariously from ropes tied around lamp posts, a token cover to protect the cooks as they work under the heat of the sun.
Sweat beads glisten on their brows as they work quickly to churn out plates of spicy dal to the line of customers gathered along the path. I drift into a relaxed food coma at the scent of freshly deep fried puri being pulled from the wok of dark bubbling oil.
I stop and peer inquisitively into the depths of the roadside kitchen hoping to gain a deeper understanding of this intriguing and rustic operation. It is like a production line. A little man sits in the corner kneading the dough, someone else cooks the puri, one man stirs the dal pot, yet another takes the money, calls out the orders and waves the customers along the table to the guy at the end passing out uniform portions of plate after plate of this delectable breakfast snack.
Whilst observing the organised chaos of this busy stall, I promptly sneeze as a whiff of chilli dust hits the back of my nose and back away from the heat of the wood fire that is more fierce than the mid day sun.
A man casually saunters past with a cigarette dangling from his lips and unknowingly gifts me with a puff of herbal smoke that lingers in the air. The smell briefly overpowers the putrid open sewerage drain that has come to my attention where an old lady is sitting washing a pile of carefully balanced dirty plates.  She sits cross legged on the dusty ground, dressed in a vibrant yellow sari, that upon closer inspection, is filthy and warn on the edges. She clangs the stainless steel pots and pans together adding to the cacophony of noise pollution piercing my ears. From the squeak of bicycle rickshaws to car horns, truck engines and children squealing as they play in the streets.
Outside a local school, a sweet vendor stands next to his cart attracting a noisy group of excited children with his colorful display of sugary sweets and blissfully hypnotic music blasting out from crackly old speakers.
I glance up through spindly trees to see the blaze of an orange sun, mellowed by a layer of thick pollution covering the city like a giant fog. My desire to breathe deeply ceases momentarily and I attempt to cover my face with the edge of the scarf that is wrapped around my body, protecting me from the suns harsh rays. With every step, I am embraced by new sights, sounds and smells.
We push our way through the crowded streets and dash across roads, stepping out in sync with confident locals who duck and weave through the constant stream of traffic and finally arrive at our destination.

We enter the gateway of the Red fort, a spectacular religious centerpiece, situated in Old Delhi and sit on the steps leading up to the top of the mosque. Whilst the chaos and confusion is audible and the fast pace of life on the streets is visible through the gates, there is a stillness present here, an opportunity to step back and simply observe our surroundings without being completely overwhelmed, or is it?
A few beggars are camped inside the corner near the entrance. One old man with piercing blue eyes squats against the wall and stares out blankly. A family sits on  eating scraps procured from passers by. Children in dirty clothing, and babies with no pants play with spinning tops on the ancient concrete slabs at the base of the mosque steps.
A little boy in a filthy white kurta is following tourists with one hand held out palm up and the other hand motioning to his mouth indicating he wants food or money. He looks like he has not bathed in days. I am torn.  I loathe giving money to beggars, especially children, as it simply encourages parents not to send them to school.

Beggars in the Red fort

A few moments later, I notice two older beggars sitting on plastic bags being gifted a few coins by a lady dressed in a beautiful green and white salwar.  I decide I need to research, learn more and gain a deeper understanding of how and why begging is so prevalent here, how the local people feel about it and the best way to approach this.

We make our way back through the noisy streets to the hotel, the only space in this city that is spared from the chaos. I close the door to our room, and sit for a moment in the silence.
Its quiet, actually, it’s too quiet!! I turn on the TV, the sound of a familiar Bollywood tune blasts through the speakers. I boil the jug, make a cup of chai and the aroma of tea spice fills the air… The sounds and scents of India fill the air…. ‘Ahhh, that’s better!’
Chandni Chowk Bazaar outside the Red Fort
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