Thursday, September 15, 2016

[DELHI] Uber and the Red, Red Fort

Once upon a time there was an alien who took an Uber in Delhi, got stuck in traffic for almost two hours, and was only charged INR250 (~PHP190), because Uber is supah cheap in India. Moral of the story? Don’t Uber in New Delhi, unless you love watching chaos unfold from your car window. The best way to get around is by Metro, where you also get to practice your wrestling skills. If you do it every day in the next four years, you’d have honed your techniques well enough to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

If you are not convinced, then hear the story of the same alien who got out of the airport at around 10:30 PM, giving him ample time to catch the Airport Express to New Delhi Railway Station, but insisted on calling an Uber because he claimed to be dead tired. With the spotty WiFi signal there, he did manage to call an Uber, and then the car stopped at the airport entrance according to the app map and never moved again until it was already 11:30 PM. The Metro was no longer running.

Ending? Alien had to shell out INR750 (~PHP550) for the taxi ride. If your accommodation is within walking distance of the New Delhi Railway station, take the Airport Express. It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s modern. Oh wait, weren’t we talking about wrestling a few paragraphs ago? Yes, let’s talk about personal space, a concept that seems rather unfamiliar in New Delhi. Or maybe this is because the very concept of space is not a luxury that they can ever have. No, not in a jam-packed city like Delhi, neither the old nor the new.

Delhi is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited for the last 5,000 years or so. That’s a really long time, something perhaps only Jerusalem can rival. Expect it to be full of people for the next 5,000. Falling in line can be a nightmare because the next thing you know, someone’s chin will be resting on your shoulders. If you are (un)lucky, a quick glance left or right will give you a surprise lips-to-lips encounter. Or someone will just rest his elbows on your back as he takes a selfie.

Since Alien is allergic to people and often gets this feeling like he wants to obliterate them, he didn't enjoy Delhi that much. For someone who badmouths Manila on a regular basis, he never thought that he'd find another city that can be any more chaotic. Pushing seems to be customary rather than rude. It’s as if everyone’s in a mass judo match without them even knowing. But instead of Alien trying to describe all of this to you, why not just go to Delhi yourself? For an experience you'll never forget.

But India is incredible, in every sense of the word. Delhi itself has three or more UNESCO World Heritage sites, most of which offer a refuge from the chaos unfolding beyond their compounds. Alien could have visited three, but opted to settle for just two. Delhi can be stressful like that, especially with the 38C heat and humidity that you have to endure once you get out of your air-conditioned room. Oh, you booked a fan room? Good luck with that, bruh. Let’s hope the heatstroke spares you.

Getting out of the Yellow line’s Chandni Chowk station, you can just walk all the way to the Red Fort. Wearing sunglasses will attract attention, but is recommended as a double shield from both sun and dust. Crossing that intersection blind from those two is a death wish waiting to happen. Traversing the busy streets of Delhi is like joining American Ninja Warrior, except that it’s way more exciting because the probability of dying here is higher. There’s no system to it. Most locals just run at every direction whenever they want and manage to evade death at the same time. They are amazing like that. Street Level: Expert.

The same guy who built the Taj Mahal constructed the Red Fort. That Shah Jahan dude obviously had a thing for opulence, of which this fort is further proof. Serving as his ruling palace for quite some time, traces of its past grandeur still prove to be quite evident despite the persistent wear and tear brought about by the passing of time. The Lahore Gate to the west is said to be the only accessible entrance. Ticket is worth INR500 (~PHP375) for foreigners and airport-like screening is mandatory before entry.

In spite of the magnificent architecture, I think what I appreciated most was the chill vibe at the compound's gardens. I haven’t visited any Ivy League campus in the US yet, but I suppose the feeling is similar because of the colonial architecture and the leisurely pace of just about everything that was unfolding there. Families were just relaxing and having a chat and there were lots of shaded areas to choose from. One can only imagine how serene it all was back in the heydays of the Mughal Empire.

The fountains and artificial streams have long been dry now, but this is where your imagination comes in handy. Wah, how it would have felt like to be on the apex of the caste system back then, huh? Maharajah feels! Enjoy your R&R there before you go back out to the reality that is Delhi’s streets, which seem to have a mind of their own, a separate organism waiting to consume you whole, both literally and figuratively. After all, Incredible is not for the faint of heart.

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