Sights and Smells

May 19th, 2008

You will have to excuse us. We have been thrown into a country and culture jarringly different from our own, and we are still adapting, still forming our considered impressions, as thoughtful people do. But, you want first impressions, don’t you? Okay, here are a few first impressions.

We landed in Delhi in the evening. Leaving the terminal, I immediately noticed a fog or mist. “No,” Katie told me, “that’s smog.” Then, I recognized just how unlikely it would be for fog to form in 90-degree weather. Okay, so the point is that Delhi is a bit smoggy during the summer. Another thing, New Delhi has a system of roads and roundabouts that, at first glance, appear wide, well-kept, and British. Then, looking closer, you notice that the homes and buildings that line the street are walled- or fenced-off. Then, you notice the people living in makeshift shanties on or near the sidewalk. It’s hard to know what to think about this. Smells? In Delhi, the smell of car exhaust is ubiquitous. There is, of course, the alluring smell of tea, fruit lassies, and street food – sweet, spicy, and fried. Like New York or Atlanta in the summer, from time to time, you can catch the smell of hot garbage and urine. Then, you turn the corner and you are met with intense incense, oils, and perfume.

Please take these observations for what they are: first impressions. I’m still working on my considered impressions. And, given our recent, trip to the headwaters of the Ganges River (Haridwar and Rishikesh), it is awfully clear that I cannot judge India or Indian culture based on my first two days in Delhi. The people, the customs, the environment, the infrastructure are vastly different in different regions. I’ll unpack this when I can.