The first thing we noticed getting off the plane in Delhi was the smell of smoke. We were ready for this, having checked out Weather.com for the latest forecast for Delhi. “Smoky” was forecast for every foreseeable day. A dense pall from burning wood, coal and animal dung suffuses the city (The dung is used for cooking, not practical jokes, if you were wondering…)
We picked up our bags and headed for customs, which was pretty cursory . The most intriguing feature of it was the thermal imagining monitor in front of each counter. The Indian health authorities are serious as a heart attack about keeping out the swine flu (or, if you are a Muslim, cow flu.). Each arriving passenger can see themselves in glowing infrared on the monitors as they are scanned for the tale-tale colors of fever.
Leaving the airport, well after midnight, we drove through a city that did not sleep or even take a quick nap while the boss was out.. The 1:00am rush hour was in full swing. Busses, cars, tricycle taxies, and anything else with wheels was careening about with reckless abandon, totally devoid of anything approaching order. It was exciting just to be a passenger on the bus (it would get much more exciting during the day time). Cars were coming towards us on the left, right and up the middle of the road as our bus explored all the same options including the sidewalks. As motor trikes and scooters wove in and out, it was like being inside a video game, “Grand Theft Auto - New Delhi Rush”. I just needed the right music and a joystick controller and I would have been up on the sidewalk, running over pedestrians. (That is, if there were sidewalks and the pedestrians had not already been run over.
Driving through the night, you could see the basis of the that constant overused bromide about India being “a study of contrasts” We saw it in gleaming buildings and new construction alongside hovels by the road side; a magnificent new subway being built above darkened cave homes in the refuse piles as wretched tents made of blue tarps dopplered by.
After about 45 minutes we arrived at our hotel; a new 7-story five-star edifice flanked by two gigantic new super malls; one bigger than the next and more modern than anything I remember in the states (most of the same shops including a Hard Rock Café and Victoria Secrets)
We found our way up to our room and passed out