Snippets of New Delhi, India.
Snippets of New Delhi.
Bear with me, dear readers, since we are about to embark on a series that’s… well… a bit different. As long term visitors to these pages know, I’ve been building my travel report library for around five years now. For the most part, I’ve always tried to paint detailed pictures of the places I’ve visited. To bore you with the nitty gritty of the history. To often go a bit more off-the-beaten-track and take as many photographs as humanly possible.
But now, I find myself faced with the major blogging challenge that is my adventures across India in the spring of 2004. To put it bluntly, I didn’t take enough photos and a lot of what I did shoot was… well, rubbish. In fact, as I leaf through the charred photographic remains of that old trip, I’m left thinking: Wow, what do I do with this?
At first glance, I considered scrapping India as a travel report series. But after some thought, I knew I couldn’t leave them out. After all, this is one of my favourite, most romanticised spells of travel. I was just twenty five years old and it was the longest time I’d been out on the road in such an exotic country. Moreover, this was the trip that inspired my short story collection, Incidents in India.
Snippets of New Delhi.
Thus I rolled up my sleeves and performed open heart surgery on my analogue photos. Then cobbled together the idea of this snippets series. Because, old friends, that’s exactly what they are. Moments, if you will, from the various stops of that long ago trip around India. A collection of teasers, you might say, for those of you who haven’t read the short stories. And it all started in the frenetic capital, New Delhi.
From the modest scattering of photos I have of my time in New Delhi, most relate to Paharganj, the assault-on-the-senses backpacker neighbourhood I based myself in. I will never ever forget what a rabbit caught in the headlights I was as I negotiated that long, crowded, stinky stretch of dusty road for the first time.
I had never seen anything like Paharganj. Market vendors and travel agency touts yelled at me… street kids tugged at my clothing… amputee beggars shook cups of loose change in my direction. You can read more about that first day in my short story Poor Me!
It’s crazy to think that my travel buddy Allan and I chose to stay in Paharganj. Ah, the folly of youth. Still, it wasn’t a complete disaster, as our home from home, the Hare Krishna Guesthouse, actually turned out ok. I say that in retrospect of course, looking back at the absolutely shocking hotels we would later have the misfortune to inhabit.
Jama Masjid Mosque.
We had around a week exploring New Delhi, if memory serves me well. I literally couldn’t tell you all the things we did and saw, but I certainly do recall the dramatic Jama Masjid Mosque. Built in the 1650s by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the dude responsible for The Taj Mahal), this served as the imperial mosque for a string of emperors over the next 200 years.
Architecturally, with its red sandstone and white marble, Jama Masjid is a spectacular sight. Somehow though, my standout memories are of the aggressive gatekeeper who rushed us around the main courtyard due to the fact that it was approaching closing time. And of this local lady sat on the entrance steps begging. I wonder what became of her, and if there is any chance at all that her life got better.
Another memorable afternoon came at the Red Fort, a Mughal palace known locally as Lal Qila. Emperor Shah Jahan built this one too, between 1638 and 1648. This massive, octagonal, red sandstone fortress was the seat of The Mughal Empire for over two hundred years before it fell into the hands of The British. Honestly, I had nothing to do with it.
Somewhere within its cavernous depths, I bumped into a young local man, Romeo, and his merry gang of wide-eyed chums. We ended up chatting for a while, a bizarre, confusing but ultimately uplifting experience documented in my short story What Do You Think Of Love?
Snippets of New Delhi, India.
Photo courtesy of Humayunn Peerzaada.
One afternoon, despite the intense, stifling humidity, we joined the long line of people shuffling down the lawn-flanked footpath towards one of India’s most revered memorials. This is Raj Ghat, the black marble platform that marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated on the 31st of January 1948. Just a day after his tragic assassination.
The memorial features an ever-fresh floral tribute and an eternal flame. Guards ensure the line keeps moving at a steady pace, hence I found myself with just thirty seconds to remove my shoes, take in the memorial and pose for a quick shot. Looking back, I am appalled by my outfit that day, a garish mix of QPR shirt (facepalm) and khaki green trousers.
Towards the end of our stay, Allan and I took a rickshaw out to The Lotus Temple, a splendorous Bahai House of worship set in some lovely public gardens. I hadn’t heard of the Baháʼí Faith, a religion founded in Iran in the mid 19th century. Basically, it encourages all forms of world religion to unite in a communal celebration of humanity. I have never been, nor will I ever be religious. But I do remember feeling that if I had to choose one faith, this was surely the way forward.
The Lotus Temple, New Delhi.
The Lotus Temple is an incredibly impressive structure. Built in 1986, it represents a floating lotus flower, the Bahai symbol of purity. And what a unique temple experience it was, with Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists sat side by side observing their respective forms of prayer. Furthermore, it makes me smile to think of all the Indian men who kept stopping me and asking if I’d pose for a photo.
One of my favourite things about Delhi was, of course, the food. I love Indian cuisine so much I can even forgive the city for giving me the only case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. Delhi belly, as it was known back then. That one unfortunate incident aside, I remember fondly the creamy curries, the crispy samosas and the various street dishes sizzling away on every corner.
The city parks felt essential, much-needed escapes from the relentless buzz of traffic and the almost overpowering smells of sewage and cow shit. The name of the above park is, sadly, lost to the vaults of time. However, this was where I had my misadventure with Devda the ear cleaner. Have a read of my short story, Come Ear! for the full lowdown.
Snippets of New Delhi.
I’ll leave you with this treasured shot of New Delhi Railway Station. It was the end of our stay in India’s uncompromising capital and we were about to board a train to Agra. The vibe was absolutely mental, with people jostling, pushing and shoving as if their lives depended on reaching their seats before others. Indeed it was the first time I had seen a man actually attach himself to a carriage door. That’s New Delhi folks, over and out.
This is the first of my travel reports from across India.
For a deeper look at my time in the country, check out my short story collection Incidents In India.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
Oh wow now for some real parallel memories. New Delhi was where we began our 2017 India trip, Jama Masjid and Red Fort were also on our agenda, and we also left town on the train to Agra! Over the course of that trip we also stayed in a couple of very dodgy hotels, particularly at Bakkhali, but boy don’t these things give us stories to tell. I don’t think any traveller could ever forget their first India experience, that first time will live with us for ever!
Ah, great to read that we have so many crossover experiences and memories from New Delhi. Dodgy hotels… yes, I have even written a whole chapter about one such hotel in the short story series. It almost feels like a rite of passage in India. I really would love to go back one day, but not quite sure that will ever happen. Thanks for kicking off the comment thread.
There’s one in ours too…under the Travel Stories heading, called The Dirty Plastic Bucket. I’ll do my best to catch up on your short stories whilst travelling because I know they’ll be good.
Ah that’s great. I’ll definitely take a look and leave a comment. My awful hotel story chapter is called ‘The Shithole’. https://leightontravels.com/2022/01/11/the-shithole-short-story-india/
I may leave it till Christmas, we’re due to be marooned in a remote location for a week so as long as the wifi is good I will have time on my hands….
I find that your stories are so detailed and vivid that I can often picture things without seeing them, so no worries if you don’t have the perfect picture 🙂 I’m impressed you even have such good quality pics from 2004! Also, cannot even imagine attempting to get on those trains in India.
Aw, that’s nice of you to say Lyssy. I think you read some of those stories when they were published, if memory serves me well. I have been meaning to sort out these travel reports as companion pieces for some time now. Once I actually got onto the train, it wasn’t all that bad. Better than some of the hotels I stayed in ha ha.
It all sounds so familiar from our trip in 2018. The smells, the beggars, the pushing and shoving to get on a train. Traveling in India is like no where else and it does stay with you for a long time doesn’t it. Love the outfit by the way 🙂 Maggie
Totally agree Maggie, and I think doing India so early on in my travel days definitely helped me toughen up a bit. That outfit is horrendous, I can’t imagine what was going through my head.
i recall your short story series fondly. incidents in india right? i think you’ve done a marvellous job considering the lack of photographic material on hand. i got a real feel for new delhi back in this time and find myself pondering how much it’s changed. alot would be my uneducated guess. very much looking forward to this series, you have gotten off to a solid start.
Thank you Stan, somehow it felt important to get these locations done as travel reports. They are all a bit “cobbled” but that was part of the challenge and the fun of it. Hope these snippets live up to your expectations!
It sounds like an entirely different world on so many ways. I have no doubt I’d be completely lost upon my arrival in New Delhi as well.
Hey Diana, I think age and general travel experience played a part for me at that time. I was pretty wet behind the ears, ha ha. Thanks for reading and contributing to the comment thread.
Shortcomings be damned! I still want my Leighton fix. The comparisons of the old and the new are dramatic. Not only has your digital images been a step up from the analog but your sense of visual artistry has definitely developed along the way. A very pleasant trip down memory lane.
Thanks so much Memo. A lot of work went into sorting out those rubbish images. I know that you, more than most, truly appreciate that having seen them as they once were. The same goes for the original articles I put out some years ago. Blogging is a journey, and it feels good to finally do this material justice. I believe that with this series, along with the stories, my India escapades can finally rest on the blog without further tinkering.
The Lotus Temple looks beautiful, and thank you for sharing these focal points from visiting India.
Thanks Allie, these focal points are strictly from New Delhi, though the series will go across India over the coming weeks. The Lotus Temple is a beauty and I found the whole vibe really positive with different faiths coming together in quiet unity.
I haven’t been to India, but it certainly appeals, in a terrifying sort of way. It sounds intense, vibrant, and totally out of my comfort zone. The Lotus Temple reminds me of the Sydney Opera House. Great post, Leighton. I’m looking forward to more.
I see what you mean about the Lotus Temple, while out of one’s comfort zone is about right. I have long had this daydream of going back for a 20 year anniversary trip, which would be 2024. Not sure if that will actually happen, but it would be fascinating to go back and see everything with older, more experienced eyes.
So interesting Leighton as I hope to visit India at dome point. Will look forward to reading the rest of this series.
Thanks for your comment Marion.
So glad you did not give up on those old forgotten photos Leighton. I had a similar feeling when I tucked into my Analogue Adventures series. These photos are crap, what was I thinking, why did I not take more shots of people/buildings/street scenes/etc? All that aside, these old pix have an earthy edge to them that tell more of a tale than most digital pix can. I have never been to India and will likely never visit. Happy to visit with your posts. Cheers. Allan
Thanks Allan, I had just started photo editing work on this series when your first analogue adventure came through. Earthy is right I think, they have a grain that (to me at least) reminds me of a totally different time. Not just in my life, but on Planet Earth in general. Thanks for joining me with this first collection of ‘snippets’.
Leighton, love the idea of snippets. Very agile selection of photos and comments. And then the interspersed stories, so entertaining to read. Amazing you had Celine Dion’s ear cleaner …… and the story of the “First Glass Hotel”. As I say great format. Still got some more to read. That will keep me busy until next episode. Magic!
Hey Geoff, I’m so glad you enjoyed this and that you took the time to dip into ‘Incidents in India’. Devda… I think there should be a movie written about the life of a Delhi ear cleaner. Thanks for reading!
I think your photos are great, especially the one of you in front of the Lotus Temple. I am currently fighting flu and strep throat, but I fully intend to go back and read your short stories. Right now, I’m not doing much of anything.
Oh Kellye, no! Better get that out of the way now I guess and cleared up before Christmas. Hope Mike is looking after you 😉 Thanks for soldiering through these Snippets of New Delhi!
Thank you, Leighton. We’re actually having to take care of each other – we both are sick. I enjoyed the Snippets of New Delhi!
I also wonder what to do with the tons of paper photos from my early travels, including India, the difference in quality is too large with today’s digital photos and the subjects not yet old enough to make them of historical interest. In your case the texts also count a lot for the value of your findings and the situations in which you found yourself.
Appreciate your words of encouragement, a project like this feels quite delicate in terms of photographic value. You’re right that 19 years old isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. But I suppose once these pieces are out, time only continues to tick and before you know it they are 25-30 years old. Thanks for joining me at the start of these collected ‘snippets’.
Snippets, indeed! Like you, I have limited (or otherwise not-so-great) photos from my childhood trips to places like Canada, the US East Coast, and Alaska that make it difficult to piece together into a coherent narrative on this blog…you did very well piecing yours of New Delhi! I could feel the chaos and colors in your post, and I can see where you got your love for Indian food!
Ah Rebecca, thank you so much. Even after the reaction to this first post I feel glad that I took the time to add these memories to the ‘travel report’ library. I would only encourage you to see what you can do with your old stuff. You never know, there just might be some articles to be crafted from your antique images. Thanks for taking a look at my ‘Snippets of New Delhi’, there’ll be more collected hodgepodge coming throughout December.
I’m not so sure I’d ‘survive’ a trip to India! Therefore, I’m happy you’re sharing your snippets so I can see it through your eyes. The Jama Masjid Mosque is impressive – but isn’t that the case with most mosques in India? I had a good laugh when I read your thoughts on your clothing – don’t we all think like that when we look back at old photos 😀. And as I look at your photo of the New Delhi train station … it’s only confirmation – I think I’ve gotten too old to tour India. I am more than happy to read about your experiences though!
Hey Corna, I suppose most of us do indeed look back and cringe at our fashion faux pas. Yes, there are more impressive mosques in India than unimpressive mosques, though Jama Masjid is particularly breathtaking. How I would love to go back one day and photograph it properly. Thanks for joining me on this new blogging journey!
QPR top and trouser less would have been more of a shock. Started our month trip to India in Delhi, once you get over the multitude of wandering humanity it really is an amazing place.
You’re right, at least I remembered to wear trousers 😉 And yes, beyond its many frustrations and challenges New Delhi really is a gem of a city. Thanks for stopped by Gary.
It’s pretty funny to look back through our pictures and see how much our photography style and skills have changed over time. Despite the lack of pictures, I’m glad that you’re still going forward with your series, or rather snippets, in India. The Lotus Temple looks gorgeous. That picture at the railway station looks wild. I imagine it was incredibly stressful just getting on the train!
Thanks for the supportive words! Yes boarding that train was pure chaos and I really had no idea if there was going to be a seat for me when we got on. Still, it got easier after that first time and I figured out that, more or less, the system worked.
You have a real poetic sense of words when you describe things…’charred photogenic remains of an old trip’ and ‘ assault on the senses backpacker neighborhood’. It is one of the many things that makes you such a good writer. I enjoyed your snippets and remembering reading through your Incidents in India series…except for the ear incident which still makes me cringe to no end thinking about it 🙂
You have a good memory Meg, as it was back in January that I posted my India short stories. Nearly a year ago! Thanks for the kind words and hope you enjoy the rest of the snippets.
I love the idea of having little snippets of your trip, supported by analogue images that have this very “vintage” look! It must have been quite a trip down memory lane for you, and it is amazing to see the little details that we remember of some places. I loved reading this post and I’m glad you decided not to skip this trip!
Thanks Juliette, I’m glad the vintage and nostalgic feel comes across. Thanks for reading and commenting and hope you enjoy the remaining snippets throughout December.
I love that you revived these old photos Leighton, and took us on this trip. I don’t know how 2004 is now so long ago, it feels like only yesterday! New Delhi looks completely chaotic, but also beautiful and interesting – I’d love to visit one day
I know what you mean about the passing of time, Han. “Chaotic and beautiful” actually sums up most of my experience in India. It’s been fun putting together this series of snippets, thanks for stopping by.
I love the concept of the snippets from your long ago travel across India, a country I’ve never been to. Analogue photos are so much better in my opinion, these have a lovely vintage veneer, that together with your excellent words transmits the chaos and vibrant atmosphere on the streets of New Delhi. How fortunate that you were able to undertake this trip as a young man for whom most of the world was an unknown territory.
Cheers, Amelie! Yes, in some ways I bit off just a little more than I could chew. But what an education it was, so to speak. And a trip that set me in good stead for the global adventures that lay ahead. Thanks for sifting through my ‘Snippets of New Delhi’.
Looks super unique.
Hey Jeremy, thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
No worries. I’ll read and like more. Feel free to learn about Canada on my page!
Your experience at Paharganj sounds… intense! What I love about old analogue photos is that they have this color tone that makes them beautiful to look at, especially many years after they were taken. You seem to have managed to see some of the most interesting sights in the Indian capital, and I love that shot of Jama Masjid with the sun in the background.
Hey Bama, great to hear from you. It’s been cool seeing how many analogue photo fans there are out there, totally agree with your comments. Thanks for checking out the first of this ‘snippets’ series.
I think this is a great way to make use of those old photos and old memories, before they age any further! I remember reading some of your India stories and this post provides context and background to them. Good memories too of my own visit to Delhi although I confess we didn’t rough it as you did and maybe missed out on some classic experiences. But we didn’t miss out on train travel as we too left Delhi for Agra by train, an incredible experience!
Thanks for your comment Sarah. If I ever make it back to India, I’ll bypass the “classic” experience in favour of some solid comfort. Yes, train travel in India, and that route from Delhi to Agra in particular, remains unforgettable.
India is so overwhelming, and New Delhi in particular. I did read some of your earlier stories – the ear cleaning was unforgettable. I do love the windows in your Chengdu writing place.
Hey Ruth, that was a lovely writing spot I had in Chengdu. Thanks for checking out my ‘Snippets of New Delhi’.
You are welcome.
I’m adoring these analog photographs and I’m so glad you decided to post this series. You really shouldn’t feel like these photos aren’t enough – I’m a believer that digital cameras and phones with cameras more than a luxury became a curse. How many times I had had to just put my camera back in my bag so I could actually see with my eyes rather that shoot a thousand photos of the same thing? 😀 I love the Lotus Temple, what a beautiful piece of architecture – and I am in full agreement in regard to the religion topic, so interesting to learn about Baháʼí Faith, a very interesting one indeed.
Nic! It’s great to hear from you, I do hope you’re well and enjoying the Christmas period. Thanks so much for your support of this series idea and indeed those old photos. Yeah, that temple was/is awesome, though I’d still like to shoot it with my current technology ha ha.