It was midnight when I arrived in Delhi — an hour later than I was meant to — and my first thought was that airports look like airports all over the world. Of course, when I stepped outside and met up with my tour guide, Earl, he told me New Delhi’s airport was only a few years old and the previous one had looked more like a large bus station.
My second thought was something along the lines of, “damn, it’s humid. Should it really be this hot at midnight?” The answer was no, it should not have been that hot in Delhi in October (especially not at midnight), but the city was experiencing something of a heat wave so our tour group would just have to get used to being drenched in sweat.
Two more members of our tour group were arriving on a flight at 1:00 am, so Earl and I waited for them to join us, making small talk about travel blogging and Boston. Earl had hired a car and a driver he knew to bring us all to the hotel, but the other members of our tour group were as late as I had been, so we didn’t start the drive until about 2:00 am.
New Delhi was all wide avenues and rotaries and parks, and it was quiet at this time of night. Earl mentioned that there were fewer people sleeping on the sidewalks than usual, but I still counted at least 10 bodies sprawled out on benches or lying in the grass over the course of our 30-minute drive.
Our hotel was on the edge of Old Delhi, and the change was noticeable. The street narrowed and the pavement became more uneven. The buildings were no longer set apart from one another, but rubbed shoulders at uneven heights and occasionally hid alleyways between them. Most surprisingly, there were small fires burning along the side of the road with no one tending them — that was one way to get rid of trash, I suppose.
Before we got out of the car, Earl warned us that the street our hotel was on looked incredibly sketchy, but was completely safe. No, really, it’s fine, he assured us again while leading us down a brick alley too small for our car. Then he told us to cover our mouths so we didn’t breathe in the smell from the open air urinals we were walking past.
Our hotel was just a minute or two down the alleyway, which was lined with shops and strewn with garbage. Somehow the alley appeared canopied, as if there were streamers draped above our heads. I wondered if they were clotheslines or electrical wires, and thought the whole scene was sort of beautiful in its stillness.
We knocked on the hotel’s glass front door, and watched as a man who had been sleeping on a mattress on the lobby’s floor got up to let us in. Although it was nearly 3:00 am by the time I lay down to sleep, that cruel mistress jet lag kept me up, wondering when Delhi would wake up too.