I was recently in Kolkata, India at a workshop on Disaster Risk reduction in the Sundarbans. In the evening of the first day, I had a long and at times serious, at times hilarious conversation with a number of Delhiites who were staying at the same place as me (a boat) and attending the workshop, about walking in Delhi. The thrust of the conversations were the perils and pitfalls of being second bottom on the pecking order of Delhi travel forms (cyclists, we agreed, are below walkers). But the underlying messages were serious – about a city that is creaking under the weight of modernity, traffic and socio-cultural changes, of the breadth of experiences that constitute ‘living in Delhi’ and about the ways we adapt or don’t.
Here is an incomplete guide to walking in Delhi – some more serious than others, all part of the experience:
1) cows always have right of way. This is quite apart from their spiritual significance. They can bump you out onto the road.
2) don’t expect to see a footpath that’s smooth. If you happen to find a relatively smooth one, don’t expect to walk on it – motor-bikes will be using it
3) never walk through puddles you can’t see the bottom of
4) always treat wires as live
5) always give dogs a wide birth. A little nip becomes a series of Rabis shots
6) always give dogs on leads a wide birth. Just because they’re on a lead doesn’t mean someone has control of them. One nip etc etc
7) always look both ways before going across a street – even if it’s one way. In fact, dogs do this all the time (it’s why they are still alive)
8) get ready to have people try and sell you something
9) get ready to hear random people say ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening sir/madam’ when you least expect it.
10) appreciate the mix of smells as you walk along
11) learn to appreciate the sounds of car horns, even if the cars do have ‘Don’t honk’ stickers on their windows…
12) don’t be surprised if you get clipped by a mirror as a car goes past – just happened to me about an hour ago (not for the first time) as I was coming back from the market. People haven’t quite got the hang of NOT texting and driving.
13) finally and perhaps most importantly, you’ve gotta enjoy it – walking is a great experience in a great city!