Delhi days - the final countdown


It’s hot and the pollution is thick as Vegemite back in Delhi and it’s only 6am. Love a good start to the day. Delhi’s main train station is doubling as a dorm this morning, with bodies stretched out on every surface. They roll impatiently as I wake them with a vigorous exercise in daylight robbery with the rickshaw drivers.

My last day in Delhi is a mild disaster: it’s Sunday and all the main markets are closed – Delhi has gone out for brunch. I'm up early, so may as well chase some saris around Purana Kila, the old fort, for some nice photos, and then hunt down some decent coffee at Open Hand cafe in the backpacker paradise of Pahaar Ganj before lunch with my Kashmiri fixer extraordinare, Shaafi. The coffee is as good as I was led to believe, and I’ve even picked up some gorgeous Earl Grey tea and cruised an overpriced emporium selling Kashmiri stuff.

It happens in every country that the next/last city is more expensive than the city you’re currently staying (and hopefully shopping) in. And there’s always a convincing reason. The Varanasi traders push the point hard. “Delhi is so expensive because the tourists are there and it’s a big city. If you buy from the source, it’s cheaper,” says one persuasive shopkeeper.

Yet in Delhi, they tell you they have the buying power, so it’s economies of scale that keep the prices down. Just creates a holiday filled with buyer’s remorse or no shopping done at all. But delightfully, the emporium makes my Kashmir purchases seem like downright bargains. Oh I'm such a sceptic. Perhaps everything I bought is plastic/nylon/woven by non-virgins etc.

Back at the hotel, as I manhandle my massive luggage into the lift bound for the airport and Australia, I meet a ghostly Englishman covered in heavy bruises, great chunks gouged out of his bloodied legs and lots and lots of that yellow paint that mums put on your knees.

“What happened to you?” I ask, being careful not to get too close.

“Fell under a houseboat in Kashmir. It was a bit rickety.”

“Bloody hell. And?”

“Two weeks in a Kashmiri hospital...” he says with a touch of battle pride. “Between the call to prayer five times a day and the dead bodies waiting for three days to be collected...”

He tails off. I'm glad he’s tailed off.

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