I’d taken the plunge. After backpacking from Nepal through India, I decided I was bold enough to brave the hectic cacophony of India’s capital city. My reason for visiting Delhi, a city renown for tenacious touts, scheming scammers and rampaging rickshaws was not to visit the Red Fort or Jama Masjid, but to join the locals and immerse myself in India’s favourite pastime - supporting their National Cricket team in a Test against Australia. At 9am on the day play commenced, I hailed a tuk-tuk for the 15 minute journey to Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, assuming I would be able to purchase a ticket at the gate. Herein lies my first mistake.
The closest ticket distributor was actually located at the Bank of Baroda, approximately 1km in the direction from which I’d just come. The walk felt significantly longer; relentless rickshaw drivers touted for trade and children of no more than 10 left their gravel-shovelling stations to clasp my hands and utter the phrase ‘One rupee? One pen? One bon bon? over and over. Eventually, I arrived at the bank and found myself facing a throng of several hundred Indian men jostling and fighting for space around the entrance. The air was heavy with hopeful anticipation and the melee charged with an feverous energy which meant my 5’3” blonde female frame wasn’t going any closer to the door. Instead, I befriended two taller, male Brits who were enthusiastic to join the mosh pit while I minded their flip-flops and sunglasses. Wading in like two music fans attempting to secure a place in the front row at Glastonbury, they were soon in the thick of it, just as the door of the bank opened. The crowd swayed and surged as if a band were about to come on stage but then promptly scattered, scampering in all directions as security guards brandishing wooden sticks rained blows on whomever they chose. I too, sprinted away, narrowly avoiding a collision with a tuk-tuk and its enraged driver. Heart beating, I clutched at my fellow travellers’ belongings, relieved when I spotted them unharmed in the newly formed queue.
Within a minute, however, security guards had pulled them out of line and beckoned us all to the front of the bank. Confused and concerned regarding the ever-present, concussion-inducing sticks, I approached cautiously, only to receive both a smile and an invitation to go through the doors ahead of hordes of fans who had been queuing for hours. Inside, the calm nature of people going about their banking business was juxtaposed with a ruckus in the far corner, where security guards hauled fully grown men around by the scruff of their necks like dogs. I stood, digging my fingernails into my palms and attempting to calm my breathing which was coming in short bursts. At 10.45am, my trembling hands finally held my entrance ticket, and we hurried back to the stadium, weaving our way through tuk-tuks and colourfully decorated lorries spewing exhaust fumes.
As we approached security, adorned with white, green and orange facepaint, I naively assumed my bag would be given a cursory glance. Another mistake. Popping my bag through security scanners, I was met with objection after objection. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the air became pungent with the smell of frustrated, sweaty bodies, we were faced with the prospect of a return ride to our hotels. Eventually, I retraced the steps I had taken over two hours earlier and returned to Paharganj with what security checks had deemed ‘potential missiles’ - cameras, Kindles, bottles of suncream and several rolls of toilet paper belonging to people I’d only just met.
So after three tuk-tuk rides, several excruciating, anxiety-inducing hours and some new friends later I finally arrived at my destination... just in time for lunch. My mistaken assumptions turned what should have been a 15 minute journey followed by a day of basking in the sunshine into a rather more arduous experience. The moral of this journey story? When it comes to India, it’s wise not to presume anything.