For me, the most fascinating experience of our first full day in India is a trip we took through the streets of Old Delhi as we walked to the Red Fort. We make our way through a labyrinth of narrow streets bordered by three or four story buildings. The air smells sweet and smoky. It's a mix of the food from various vendors, campfires that people light on the streets for warmth, and the shroud of smog that covers the city.
We share the narrowest streets with pedestrians, bicyclists, mopeds, stray dogs, and the occasional cow. As we walk, we pass local printing presses, barbershops, convenience stores and more that operate on the first floor of nearly every building, and we try a variety of local street foods along the way.
Where the roads are wider, they are lined with local sales people on blankets selling a myriad of items including cookware, jewelry, clothing and various foods. Here, another layer of traffic is added as cars try to weave their way through the crowds, struggling to find room when other cars approach from the opposite direction. Everything is powered by low-hanging wires many of which are ad hoc connections, set up by locals who splice lines together to syphon power from the grid. The result is a mess of wires providing intermittent power to the neighborhood.
Along the larger roads that border the neighborhood, car traffic dominates. Cars, motorcycles, buses, and auto-rickshaws maneuver in a rather fluid manner to a persistent chorus of honking horns. Where there are painted lanes, they serve more as suggestions than the rigid guidelines to which we are accustomed and border between motorized and pedestrian traffic is rather flexible.
The streets of Old Delhi have a very different flow than the American cities I'm used to. It's more fluid, and perhaps from our perspective more dangerous. In some ways, the infrastructure leaves much to be desired. It's cramped, crowded, and dirty but the way in which the space is utilized is fascinating. It's an experience which provides a glimpse of a different city culture and will add some context to our future discussions on urban development.