The Thin Blanket

As we descended through the wispy, powdery grayish white clouds, I was confused.  It was raining.  Or at least I thought it was raining.  But it had to be!  Why else was everything so dark like dawn.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning so the darkish gray-blue sky did not coincide with the time.  Yet there was not a drop of rain to be seen sliding down the thick plane windows nor was it predicted to rain.  Instead, to my shock and disgust I realized what I was seeing was something today different.  It was pollution.  Not just any pollution, but serious, climate-changing pollution.  The stuff I’ve read about in the paper, in books,  and online.  Like Al Gore’s recent documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.   

As we descended I saw with horror the thin blanket of smog which smothered, choked and strangled the city of Delhi like a silent murderer.   I was speechless.  I had never seen anything like it before.  Not even the low-hanging smog on LA could compare to the blanket of death in Delhi.  A city of 14 million people and rising, Delhi is jammed packed into an urban area with a total density of 9,340 people per square kilometer.  Unfortunately, the urban population continues to rise, mainly due to the migration of rural Indians to the capital in search of a better life.  It is projected that the population of Delhi will increase 40% by 2021.  This will create even more stress on an already stressed city.  There will be a tremendous need for more and better infrastructure, pollution control, sanitation, living quarters and jobs.  After spending a few days in Delhi already, all I can imagine is that if the projections are true, it will be complete madness!   I have never been to a city so chaotic, over-populated and extreme as Delhi.  Every square foot of the city was occupied by rows and rows of people, cows, cars, buses, three-wheeled carts, motorbikes, vendors, stores, buildings, and garbage.  Garbage piled high, everywhere, dumped on the street, into the river and alongside buildings.  For someone accustomed to a clean, green, beautiful city, I was completely shocked by the sanitation situation in India.  Yet no one else seemed to notice or care.  It is a fact of life.  Garbage cans and trucks simply don’t exist in India.  Or at least not enough of them!

I marveled at the fact that I was truly inside the heart and soul of a rapidly, developing country, the roaring, Asian Tiger, in all her glory, where things seem to change or not change in the blink of an eye.  It was startling and left me thinking for a long time after about the impacts this rapid fire development will have on India and the world as time goes by. 

As we drove to our hotel, once again, I was flabbergasted by the intense, chaotic madness of getting around in India.  There were overstuffed cars, packed like sardines buses, crazy three-wheeled carts jam-packed with god knows how many people, motorbikes carrying entire families, and animals in the middle of the street (mainly cows which are sacred in India….how ironic!).  It amazed me that anyone can get anywhere in India.  There is no rhyme or reason to the movement of traffic.  No real stoplight or signs at the intersections.  Just honking horns screaming like a crying child desperately wanting to be heard, and near-fatal crashes miraculously being somehow avoided.  The people, too, were everywhere.  Everywhere you looked, there were people.  It felt claustrophobic in a sense and made me realize how small my life really is in the spectrum of things.  I’m just one person out of billions.

Finally we arrived at our hotel, exhausted with the stressful drive yet thankful we had a good driver (essential in India) who didn’t take anyone out along the way.  I certainly didn’t want that on my conscience!  I’d never sleep again!

We were back to the same hotel we stayed at the first night we arrived in India before heading off to Nepal for our trek.  It still felt luxurious especially after everything we’d seen and experienced for the last two weeks.  Yet the sharp contrast between haves and have-nots burned in my soul and made me feel sad. 

We ate once again on the roof-top deck of our hotel, a delicious, scrupulous meal of Chicken Tika with fresh raita sauce, my favorite, and naan bread.  We sipped wine, ate well and slept in our warm and cozy beds.  Yet just outside my window lived the homeless, the many people not as fortunate as us who were living on the street in tents.  I felt so incredibly sad and guilty that all I wanted to do was leave.  I tossed and turned for hours that night, wondering why things are the way they are, and feeling blessed that I was able to see the things I’ve seen.  For this is reality for most of the world.  This is life.

The brand new, state-of-the-art airport in Delhi , where you see turbaned security guards cruising around on Segways (modernity juxtaposed to poverty:


Late afternoon in Delhi—it is not raining.  It is pollution:

Impossible to ever forget….those who are not so fortunate (street view of homeless outside our hotel):

Sunrise and breakfast on rooftop deck.  Another day with the thin blanket:

Sunrise in Delhi….where is the sun?

Yet, the Tiger continues to roar…….