A day at the Delhi Derby

Some years back I ended up living in Delhi for a period of 3-4 months, which means that I’ve pretty much seen & experienced, if not everything, then at least most of what Delhi has to offer – both touristy & non-touristy things. Some of the stuff I’ve seen/done several times: During my stay I met many backpackers and I frequently joined them to check out different places in Delhi, which resulted in me experiencing recurring deja-vu’s… (hmm… haven’t I seen this place before..?)

Scetch from the notebook of an insane traveller.

Sketch from the notebook of an insane traveller.

The Backpackers
Some of the backpackers I happened to meet both as they were arriving & when they were leaving India. In those cases they always asked me where I had been, assuming that I’d been travelling to other places in India and accidentally happened to be back in Delhi at the same time as they met me the second time around.
They always reacted with a sense of shock & horror when I told them that I had stayed in Delhi the whole time, their minds couldn’t seem to grasp how I could cope with this city that they all found so filthy and disgusting and filled with annoying people.

“What?! Did you stay in Delhi all this time? Why? I hate Delhi, it’s so crowded, noisy and ugly”, etc, etc…

“What the hell have you been doing in Delhi all this time?!?”

Now I can no longer remember all the things I did or didn’t do during my stay in Delhi. It’s not that long ago (less than a decade), but “The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills” like the writer, poet and drunk Charles Bukowski so elegantly put it. Probably I couldn’t even remember all the things that I did/didn’t do back then either…

A Delhi family captured one early morning (I could have posted this is the "Family"-theme in the last Weekly Photo Challenge)

A Delhi-family captured one early morning (would have been a great post for the “Family”-theme in the last Weekly Photo Challenge)

A Typical Day
My days usually started with a cup of coffee, the daily news from the Delhi Times (agj kya khabbar hai?) and the other local newspapers, and a chat with the receptionists or the hotel manager down in the lobby, before I went for a stroll around the city looking for a breakfast at some of the countless local street vendors (in India pretty much everything comes in one amount: countless!). It was on these mornings that I frequently  met travellers and decided to hang out with them, or to go on my own miniature voyages of discovery in the hustle & bustle of Old or New Delhi. Some days were spent chatting up girls (surprisingly easy when you travel) and just hanging out.

Hulchul at Delhi's horse track!

Hulchul at Delhi’s horse track! (if you look carefully you can spot the horses coming in from the right in the background).

One day I decided to hit the tracks. I read something about the Delhi Derby in one of the newspapers: with so many people living in the city, of course there had to be some horse track somewhere. With all these people jammed together in the somewhat confined space that consists of Delhi & New Delhi, how could they not have tracks?

I don’t know much about horse racing except from what I’ve read in the books of Charles Bukowski, plus the stories that I heard from the father of one of my ex-girlfriends – he used to work at the tracks, which means that I don’t have a lot of info & insider tips to share with you aspiring horse-betters & would be millionaires.

I definitely had no clue regarding Indian horseracing and I still don’t.

Note to self: Don't use a pencil when you're scribbling down your experiences in a book during your travels - the text will smear and become unreadable...

Note to self: Don’t use a pencil when you’re scribbling down your experiences in a book during your travels – the text will smear and become unreadable…

I kept some notebooks while I was travelling and I tried to look through some of them so that I might would be able to share more detailed information about this day, but my notebooks are a big mess consisting of loose sheets, different notebooks and small paper notes – none of which is organized, some of them are stored in a big box, the rest in a plastic bag.

At The Tracks
Anyway, at the Delhi horse tracks (as far as I know there’s only one track in Delhi) I went to the bookmaker and placed my bet on some horse. First I asked the bookie and some other people for instructions on how to read the listings, and ended up betting on a horse that would cash in 2 to 1 if victorious. The Indians where very helpful and  it was obviously great fun for them to meet a crazy, travelling tourist that came to hang out with them at their tracks. The bookie even let me try out his elevated chair, to the great amusement of the locals & myself. It felt like I was a celebrity on the top of a pedestal! Cameras flashing, people chatting and pointing. Great fun!

The guy whose chair I sat in (and an arm pointing towards me).

The guy whose chair I sat in, and an arm pointing towards me (or most likely the board with entries?).

Apparently the Delhi Derby is “considered to be the jewel in the crown of the horse racing. Every owner, trainer and jockey dreams of winning the race which is run for four-year-old horses and mainly held in the month of January and February at every racing centres over 2,400m.” (this is about all the useful information I found on the topic online).

What about the negative comments I received about Delhi from other travellers? Well, what can I say?

An army of yellow and green auto-rickshaws. Holy cows, unholy cars and lots of lovely people, buildings varying in style, size and quality. Lots of trees (Delhi is quite a green city), “Chil”, my favorite bird because of its size and hovering style of flight (it’s also a good cleaning assistant, living on dead animals).
Sarees (a typical clothing worn by Indian women), long dark hair on beautiful girls. Sweet-pan (a type of chewing tobacco) and its red marks on every corner and wall. Travellers arriving and travellers leaving – always looking for the next adventure or a nice fuck. Vegetable markets, chai (indian tea), packs of stray dogs, dust, exhaust, garbage here and there.

The more posh area of the tracks, with live music.

The more posh area of the tracks, with live music.

The List Goes On…
Fabrics, garments and leather in all colors and shapes. Quiet nights in the city jungle. Empty streets at night where you only encounter the aggressive packs of stray dogs or the occasional friendly omelette-walla (omelette salesman). The Lotus Temple and the countless others, some even with swastikas. Diarrhea, squirrels, beggars, watching the city come to life on the rooftops every morning. Connaught Place. Horse racing, art exhibitions, clubs and bars. Huge weddings parading with a brass band, winding its way through the narrow and crowded streets – the couple mounted on horse, followed by the brass band, the men, and in the end the women & children who’s accompanied by a noisy diesel generator giving electricity to the hand-held light arrangements that are on the side of the parades. It’s all a big cacophony!

Another scetch...

Another sketch…

Children playing in the streets, children working in streets, Times of India with the Delhi Times supplement, the zoo, Gate of India, the Presidential palace. Beautiful parks and green spaces. The smell of urine & shit, the sight and smell of milk being slowly cooked in large barrels. Billiards, cinemas, smiles, laughter, pakhora (an Indian small dish). Nerves, complete calm. Sparkling bracelets. Dhabas (Indian street restaurants), Mirchi (chilli), barber shops, dancing with stunningly looking women at some club near South Extension…

A City That Grows
Delhi is a city that grows on you, grows with you, grows for you. A city which bites herself on to you. She makes an impression on any person who dares put his/her feet in her – some positive, some negative. For me, the positive impressions and experiences are so strong that they outweigh the negative ones and turn them into small details.

A horse elegantly being paraded (I don't know if this was a winning one).

A horse elegantly being paraded (I don’t know if this was a winning one).

And on…
Kurta & shalwar (both clothing worn by Indian women), school uniforms, jeans, skirts, shirts, dresses, shawls, sex, eyes, butts, breasts and thighs.
Delhi is sexy & delicious!

And the horse? It came in 2 to 1 and earned me 1000 rupies.

12 thoughts on “A day at the Delhi Derby

  1. You are quite right about Delhi but the untidiness is there in most of our cities…..which I so regret. Its a vicious cycle…less educated people–more population–lesser awareness of hygiene-poverty-lack of education! But in its all forms Delhi feels like home. Thanks for not being rude about my country!

    • How can I be rude about India? Dill valo ki India!

      Yes it is a vicious cycle indeed. It’s very sad to see how Ganga Mata (explanaition for non-Indian readers: Ganga Mata means Mother Ganga and it’s referrring to the Ganges river) is being polluted. I read somewhere that she picks up 80% of her pollution from the 22 kilometers as she passes Varanasi.

      A lot of this can be blamed on poverty and the lack of education for some people, but I believe that we also have to take capitalism and it’s profits into consideration: pollution from the leather industry ((amongst other) is a huge problem – wtih factories dumping it’s toxic waste directly into the river. The use of chemicals in agriculture is a great threat.
      To adress this issue one needs to implement laws (alternatively one needs violent, militaristic environmentalists, that are willing to murder the heavy polluters, but this doesn’t seem like a good solution…), and when it comes to laws and the practice of them, you’ll encounter the next problem: corruption.
      Corruption is a world wide phenomenon, but some countries are just better to hide the corruption behind companies, lawyers, organisations and statistics.

      Another problem is the Indian tradition of burning their dead: the pooor part of the population can often not afford such burnings, resulting in dead bodies being thrown into the river to decompose and pollute.
      From an environmental point of view it makes more sense to bury the dead (both the rich & poor), but changing culture & traditions is time consuming and difficult, sometimes even impossible.

      I wish I had a simple solution to such complex problems…

      BTW: If every person on this planet consumed as much as the average Indian, we would need 0,4 planets to live on. The same number for the US is 5 planets, and Norway 2.3

  2. I think that would be interesting to spend a few months in a place, especially a place that most people just pass through. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Cardinal, you rocked this post. Gave us all a glimpse into another part of the world. I mostly enjoyed your adjectives describing this very interesting and clearly quite controversial part of the world. And yes, that photo of the family would have fit quite perfectly, but loved the photo you used. I have good friends from India. It is my understanding the people of India accept their lot in life no matter how poor. The caste system. All quite fascinating. Margie

    • India is definitely a fascinating place. I could have used more adjectives to describe it – I actually removed a whole bunch. If you ever get the chance, I recommend a visit to India.

  4. Pingback: Travelling India | Cardinal Guzman

  5. Pingback: Early Morning in Delhi, India – Cardinal Guzman

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