Rajesh and a rickshaw ride on the wild side

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Handing the first rickshaw driver I see a piece of paper, with the very clearly written address of where I want to go, he ushers me into his vehicle with a smile and a shake of the head. It is a Vegetarian restaurant in Connaught Square which had been highly recommended by the hotel concierge. My smiling driver happily sets off weaving through the traffic and people until we pull up outside a bank. He stokes his overgrown beard and grins at me through it, pointing me out of the rickshaw.

“Is this it?”

“Oh, yes,” he says, shaking his blue turban head covered head.

“…but it’s a bank!”

“Oh, yes,” he says, still shaking.

“But it is meant to be a vegetarian Indian restaurant.”

“Oh, yes.”

“So, where is it?”

He nods and shakes which really confuses me and then points down a side street a little further along as if to say it is down there… so naturally I had to ask.

“Down there? So why did you stop here? Can’t you drive me to the actual location that I requested?”

“Oh, yes.” With another strong shake of his head he jumps back on to the bike and I stay seated in the vehicle as he then proceeds to drive down the side street he pointed at. He drives all the way to the end and I see no restaurant, then he surprises me by taking a right, circling and pulling up next to some other drivers. I presume he can’t see the restaurant either, and is asking the way. Someone chats to him for a while and then we are off, zigzagging down small side roads then out into the chaos of the main road traffic, then zooming off down side streets again.

We are travelling for ten minutes until eventually we arrive at a vegetarian Indian restaurant. However this is Delhi so of course it is not the one I have asked for! Right now however, my stomach is rumbling and I am not about to complain. My God I had forgotten how bloody crazy Delhi happens to be. It just makes no sense. By comparison it makes travelling in Hanoi look like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park!

I jump out of the rickshaw and he takes off, I am left standing at a random junction in the road with Delhi playing out in front of my eyes. Mesmerised I turn around taking it all in. I begin to film a time-lapse video on my iPhone, these are fun to do, capturing my view on the world in slow motion. Well I say they are fun to do but it’s not so easy when one is constantly being jostled, hassled for cash, or just spoken to – A man walks up and blocks the camera on my phone and I get a lovely slow motion shot of his T-shirt…!

“Where are you from?”

Classic start… but since my phone battery is now running low I stop filming and turn to the character beside me and say hello. He is tall and sports a fluffy moustache and has very yellow teeth.

“I am Rajesh. It is my day off today, lovely day. I am a postcard sales man, usually.”

“So, can I ask…why are you standing talking to total strangers on your day off?”

“Well, sir, I practice my English. I can help you, what are you looking for.”

“Hmm, well I would love to find a good vegetarian Indian restaurant. The one here is so very dirty”

I try to hide a chuckle when his grin grows to a beaming smile, what a surprise that he can help me.

“I know one! Come, I will show you.”

I think why the hell not, another experience to add to the rest of them, so I follow him. It is not lost on me how crazy it is that with in barely a minute of being on the street I am now traipsing around the backstreets of Central Delhi with a postcard salesman named Rajesh. His trousers are loose red flannel ripped down the left leg, a yellowish curry stain on the right. His baggy T-shirt reads: ‘Indians Know Cricket’ with the words ‘No They Don’t’ on the back. It has seen better days, it is dirty and somewhat smelly and poor Rajesh’s complexion is rough, deep black eyes sit hollow in his face and his over grown untrimmed moustache takes over his mouth, hiding those yellowing teeth until he grins.

As we walk on I notice we are entering a slightly quieter area and the route begins to concern me, I often think I am quite street smart because you have to be as a single traveller and when your gut tells you something it is usually correct. As we veer from the main road into a little side street I decide it’s time to say something.

“Mate, I don’t think we will find any clean Vegetarian tourist-type restaurants here…”

Without saying a word, he just smiles that smile, the one that you will often see in India, and I have already witnessed myself this week. It’s the smile that literally says we both know that I will try and screw you later on.

Rajesh continues walking without breaking pace and just as I am about to open my mouth again I see something…..

…..to be continued….