Thursday, May 26, 2011
Delhi Metro Love Updated
I've written about my love for the Delhi Metro before, in May of both 2009 and 2010, and I saw no reason not to do the same in 2011. Prior to my most recent trip to India, my love for the Delhi Metro was limited to the trips I was able to take between a few stops in central Delhi and up to the railway station. I still spent much of my time in rickshaws and taxis and occasionally buses. Being able to get around Delhi almost entirely by Metro was a fervent wish rather than a reality.
Thanks to the Commonwealth Games, though, Phase II of the Delhi Metro was complete before my arrival in January 2011, and in the 11 days I spent in Delhi, I spent A LOT of time on the Metro. My love, if anything, is even greater than it was before. I claimed--after my 50 minute, 23 rupee ($.50) ride between Gurgaon and the railway station--that if one could marry a public transit system, I'd consider it with the Delhi Metro.
The key numbers in all of this are 3 and 500. Three is the number of rickshaws I took in those 11 days in Delhi. Prior to this, I often took more than 3 rickshaws in a single day. 500 is how many rupees I put on my Metro card; when I left, there were 100 rupees remaining.
Riding the Metro was, above all, predictable. There's not much in India that I can say that about, but with the Metro, it was calmly, reassuringly, predictable. You walked down the stairs into the station. You put your bag through the scanner and let the security person run a wand over you. You followed the well-marked hallways to your platform. You looked at the electronic signs which accurately told you when the next train was coming. And then the train came when it was supposed to. Yes, of course, there was some jostling while entering the cars, especially at rush hour and at the bigger stations. But again and again, that was my experience. Amazing. The stations can be full and bustling, but they can also be empty. There's no place to sit, and security guards are visible everywhere. Even if you were inclined to either misbehave or try to camp out, you wouldn't get very far.
And then there are the ladies cars.
The first car of every train is reserved for women. Very, very occasionally I would see a man or two in the ladies compartment. Much more often, I would see men, upon realizing where they were, either leaving speedily of their own volition or being encouraged volubly to leave by the many women around them. I do understand that the ladies compartment is of less use to couples, families, and, of course, men, but for me, it was a godsend. It was usually much, much less crowded than the rest of the train, for one thing. It was crowded at rush hour, of course, and I had to stand with some regularity, but I never saw it packed to the sardine levels of the rest of the cars. It's not that I didn't see the occasional lady misbehave in the ladies compartment--there was certainly some aggressive rushing to seats and unfair saving of seats--but for the most part, it was pretty calm.
An added bonus--the people watching was great! Cameras are forbidden in the metro, and the main reason I wished I'd had a camera on my Indian cell phone was so that I could have taken some photos of the fascinating outfits I saw. The metro seemed populated by people from all strata of society. There were college students talking on the mobiles ("Mummy, can you send the driver to the Green Park station--I'm on the Metro and will be there in 10 minutes."), working women, women with children, women with bundles, women in jeans, women in saris, women in all manner of sandals, many of them wearing flesh colored toe socks beneath. (It was winter, after all.) I realized, in the Metro, that I'm not used to seeing Indian women's legs--because they're usually covered either by a sari or a kameez--but in the Metro, I saw legs, mostly jean-clad legs, every day. There were women reading and napping and many, many women talking on or looking at their mobiles. I myself read several books while on the Metro, though I never napped.
The unexpected part of taking the Metro so much was how much I walked. On the one hand, there was a Metro line that went to all of the places I go most, so I could hop on and off with ease. On the other, when I traveled farther afield--and even when I was just going back and forth from market to station--I had to walk. Once it was clear I could (mostly) get away without taking rickshaws, I didn't want to take them at all. If the choice was between haggling with yet another rickshaw-wallah or walking, I walked. One day, to my amazement, I discovered (thanks to my iPod pedometer) that I had walked 24,000 steps. No wonder my feet were so sore!
But the Metro's presence in South Delhi has led to new possibilities. At some stations, including Green Park, there is a fleet of cool battery-powered rickshaws which run between the station and nearby markets for a fixed price (15 rupees in Green Park). Plus, the drivers all wear nifty Vodafone caps.
Two brief notes on rickshaws. Sunil called me one day, very excited. He had seen a "Radio Tuk Tuk" driving by his house. In Delhi and Gurgaon, radio cabs are common. But a radio rickshaw? A totally new thing.
I only rode in a radio tuk tuk once, on my last day in Delhi, and I didn't, alas, call it ahead of time. It just happened to be going by when I was looking for a rickshaw to the station, and even though the driver was slightly hesitant about going against the rules by taking a passenger without a reservation, he eventually agreed and asked me for the same price to the Metro station I'd been hearing from regular, non-radio rickshaws (and then asked for baksheesh when we got there). But while I was in that radio tuk-tuk, en route to the metro for my last day of metroing and walking around Delhi, I spotted a rickshaw with a pink roof and lettering that matched the signs in the Metro. "Women Only," it said.
The Metro has brought more changes to Delhi than I can name, but that, certainly, is one of the more memorable ones.