Paharganj is the landing site of most travelers to New Delhi, India. A strip of low-end hotels and guest houses butted up next to each other along a narrow lane that empties out just west of the New Delhi railway station, a section off the center of Delhi reached by one of the long spokes radiating out of Connaught Place.
To say Paharganj was a ghetto is no understatement. Raw sewage streamed along the gutters of the lane that divided the left and right-banks of hotels. Vendors hawked everything from blackened bananas to glittery hair ornaments. Beggars and cripples hunched their way in among the travelers, pawing at the hordes of long-term travelers clothed in traditional Indian pajamas purchased a few streets over.
The sun was shining when I arrive in Paharganj on my second day in India. It almost always shined in India; a relentless and vindictive cheeriness that pours over the poorest place I’ve ever been. I was to meet Alan at the post office at noon, but I checked into what I hoped to be a nice place so I didn’t have to lug my backpack around in the heat.
The hotel looked good until I’d paid and registered, and then I’d learned my first valuable lesson about India: Always checkout the room before paying. Once in the room, the full scope of its atrociousness hit me like a fist. The sherbet-green walls were stained with spit, dirty fingerprints, cobwebs and God only knows what else. A huge fan whirled overhead, supposedly circulating the air, but really it just stirred up the bad smell from the attached toilet and the ever present scent of cigarette smoke. Doors banged constantly and the heavy hacking-up of phlegm reverberated around me like a concert for the depressed.
It’s horrible. But outside, on the street, it was worse. The place was so poor, everyone and thing was emaciated and sick looking. I’d thought I could handle it, having spent time in Cairo, but I was wrong. For the first time I saw how the poor really live, out on the street, lying in filth and disease. I was so appalled by the world I’d flung myself into, that my body physically shook.
I didn’t think I could live and work in that city, and a part of me wanted to run away; go back home. But this was home now. I’d come here to work as a journalist, to report on the life and conditions around me. Yet I’d found I was afraid to breathe or eat or drink. India, I thought, just might kill me.
I reminded myself Paharganj was temporary, that there were other places in the city, and I would find something that was nice and I could call home. Except I had no idea how I would find those other places.
What’s the worst hotel experience you’ve had while traveling?