Delhi, A City of Smells and More

by Esmat

Last week I spent couple of days in New Delhi. I love Delhi; the people, the streets, the food, specially the street food that I enjoy looking at and have never tried eating, and interestingly something that comes to my mind when I think of Delhi is the various kinds of smells that I have discovered.

As a human being, I know there are only ten different smells that the smelling buds in my nose can detect but I am not kidding that there could as much as twenty dozens of smells I have discovered while in Delhi.
My trips to Delhi have a been a great way for me to discover and experience all sorts of new smells. What’s interesting is that I didn’t even think those smells already existed. How ignorant have I been!

My each trip to Delhi – has been a fantastic way for me to learn much about the city and what it offers to tourists. Especially tourists because I happen to be not native of that place. Delhi is the perfect place, if anyone wants to learn about a new place, do some sightseeing of amazing centuries old monuments, and of course discover and experience the different kinds of smells found around the city.

While the thought of going around the city in Rickshaws might seem interesting or a bit adventurous, I would not really recommend that for long trips, especially in back streets of Delhi, because…let’s say, you might end up puking your guts and whatever you had for that day. The air is just colorful with all sorts of smells. To be honest, I didn’t find a dull smell, I mean an ‘empty’ air, that only contains oxygen. The air always seemed to have a distant smell to it. Which one will notice when one returns from the trip and only he will smell like that.

So here’s how I observed the smells – getting on a rickshaw for a ride of around 20 minutes to get to the other part of the city to visit a monument, I discovered about a dozen different smells, that my smelling buds in my nose were sort of freaking out…thankfully the ride didn’t end up in me puking myself, but I learned a l0t about smells.

Starting with the distant smell of piss, moving on general smell of sweat (which honestly, one will easily get accustomed to, it’s nothing out of the ordinary in a place like Delhi), further down the road the colorful smell of shit (I am not kidding), along the way a mixture of all those suddenly hitting your face with the wind, and more extreme smells of rotten cheese and oily food cooked all over the place, smokes too (lots of this)…and more colorful smells of which I am not able to describe, because I am not an expert when it comes to smells. But honestly there are a lot of them out there.

It’s one of those things you get to do as a tourist. It’s an experience like none other. What you want to do is not to push yourself away from it but just embrace it because you don’t get to experience something like that probably in any other part of the world. Don’t cover your nose, or mouth, just take pleasure in recalibrating your smell buds.


On another note…here is what I thought about life in Delhi.

In a world that everyone tries to constantly reinvent the way of life, India, I think, seems a place that places value on what they already value. I have noticed that despite people being poor and living on the streets, they are not really that complaining. I think they really take pride in being an Indian. They are not into this despair mode of living. I mean I hate the way Afghanistan is running right now, and because it is, I despise a lot of people who run the country. And more than the issues of failed politics and how the government works, a typical Afghan might not really love the tradition and values that have been in place for centuries or will be ignorant of all that. I happen to be a bit like that, and I am not okay with that.

But an Indian, I have noticed and this only in an intuitive way, will place deep and strong respect for their tradition and values. There’s something that I love about that. They give me the best definition of resilience and working hard. They don’t have much, but what they have is enough for them. I think they deserve more.

I get this sense that typical Indians don’t want the western style of life, even if it was readily available to them. Not the facilities and public services part but the way of life. They want to keep things in an original way. I love that.

Of all the places I have been to, I have found New Delhi a very vibrant place. I could be wrong with the word I am using, maybe it’s the population density that just shows everything as vibrant…but it truly is.

Interesting note here – the shops open around 11 or 10 in the morning, which I think is very late and I don’t know for what reason. The shops are closed back around 10 in the evening. But when it’s evening and you go around the city for shopping, you will see a lot of people. I am not used to that kind of rush so it was kind of scary.


During my time in Delhi, other than sightseeing which is always a wonderful experience, I did book shopping a lot. In Kabul, the only bookstore that sells books in English is the infamous Shah Muhammad Books Co. which obscenely prices the books. While a work of art is priceless, again I wouldn’t buy a book at triple its original price. So I ask other people abroad, if they have space on their suitcases to bring me books. I already have a wonderful library of books I haven’t read but from time to time I ask for titles newly released or certain books of interest to myself.

I have been looking forward to reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Which I have heard a lot about and have been waiting for sometime now to get myself ready to read it because I have heard so much of people being unable to finish that book. I searched up and down the Connaught Place’s bookstores, I only got a funny rejection nod.

I went around the city for different bookstores, they all didn’t have it. I also asked for Eduardo Galeano’s book, they didn’t seem to even know the author. But in the end, my book strolls amounted to some books, I got Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens’ memoir and few other which in time will be added to the Books section of this website.


Other than great discoveries of various kinds of smells, I ate lunch and dinner in fantastic Indian restaurants. I have had Indian food in other places too. But let me tell you, unless you have had Indian food at an Indian restaurant in India you haven’t really tasted Indian food. Again, I am out of adjectives to describe how delicious the food was. If you happen to be in Delhi, even for a single night, make sure you have your dinner in the famous Gulati Restaurant.


I will visit Delhi again sometime in the future, and I am looking forward as I have always done.