Millennium Post

Delhi and Istanbul are oceans apart

The week I just spent in Istanbul has left me with regret—that New Delhi, my home and India’s capital, is far from being Istanbul.

Istanbul is not merely the breathtaking domes of The Sultanahmet or the Blue Mosque, the Sea of Marmara lashing against the shore and spraying the picturesque walk alongside with its salty water, or even the stunning realisation as you take the ferry on the Bosphorus—a strait on the two sides the two continents of Asia and Europe.

Delhi too has its beauty scattered across the city. The Red Fort overlooks the walled city like a sentinel while the ruins of Tughlaqabad and Indraprastha, the kosminars of Sher Shah and the baolis of South Delhi are aesthetic marvels.

Istanbul and Delhi are comparable on many levels—whether it is the area they occupy (Delhi is spread across 1,484 sq km while Istanbul is more than three times as large at 5,461 sq km), the total population (Delhi has nearly 18 million people while Istanbul has more than 14 million) and population density (Delhi has slightly higher density at 7,845 persons per sq km against Istanbul’s 6,467 persons per sq km).

But what makes Istanbul different is the way it has defined its modernity, which weaves its history and aesthetic splendor into a modern cityscape. One can admire beauty only if one is not run over by a speeding car. Unlike in Delhi, in the acres of safe pedestrianised, cobbled spaces near the ancient monuments of Istanbul, there is never a moment one has to worry about oneself except perhaps zip up one’s jacket as the cold wind picks up.

A city for walkers
For one, the 14 million population of the largest Turkish city does not show on its streets, more so in the number of cars on roads. Istanbul is the top city of Turkey – it has the highest population, gets 11 million tourists in a year, generates 27 per cent of the country’s GDP, and yet it does not have the city choking with cars. The reason is perceptible—the city has been designed for people, not cars.
Laleli, where I stayed at the Doubletree Hilton overlooking the Istanbul University, is part of the Old Town city and in its immediate vicinity lie the famed Grand Bazar and the Spice Market. Within a walking distance of this area are the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, places bustling with people.Yet,there is never a sign of traffic congestion as most people walk distances as they disembark from the trams. The sidewalks of Istanbul are wide enough to accommodate a very large number of people, while trams and cars share the same road.

So, in Istanbul one can live one’s impulse. On my return from Zaitin Burnu, just before I took the underground, I happened to glance at the Yedikule Fort which showed up luminously at a distance. Without a second thought, I immediately gave up my plan to return home and walked to the fort on the dedicated pedestrian passage.

Public’s transport

In Istanbul, commuters typically take the tram or underground trains, and once the longest leg of the journey is done, become pedestrians. The city has plenty of buses which, too, are full of commuters. Sem, who runs a shop close to Spice Bazar, says he lives on the Asian side of the city, but manages quite well with the underground trains and trams that help him cross the Bosphorus through a tunnel, and gets him to Sirkeci where he gets off and takes a “very nice little walk” through the fully pedestrianised alleys of the city to get to his shop.

Istanbul also has roads for fast cars, but they don’t scare pedestrians off. Secure on their wide pavements, pedestrians walk in a territory of their own. When they need to cross streets, traffic stops and they conveniently walk to the other side without the fear of being run over.

Being on foot was never such a pleasure
When you get something good, there is a chance of overdoing it. As a result, I walked for hours in a day and not once was I at the risk of being run over or even scratched by a car. I sometimes thought of my experiences in Delhi, where I sometimes take the bus or the Metro. Here is the recent one where trying to live the ideology of my organisation, Centre of Science and Environment, I tried to board a bus on the Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg. While trying to get to a bus stop, I lost my nerve when a car swerved towards me without slowing down and the driver mockingly inquired if I wanted to die. No I did not. I was only trying to use public transport.

On another occasion, finding myself in the midst of a traffic jam (a traffic jam, according to my new definition is when one does not cover more than 100 metres in half hour), I abandoned the auto-rickshaw on the Ravidas Marg and tried to walk on the narrow pavement which bikers had taken over. Finally, fearing I would be hit on the pedestrians’ sidewalk, I entered the adjacent Jahanpanah forest where an armed forest guard accompanied me to another exit as the forest is otherwise unsafe and is reportedly full of miscreants.

Back home
The reality of Delhi met me quite early on return. While on my way to my office at Tuglaqabad Institutional Area (located in the southern part of the capital city), directly from the airport, my taxi encountered a jam in Madangir-Khanpur area. The driver was kind and wanted to go on, but I know the area well. I abandoned the car and dodged bikers and walked to the office. By then, Istanbul was a faint memory which I would have to forget soon to adjust to the reality of Delhi. DOWN TO EARTH

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