A few weeks ago I wrote a post which I headed, "Is Travelling Really Brutal?" I can now confirm, sincerely, that it is.
Into my fifth day of bed rest following our return from India on Wednesday, I am suffering from the rewards of travel: a foreign common cold or influenza virus, I assume, and for which I have no inbuilt immunity. Forget the typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis and other inoculations with which we protect ourselves in order to travel; perhaps what I really ought to have had was a flu jab. Mister E had his and has fought his affliction with considerably more success than me. When I visited our surgery, I received a typhoid booster and declined the offer of an injection against rabies.
I guess the tell tale signs were there in Delhi when I began to suffer from a sore throat. However, in a city now notorious for the worst air pollution in the world, the itchy throat, red eyes and sneezing all seemed at one with breathing in the acrid atmosphere.
50,000 lorries belching out their diesel fumes purportedly pass through the city every night and in the crowded daytime streets motorcycles, automotive rickshaws, buses and cars join in a stop start procession of honking horns and exhaust fumes, There are apparently 8.5 million vehicles on Delhi's roads and they do not have European standard filter systems.
At the station one can be forgiven for mistaking the diesel engines for steam trains such is the thick particulate matter expelled by them.
Add to the mix coal fuelled power stations within the city perimeters as well as cement works and brick factories around it and it is not long before the lethal cocktail of noxious gases begins to scratch at your facial orifices.
Exiting the arrival hall at Indira Ghandi Airport in Delhi, a pervasive fog hovered around us as we made our way along the covered concourse to our taxi. The driver insisted that it was just mist that Delhi gets all the time. Later one guide would dismiss the obvious effects of air pollution as dust through lack of rain and another as the left over fumes from fire crackers set off for Diwali, three weeks before. There is an aura of pollution and also denial.
I love the vibrancy of India. Nowhere else on Earth are you so aware of life being lived in all its different guises around you: man and beast; rich and poor; sick and well. Sadly, however, in its rush to industrialise India has failed to take heed of the lessons of the west. Having rescued its populace from dire infant mortality rates, it must surely now have burdened them with the agonies of chest and lung infections and all the other harmful cancers and diseases that inevitably emanate from inhaling a chemical mix the human lung was never intended for.
It is clear that there is a green campaign out there and some companies have adopted eco-friendly names and logos (Greenlam and Greenheck were very evident on advertising hoardings) but they do no more than mock the polluted air around them. Delhi's streets too are lined with trees and shrubs; even if they could photosynthesise beneath the layers of grime weighing down their leaves that would only deal with the carbon dioxide and not the sulphur and nitric oxides that hover together with free radicals, volatile compounds, carbon monoxide and other noxious gases.
Coughing our way to the airport for our return flight, Mister E and I were of the view that despite a wonderful trip (about which I shall write more separately) we are unlikely to seek to expose ourselves to such uncomfortable and polluted cities in the future. Although the Indian Government has now announced that the use of private cars will be limited to alternate days commencing in January, I anticipate that this will do little to rectify the situation which must surely get worse before it improves. Indeed it is a sad indictment of a country that it can ban the smoking of cigarettes in public places including outdoors in many areas, but has not sought to take effective action to alleviate a more widespread hazard.
It is, therefore, little wonder that I attributed my coughing and sneezing on the flight home as an attempt to cleanse my lungs of the potent Delhi smog. When we got home at lunchtime on Wednesday and I crawled into bed, I assumed my fatigue arose from the overnight flight back. Five days later that is clearly not the case. The pollution induced coughing of hundreds of thousands of people obviously spreads germs so effectively that my hand sanitiser was no match in the fight for protection against a humdinger of a cold.... but at least it isn't rabies!