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Traditional Clothes Wake-up Call

On Wednesday 15th November, I grabbed my many bags, and did the final long walk to work…only joking I obviously got a taxi! I knew there would be an awful lot more walking to come in the next few weeks.

Joined by Emily Almond-Barr, the amazing cinematographer who would be filming the journey, we headed to the airport, laden with spare camera equipment, emergency clothes and of course our copies of My Journey to Lhasa, by Alexandra David-Néel.

We touched down in smoggy Delhi around 11AM the next day, and it was just how I remembered from when I was 16, chaotic but magical.

Elise Wortley Arriving in Delhi, Photo by Emily Almond Barr

In 2016 the population of Delhi was estimated to be nearly 19 million people, compare that to London’s 8.7 million… no wonder the roads are polluted, the streets crowded, but the atmosphere electric.

After hunting down some final camera equipment, we picked up the traditional clothes that Valerie had left for me, before zooming back to the hotel to try them on. I’m not sure what I expected to be in there, but I could see a purple sleeve hanging out of one of the bags…

Slow moving Delhi traffic, Elise Wortley

Back in the hotel room I emptied the contents. In front of me was a big pile of purple, with quite a strong musky smell drifting off into the air around my nose. There were 2 traditional coats, a pair of colourful slipper shoes and a traditional green scarf to go around my waste.

As I put the clothes on, my heart began filling with dread, and my enthusiasm for what I had planned plummeted. How on earth was I supposed to walk for 6-8 hours a day in this? How cold would I be? How can I walk up mountains in these shoes? Will people think I’m mocking traditional culture? I was starting to worry that this whole thing was a joke.

Elise Wortley trying on traditional clothes. Photo credit Emily Almond Barr

I took the clothes off as quickly as possible, and hopped into bed. That night I fell asleep with my mind racing, trying to make sense of what I was doing, why I was in India and how much I dislike the colour purple...


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