Andrew Buncombe: From one extreme to the other

Delhi Notebook

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Even before the plane hits the tarmac I can see Delhi has been engulfed by a rare cold snap. Fog hangs in the lunchtime air, blotting out the sun, and a blast of chilly air sneaks through a small gap between the plane and the skin of the jet bridge.

When I get home and pick up the papers I realise this blast of cold weather – a good 8 degrees colder than normal – is more serious than I'd guessed. Reports suggest that dozens of people in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have died and the authorities have shut thousands of schools and handed out firewood as a precaution against further fatalities. Not surprisingly, many of the dead are the elderly and homeless, and officials say efforts are also underway to get more people off the streets and into emergency shelters.

As I crouch over the ineffective plug-in heater in my uninsulated apartment sipping endless mugs of tea, I reflect that Delhi's climate must rank among one of the worst in the world. From April until October, the city is unbearably hot as temperatures soar and when the mercury can still read a remarkable 40C at midnight in the middle of June. December and January, meanwhile, are cold and foggy, sending the city's rickshaw drivers to seek comfort under their blankets, and guards and nightwatchmen to huddle over makeshift charcoal fires.

Effectively it means that the months of November and February, cool in the evening but pleasantly sunny during the day, are the only time the weather could really be called "nice". As it was, I was away for much of November, so my belated New Year's resolution has to be to ensure that next month is a time of action. Watch this space.

Running out of room

One thing that has not changed since I've been away for Christmas is the traffic. Coming back from the airport, my taxi is engulfed in a sea of cars, motorbikes, bicycles and other myriad of vehicles that fill the city's roads.

I curse silently to myself, but the situation is only going to get worse; this week sees the opening of the Delhi auto show and the manufacturers have been busily showing off their new "compact models" for the burgeoning market.

On the treadmill at the gym (usually an escape from the swelter of summer but in winter an oasis of hot showers and a sauna), I listen to the BBC where the head of General Motors promises a doubling of sales in the coming year. Where will they all go? Already, anywhere up to 300,000 new cars join Delhi's unruly, overcrowded roads every year. My other's New Year's resolution? To drive less.

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