Smokey Sunrise, Delhi to Agra train, Uttar Pradesh, India
The wan red sun
Rises into a dull amber sky

Were it a morning mist
Or a shroud of fog
Pierced by morning sun

But smoke permeates the atmosphere
Even the train compartment
In which I ride

With every breath

At the back of my throat
Deep in my sinuses
Filling my lungs

Like having the unhappy seat
On the lee side of a campfire

So what I see
Blanketing the Indian countryside
Is the choking smoke
I’d hoped to leave behind

Damping the light
Obscuring the beauty
Of a country
I might otherwise love
Without reservation

Smokey Sunrise
Delhi to Agra Train
Uttar Pradesh, India

Taken during travels, 2017

After five days exploring Delhi, my introduction to India, I was looking forward to escaping the smokey urban smog, trading it in for the Taj Mahal and, beyond that, the holy city of Varanasi. The train left Delhi Central Station in the dim pre-dawn, artificial lights haloed by the thick atmosphere. Rolling across the countryside, the sun rose as a blood red orb. Beautiful, but for the smell of campfire smoke filling the train compartment…

Smokey Pollution, Varanasi to Delhi Flight, Uttar Pradesh, India
A Veil of Smoke Cloaks the Land
All the way to Agra, where I googled the situation. Seems the smokey smog is pervasive, a mix of industrial pollution, cooking fires, and agricultural burn-off between seasonal crop changes. It covers much of the country, especially the north. Thus, the smokey smell prevailed the entire month I spent in India, through Agra, Varanasi and even Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills. Thankfully, the daily morning high winds rolling down the mountainsides there helped push some of the smoke from the valley. The two weeks in Rishikesh were the most comfortable days of the stay. Still, the deep breaths of meditation and yoga in Rishikesh often induced a cough.

How bad was the smoke? In Varanasi, I ran into a bout of Delhi belly. Three days later, weak and dehydrated, scheduled to fly out the next morning, I went to a clinic. Nine hours and 1.5 litres of glucose IV solution later, the results of blood, urine and stool tests came back. “Are you a smoker?” the doctor asked.

Sure, I’ve taken a couple puffs here and there, like 30 years ago. But, no.

He pointed to a line on the blood test results, several times over the normal range. “That is a smoker’s number.”

Which explains the smoker’s hack.

Taj Mahal, from Red Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Original image file used for Come Closer
Photographically, the consistent smoke haze is a dual-edged sword. Spectacular sunsets and sunrises. But in regular daylight, there’s only so much Photoshop’s haze filter can do. Although, it can do a lot — given enough time and effort.