In Upstate New York, there is a town called Delhi. This we did not know about and this I can tell you with not enough emphasis that a Delhi we did not expect in the middle of Delaware County. But it is in the unfolding nature of a drive in the countryside that it shall throw your way places that are unforgettable, sometimes by virtue of their outlandish names. There is the congested city of Delhi in India with countless pockets of heritage left behind by the Rajputs, the Tughluks, the Mughals and the British, tucked in within its urban sprawl, and then there is this, its little doppelgänger in the quiet reaches of the Delaware River.
A Delhi in another continent, to be found where the hills roll into each other in a chain of thickening foliage, where the blue of the skies deepen before they touch upon the vibrant green of the hills as barns and silos turn up from time to time to relieve the monotony, where beauteous horses and calves roam the pastures in quiet bonhomie. That is till you step into the picture. Then the calves stare at you, the startle showing through their great big eyes of bovine beauty. And they hold still for a few minutes, before they scuttle behind the horses for shelter.
Pronounced Del-high, as opposed to the original Del-ee, the outré Delhi of Delaware County came to be around the late 1700s. It was named for the man who founded it, a judge called Ebenezer Foote. He must have lived a lavish lifestyle, for he was referred to as The Great Mogul. Thus the name of the town, which includes the hamlets of East Delhi and West Delhi.
Now Judge Foote had a rival, General Erastus Root. He who rooted for the name ‘Mapleton’ and reacted to the announcement of the town’s new title with the words: ‘Del-hi-hel-high! Better call if Foote-high!’
In Foote and Root’s day, Delhi would have been different. Just over a hundred residents lived around the valley of the River Delaware with its pine and hemlock woods. Eighteenth-century accounts say that Indians traversed through it with prisoners and their scalps at the time. If one of those Indians arrive in present-day Delhi through a wormhole, imagine his face. From the hundreds, the numbers of residents have swelled to a few thousands. Delhi is a vision of small-town utopia, with its line-up of diners, cafes, and the village square, where I can see in the mind’s eye, locals gathering at fairs and harvest fest.
It is just fitting in the scheme of things that Delhi should be home to a covered bridge. You know, those structures of sublime architectural beauty that span rivers, simple and yet commanding, evoking in the onlooker the twin feelings of thrill and romance, because well that book of Robert James Waller did spoil us all with its sentimental talk of the ‘songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads’.
Covered wooden bridges were built all over the country during the early 1800s to allow horses a semblance of quiet as they crossed gushing rivers, with carriages and caravans in their wake. The cool dark of these bridges are a great respite from the heat of summers and they naturally inspire romance. Kissing Bridges, they call them too. The landscape around each of them is of extraordinary pastoral beauty. The sight makes you want to be an artist, whip out a canvas, start splashing it with brilliant colours and introduce a note of balance through the muted shades of wood.
The trail of covered bridges took us from Fitch’s Bridge in Delhi to Hamden, a canvas of small-town living, where the bridge spanned the West Branch of the Delaware River. The drives were filled with the freshness of colour that nature is suffused with at the onset of summer. We watched fawns leap across the roads with the grace of lithe ballerinas, whooped with delight, and came upon a turkey buzzard of the bald red heads and disproportionately large bodies feeding upon a dead animal. There was no whooping then, but scenes of inimitable pastoral beauty washed over us.
When we arrived upon the last in the trail for us, the Downsville Covered Bridge, we were overwhelmed by the tranquility of its location. The entire length of this bridge designed by a Scottish immigrant was reflected in the still waters. As we walked around the greens with its pergola, suggestive of happy unions, it fit in smoothly, the thought that this was the kind of place where you get married.
A bucolic romance fest cobbled together with bridges and hamlets and barns and silos later, we crossed the last of our covered bridges, Adi gliding the car through its timbered darkness, for what do they say?
‘Five dollars fee for driving faster than a WALK on the bridge.’
Scenes from Delhi
Scenes from around the rolling hills