Published: August 6th 2007March 16th 2007
On the road to Independance
Statue depicting Gandhi leading the march for independance.
Delhi wasn't what we'd expected at all. We'd been told by copious amounts of travellers to avoid Delhi like the plaque, almost wihout exception people would launch into a virulent tirade describing all of the city's ills, reeling off an impressive list of reasons to steer clear of India's capital. Reading William Darymple's 'City of Djinns' had piqued an interest in seeing the city, and we had Chinese visas to acquire, so we decided to disregard the fraught advice and see Delhi for ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised.
Well, except for our accomodation, which proved to be the almost the worst place (bar Trivandrum) that we've stayed. As a general rule we don't stay in guidebook recommended places, but rather use the guidebook to find an area, and stay in a nicer, cheaper non-listed place (which tend to pop up in the vicinity of a listed place). Guidebook listed guesthouses seem to be confident in the fact that they'll have a steady stream of travellers (who are unwilling to brave unlisted accomodation) so they double their prices immediately, and neglect simple tasks such as cleaning and general maintenance. We've stayed in two guidebook listed places in the entire India trip
due to a dire lack of alternative options in the immediate area. The first was the haveli in Jodhpur (which was nice but expensive, even after we negotiated a discount and settled on the tiny gimp room); and the second was the dodgy dirty hovel in Connaught Place, Delhi.
When we arrived our room was occupied, and after the guests vacated we watched as the cleaner headed in to "clean" the room armed only with a straw brush. No bucket, mop or disinfectant. Suz covertly watched through the door as the cleaner then proceeded to take the dirty sheets off the bed, shake them, and then reposition them back on the bed tucking them in neatly at the sides. That should've been our cue to hightail it out of there, but there were no viable accomodation alternatives in the area ... and we were tired after our overnight train journey so we couldn't be bothered hauling our stuff down the stairs, back on to the street, and negotiating a price with another rickshaw to take us somewhere else. Instead we demanded clean sheets and settled in to our new digs, being sure to shower in jandals. "Sunny's Guesthouse" in
Connaught Place - don't stay there it's the pits.
So accomodation aside, New Delhi is unlike the rest of India. Not better. Not worse. Just different. In fact it was a lot like visiting England, which is not entirely surprising given that New Delhi was designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens. The British decided to move their capital from Calcutta to Delhi and so the new Imperial capital was built to the South of the old Mughal walled city of Shahjahanbad (now Old Delhi).
After a mission to the Chinese embassy to get Visas issued, we walked from the diplomatic enclave past the presidents house, through to the parliament buildings. The gardens were meticulously kempt and sported the best type of grass - green and spongy underfoot, so we found oursleves joining many other locals here for a mid-afternoon park snooze. Linking the parliament buildings to the gate of India is the Rajpath, or Kings way. Essentially a road, with parkland and watercourses on either side. Lutyens seemed to be quite taken with the idea of symmetry of design, so each side is a mirror reflection of the other.
New Delhi is really green, particularly so
for an urban metropolis. Parks, gardens and tree-lined avenues abound. We also noticed a significant lack of cows which probably explains why Delhi is so green!
The new metro is up and running and it rocks! We're pretty sure that it's modelled on Singapore's as it has the same high levels of cleanliness and efficiency, with a six minute frequency between trains. They're super security conscious too, you're required to pass through a metal detector and then any bags are checked. Suz tried to take a picture inside the station (for all of you other transport geeks!) but was promptly prevented from doing so by the diligent security guard. From Connaught Place to Old Delhi it cost us just 8 rupees each. Making the same trip above ground on a polluting rickshaw through noisy congested streets would've cost us 50 rupees. So a clear win for Sustainability - both good for the environment and the hip pocket.
Old Delhi was more representative of the India we've known and come to love. Streets thick with people, bicycles, cycle rickhaws, rickshaws, food stalls, shops, cows and dogs; awash with noises and punctuated with a multitude of smells. We soaked up
the atmosphere here and pushed on to visit the Red Fort.
Again we were lucky to meet some great Delhi-ites who took time out to welcome us and show us some awesome hospitality in their city. We spent a fantastic day with the fun and vivacious Henna who zipped us around in her car, navigating the traffic expertly in between fits of giggles. Together we visited some local crafts markets, contemporary art galleries, and everone sat patiently as Suz was decorated with Mendhi (a temporary plant-based henna tattoo). Henna (the person, not the tattoo!) won our life long approval when she took us to a place that served a Cheese and antipasto platter! We also hooked up with another well-travelled and interesting guy, Irshad, for coffee and again a couple of days later over lunch.
Onwards we pushed to Agra to marvel at the greatest testament to love ever built. The Taj Mahal was built in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child!
Photography would've been better at sunrise, but we were there in the late afternoon for sunset, and sadly the
water courses were empty. Apparently they're only filled for VIPs - obviously our advance e-mail to let them know that we were coming was overlooked.
The Mughals had a thing for symmetry too, and this is reflected in the gardens, gates, buildings and overall layout. It's a truly amazing place and we were staggered by both it's intricate design details and overall beauty. For a better history, description and photos than we're apt to give, check out the Wiki.
Delhi > Agra (by train)
There are more photos below