A dark paradise in Delhi

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January 23rd 2015
Published: March 30th 2015
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We were leaving Kochi and heading north to Delhi. We woke at 4am and prepared ourselves for the day ahead. We left our tranquil homestay in Fort Kochi at 5am and made our way to Kochi Domestic Airport in a taxi for our early morning flight to Delhi. The taxi driver was from another universe. He looked way past retirement, and he drove accordingly. He was on the wrong side of the road for the first few minutes until we pointed it out to him. He then slowly and methodically negotiated the roadwork mayhem from Kochi to the airport. Every now and again he would summon the courage to pass a crawling truck laden with logs, only to pull in and slow down in front of it, so it was forced to overtake us. He only changed into fourth gear once, and that was because Lee, who was sitting in the front seat, suggested it would be a good idea to do so. If a car beeped at him he would pull off the side of the road and let it pass, and he had his headlights on full beam all the way (which meant everyone else coming towards us had their lights on full beam in retaliation).

Anyway, we arrived unscathed at the airport at 6am, said goodbye to Kim and Lee who were on their way home to London, checked in, breezed through security and barely had time to sit in the single gate lounge before we were called to board. Kochi Domestic would have to be one of the easiest airports we’ve ever had to negotiate. We took off 20 minutes early and were in the air by 7am. We had begun the second leg of our Indian journey – northern India – and we were excited. We had a three hour flight ahead of us and we hadn’t eaten, so the in-flight breakfast was looking good. I opted for the roti (flaky flat bread), sambar (a dahl based thin vegetable curry) and coconut chutney, while Ren went for the omelette. It was surprisingly good (for in-flight food). The coffee was also very welcome.

The flight was comfortable and uneventful. We arrived in Delhi at 10am, walked to the baggage carousel and waited. Ren’s pack eventually came out, but mine was nowhere to be seen. When every last piece of luggage had been picked up and every last person had left, the carousel stopped. Things were looking grim. In all our travels, we have never lost our luggage. We went to the lost luggage room and the staff were great. After an hour of searching they located my pack, and we were finally able to leave the airport. We purchased a Delhi Police taxi voucher inside the terminal, walked outside and clambered into the tiniest taxi van I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe we were going to negotiate the bedlam of Delhi traffic in this. The first thing that hit us was the smell of vomit, and it was bad…really bad. So was the driver’s penchant for hucking-up and spitting out the window. I didn’t dare look at Ren, because I knew exactly what her eyes would be saying. We drove past indescribable scenes of poverty on our way to Hotel Gulnar in Karol Bagh. We arrived at 12.30pm, checked in and organised our laundry – it had been a long time between washes. We had wifi in our room, which was a massive bonus compared to the hotels in southern India, so we were happy.

We went for a quick walk at about 3.30pm and then returned to the hotel restaurant for masala chais (spiced sweet milky tea) with butter naan (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) and red and green chilli paratha (naan topped with chillies). It was a great afternoon snack. We headed back to our cosy room and caught up on our travel writing. At 7.30pm we walked a short distance from the hotel to Spicy by Nature Restaurant for dinner. We shared tandoori khate mitte aloo (herbed potatoes cooked in the tandoor), chana pindi masala (chickpeas cooked in onion and tomato gravy), missi roti (flat bread made with chickpea flour) and butter naan, and it was fantastic!

However, we’d been up since 4am and it was starting to show, so we left the restaurant at 9pm and wandered back to our hotel room. It had been a great travel day, and I was so relieved to have my backpack. I can’t imagine the inconvenience of losing your luggage while travelling. We had an 8.30am start the next morning, so we had an early (10.30pm) night.

We woke early and headed out to a local street cafe just across the road from our hotel for a masala chai at 7.30am. It was a brisk morning, and fog was shrouding our tiny street. We clutched our hot chais for warmth as we stood and watched a typical Delhi day unfold before us. We walked back to the hotel, organised our day packs and set off for Karol Bagh station at 9am. The Delhi Metro, like most other major city train systems, was reasonably simple to negotiate. We crammed into a morning peak hour train and made our way (via one train change) to Chawri Bazar station. We jumped off the train and walked headfirst into Old Delhi. The first street we experienced was the paper market, and it was both fascinating and confronting.

We wandered through a warren of narrow dirty streets until we arrived at the Jama Masjid mosque at 10am. This was an alluring place. With a capacity for 25,000 worshippers, it had a simplicity and beauty that was extremely captivating. After wandering around the mosque, we made our way back into Old Delhi and walked to the Gurdwara Sisganj, a Sikh temple. We walked into a small room, removed our shoes and socks, donned an appropriately symbolled blue bandana and walked barefoot into the streets of Old Delhi. I can’t even begin to describe the look on Ren’s face when we walked barefoot onto the pavement where men were publicly urinating, people were spitting and dogs were defecating. I also can’t describe the look on Ren’s face when we washed our dirty feet (before entering the temple) in a trough of warm water that people were drinking from. There are some travel experiences that just can’t be described in words 😊

We walked into the temple and sat and listened to three musicians (one dholak and two harmonium players) performing a number of holy Sikh songs. They were excellent musicians, and I could have sat and listened to them for hours. We eventually stood up and walked to the communal kitchen area, which was in full operational mode. This was incredible to witness. There were literally hundreds of devotees volunteering their time to prepare food for people in need, and this happened every day. This is religion at its very, very best. It was incredibly moving to watch a group of women sitting on the floor, preparing and rolling chapathis (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread) which were then cooked on a griddle and taken to the scores of people waiting outside in need of food. I have been in India for just over two weeks, and this is one of the most intense moments of my time here.

We eventually walked out of the Gurdwara Sisganj at 11.30am. We walked back along the street (barefoot) to the place where we left our shoes, removed our blue bandanas and walked back into Old Delhi (this time with shoes and socks to protect our feet from what lay beneath).

We made our way out of Old Delhi, jumped into a taxi and headed to the very recently completed Swaminarayam Akshardhan Temple. This was a fascinating place, and it was enhanced by the fact that heaps of school groups were visiting the temple on the same day. We wandered through the temple and then settled down to lunch in the temple’s food hall. We opted for golgappa (small pockets of fried dough that are pierced, filled with a potato and egg mixture, sprinkled with a tamarind and chilli sauce, and drenched in a mint, coriander and green chilli water), thali meal (several small vegetable curries served on a platter with rice) and rajkachori (a meal sized version of golgappa). It was fantastic (especially considering it was a food-hall meal in a major tourist venue).

We then travelled to Bu-Halima’s Garden to visit Humayun’s Tomb (which the Taj Mahal’s design principles appear to be based on). This was a very tranquil place, and we enjoyed the relaxed family atmosphere. We also visited Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb, which was much older and yet still reasonably contemporary.

We jumped back in our taxi and then travelled to the Qutab Complex, where we managed to have a posed photo taken at the base of the Qutab Minar – complete and utter tourists! Ren even managed to have a photo of herself holding the top of the Minar, while our guide gave me a ‘man-to-man account’ (his words!) of the raunchy carvings in the stone. It was a great experience (the overall Qutab Complex, that is), and I enjoyed it immensely. We’d been on the road since 9am, and we found ourselves heading back to the hotel in peak hour traffic at 5.30pm.

This had been a fantastic day – we had seen so much of New and Old Delhi, and we were exhausted. When we got back to the hotel we picked up our wet laundry (which was meant to be dry), ordered room service (aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) and butter naans) and settled into our comfy room to catch up on our travel notes. I’d also organised a few Kingfisher beers through the guy in reception, which he apparently needed to pick up by motorbike from a ‘special’ place. It was a freezing night, so his efforts were very appreciated. One of the amazing things I’ve discovered in India is if you ever need anything (and I mean anything), there will always be someone who can get it. You just need to find the right person to ask.

Tiredness began to get the better of us, and we had a 5am start the next day, so we retired at 10.30pm. I love travel days like this!

Sadly we missed breakfast at our Lodge in Kochi, as we had to leave for the airport at 5am for a 7:25am flight to Delhi. Kim, Lee, Andrew and I shared a taxi to the airport, which was probably one of the most hair raising taxi rides of my life. The driver seemed to think that it was perfectly alright to straddle the white centreline of the highway or drive on the wrong side of the road. He was hesitant to overtake cars, and would take a few practice run-ups before he awkwardly committed to doing it – in third gear! He also seemed determined to drift dangerously close to every single truck in the log truck convoys we passed! Lee was in the front seat and I was in the middle of the back seat, and we could clearly see every potential fatal accident we faced...between us we covered a wide array of muted swear words and ‘we are going to die’ noises. I have never counted down the kilometres to a destination with so much angst before. He was easily the WORST taxi driver I have ever encountered in all our travels. As glad as I was to get out of the taxi, it was also time to say goodbye to Kim and Lee again. I wonder where the travel gods will reunite us next? 😊

The Kochi Domestic Airport is tiny. We checked in with little hassle but then had to go through the laborious security screening process, where we queued up in gender segregated queues for bag checks and queued again for personal body checks. At least five people checked our boarding passes before we made it onto the plane...all for a domestic flight. My inner efficiency-elf is starting to twitch at the ridiculous over-handling and unnecessary processes required for simple everyday things.

We flew with Air India, and we couldn't fault their service at all. The omelette breakfast I had was tasty and the pilot executed the most perfectly smooth landing I've experienced in a long time. However, it looked like it was all going to go pear-shaped when we waited, and waited, and waited at the baggage carousel for Andrew's backpack – which never arrived. After an hour of hanging around in lost luggage, they found it in the transit bags section and sent it up to us. Phew! We narrowly avoided spending our first day in Delhi shopping for a replacement wardrobe for Andrew!

Having read that taxi drivers in Delhi were trickier than most, we purchased a voucher from the pre-paid Delhi Police taxi booth (there are private taxi companies too) and walked to the black and yellow taxi rank. Well, I have seen better specimens of cars in wrecker’s yards. Our tiny van was down to its bare bones and smelt of vomit. The driver looked like he was on a prison day release program, and compulsively spat out the car window every five minutes. He also seemed confused that I insisted on holding onto the taxi voucher until we got to the hotel. Ok, maybe I was being slightly overcautious, but it gave us some surety that we would get dropped off at the right hotel, and not be booted out at some random destination.

Most of the Indian horror stories I’d heard were from Delhi, so upon touching down at Delhi airport I braced myself and turned my bullshit-radar onto ‘high’. I’d been told that our first challenge would be avoiding the swarms of pushy airport taxi drivers, so I was slightly surprised to see an orderly bunch of drivers chatting amongst themselves while waiting for their next fare.

Watching Delhi unfold through the taxi window was fascinating. There was a huge police presence at the airport and on the roads, with lots of roadblocks in place. The increased security was in aid of India's Independence Day on 26th January, especially as Barack Obama was the main guest of honour.

The roads and streets were wide and the traffic didn’t seem overly bad until we approached the city. As we got closer to the Karol Bagh area, the traffic chaos and visible poverty increased exponentially. Karol Bagh is situated roughly halfway between the former British capital of New Delhi (with its wide streets and shiny buildings) and the Old Delhi of Shah Jahan – the former Muslim capital of the Mughal Empire. I think I can honestly say that I haven’t come across anywhere in the world quite like Old Delhi.

I had to take back all my initial reservations about our taxi driver. He not only got us to our hotel in one piece, but knew exactly where he was going. Hotel Gulnar was a standard 3-starish hotel, but the rooms were large and exceptionally clean, the bathroom was modern, and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. I cannot tell you how happy crisp white sheets, thick towels and a comfy mattress can make me when we are travelling (or even when we are not!). A shower screen would have been the icing on the cake, but alas, it looks like wet bathrooms are the norm in northern India too.

So here we were in India's winter. Even though we had packed warm clothes, I think (in all honesty) we packed more with the warm weather of the south in mind. I hoped I could stay warm, especially as I still had the cough and cold I’d caught a week ago in the south. We went for a quick walk around the locality of the hotel and then settled in at the hotel restaurant to have an afternoon snack of butter naan (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) and red and green chilli paratha (naan topped with chillies) with our masala chais (spiced sweet milky tea).

That evening we had the group meeting for the second half of our Intrepid Travel trip (called Classic Rajasthan), and we met Mohsin our group leader. It was a group of 10 – Meg and Hazel (UK), Peter and Rosemary (UK), Peter (UK), Lucy (Aus), Paige (Aus), Betty (Aus) and us. It was a funny old combination of people...four in the 60 camp, three in our 40s and three quite young ones who looked like a fun bunch.

We headed to dinner at a local restaurant a few streets away from the hotel. The narrow streets were full of hazy cooking smoke from street carts and stalls, all doing a roaring trade with locals. The restaurant Spicy by Nature was most likely named and designed to be a strip club, but despite the sleazy design, the food we had was amazingly good. We shared a tandoori khate mitte aloo (herbed potatoes cooked in the tandoor), chana pindi masala (chickpeas cooked in onion and tomato gravy), missi roti (flat bread made with chickpea flour) and butter naan. As much as I’d loved the creamy coconutty curries with rice in the south, the wide variety of excellent breads and tomato based curries of the north were a welcome change.

The next morning we walked over to Real Vegetarian Cafe for a masala chai, and then met Mohsin and the group for a walking tour of Old Delhi. We walked to Karol Bagh Metro Station and caught a train to Rajiv Chowk Station, changed to the blue line and caught another train to Chawri Bazar. The Delhi metro system was efficient and clean, and a lot more modern than I had imagined. There was tight security, and every single bag was scanned and every single person was searched. I imagine that a similar public transport security policy wouldn’t go down well in Australia! To say it adds time to the journey was an understatement.

We had value loaded travel cards for the trip, which we swiped to gain entry onto the platform and then swiped again on final exit. The first carriage on every train is a ‘Ladies Only’ carriage. I rode in a ‘mixed’ carriage with Andrew, but having not enjoyed that experience at all, I’ve decided that the next time we catch the metro I will be hopping in the ‘Ladies Only’ carriage. While it is sad that it needs to exist, having this option makes rides on the train far more peaceful and enjoyable for female passengers. Andrew will have to ride alone in the more crowded, smellier, gropey mixed carriage. Sorry Andrew. 😊

We then walked through the heart of Old Delhi which was still shrouded in morning fog. Old Delhi is full of life and spirit. There were people everywhere, cycle-rickshaws (tricycles with a passenger carrier), piles of garbage in the street, horns honking constantly, cows blocking the narrow pavements, motorbikes bearing down on us on the wrong side of the road, rabid looking dogs sniffing at our heels, and the occasional oxcart ambling through. All my senses were instantly on high alert. However, to survive a city with so much stimulation I knew I had to shut down a bit and take things in at a slower rate. Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t shut off my sense of smell. I can only imagine what those smells would be like in the height of summer. Old Delhi was intense!

We headed to the Jama Masjid, Delhi’s oldest mosque. It is a very impressive high walled red sandstone and white marble complex that towered over the rest of Old Delhi. We left our shoes outside, and female visitors had to hire over-garments which covered us from head to toe (mine was a fetching red polka dot number). We also had to pay a 300 rupee fee for the use of cameras.

The mosque complex was beautifully simple. I loved the symmetry of the overall complex as well as the sense of balance in all the little details in the marble work. Unlike Turkish mosques (the only other mosques I’ve been to before this) that have fully enclosed prayer areas, the bulk of the prayer area was in the large open square courtyard. The main section of the mosque (that was undercover) was quite small and undecorated, apart from a carpet and large crystal chandeliers. The mosque had gorgeous minarets that gave the unpretentious complex a sense of understated grandeur. The mosque sat much higher than its surroundings, so the views from the various gates were great, though quite hazy. To one side of us was the gigantic red sandstone of the Red Fort. On the other side were a warren of alleyways and the bazaars of Chandni Chowk – Old Delhi’s main street bazaar.

We left Jama Masjid and walked back out into the maze of chaotic alleys and tiny lanes of Chandni Chowk. Some of the market alleys radiating away from Chandni Chowk were so narrow that even cycle-rickshaws couldn't enter. The shops in the bazaar were fascinating, and the goods on offer ranged from fruit and vegetables to wedding paraphernalia to cow dung on a rope. Each street was dedicated to one type of product, and so row upon row of shops were selling the same (quite specific) items like reels of ribbons, paper for wedding invitations, or specialist boiled sweets. I’m not sure how each shop differentiated itself enough to make money. Mohsin set a swift pace though the alleys, but this was definitely somewhere we wanted to return to spend some time browsing and taking photographs.

There seem to be many dogs of varying degrees of health and fitness in Old Delhi, and lots of dog poo to avoid on the broken and uneven pavements. It was almost safer to walk on the road and take our chances with the traffic! There were loads of cycle-rickshaws around, and they were very popular with locals for short distance trips along the very narrow streets.

Emerging from the network of lanes, we found ourselves on a very wide but crowded road at the busy Sisganj Gurudwara – a Sikh Temple. In a small room adjacent to the temple, we removed our shoes and donned blue headscarves (even the men). We then had to walk barefoot along the dirty and wet road to get to the temple entrance. My feet were dying a thousand deaths, but I just had to exercise mind over matter and keep walking. We entered the large complex and washed our feet by walking through a stream of warm water that ran across the entrance. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to wash my filthy feet in that warm water! That was, until I realised that it was holy water and people were blessing themselves and drinking the water as they walked through it too. Ok, I have no words for the feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach that someone drank the water I just washed my feet in. Blind faith is a strange thing.

We then ascended the main steps into the temple and joined the worshippers in a large hall. Inside there were three men playing two harmoniums and a drum, and half singing-half chanting readings from the Sikh holy book – the Guru Granth Sahib (which is written in a form of rhythmic poetry). We found a spare space on the carpet at the back and listened for a while. The Sikhs believe that listening to the chanted scriptures achieves tranquillity while meditating. I can certainly say that the atmosphere in the temple was extremely tranquil and meditative.

I knew nothing about Sikhism until the visit to this temple. It seems this religion was primarily formed on the principle of equality. The founding Guru meant to release people from the oppression of being in a caste driven Hindu society or from gender inequalities in the Muslim religion. I found it interesting that the Sikh notion of ‘god’ has no gender, and men and women are equal and share the same religious status. There are no idols to worship, nor are there priests, but there is a granthi who looks after the holy book, and any Sikh is free to become a granthi or read from the book. The Sikh temples (gurdwaras) are open to people of any faith.

Even though Sikhism seemed less constrained by old traditions and outdated rules and customs than other religions – as with all religions, the main principles of the religion aren’t always practised. For example, there are still recognisable castes within the Sikh religion, and baptised Sikhs are bound to uphold the following – never cut their hair (hence the turbans), carry a wooden comb, wear a metal bracelet, carry a small silver dagger and wear specific underclothing. Some of the men in the temple were wearing their silver daggers over their clothing, and it was a really fascinating sight.

Afterwards we visited the kitchen area outside the main temple. Volunteers were working hard to prepare lunch...a turbaned man was stirring a vast vat of steaming dahl, and there were other cauldron-sized pots bubbling away in various corners of the kitchen. There was also a large operation in place to make chapathi (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread). Handcarts of dough were wheeled in from the commercial mixing machine, and then a multitude of women fashioned little balls of dough which were rolled into round shapes and cooked on a massive griddle. There was also an automated chapathi machine that kept popping out circles of chapathi every few seconds. It looked and felt like a kitchen that cooked for an army. In the dining hall beyond the kitchen, hundreds of people would soon be seated on the floor in long lines while food was distributed.

What we’d witnessed was a langar, or communal kitchen. It expresses the Sikh philosophies of sharing and equality between all people. Free meals are provided to anyone who needs or wants it, and this isn’t restricted to the poor. It is hoped that people who eat in the hall will donate what they can, either in cash or in time spent in preparation of the meals. The majority of the operation is funded by donations from businesses in the area.

That afternoon Andrew, Betty and I had booked an Urban Adventure trip that took in three monuments with a guide and a driver. Our guide was the vivacious Konika, and we started at Akshardham Temple – the biggest Hindu temple in India. The temple complex was massive, and security was over-the-top tight. There were many hundreds of school kids at the entrance which made the whole process more painful (and much louder). Unfortunately, we have no photos of the Akshardham Temple or the surrounding complex, as cameras were strictly forbidden.

When we walked into the complex and through the well-manicured gardens, we came to a long white and red-brown marble causeway – at the end of which stood the colossal many-domed main temple building surrounded by a lake. It was rather breath taking. There was an ornately carved red sandstone wall surrounding the temple, and the temple itself was clad in more carved red sandstone and white marble.

The temple is dedicated to Swarminarayan. There is a large golden statue in the main chamber of the temple, and a staggering 20,000 other statues. The rest of the vast temple is a mix of old style archways, bright floral motifs, dioramas and fibre optics. The carvings on the inside walls, pillars and ceiling were as beautiful as any I have seen. However, most of the other ‘stuff’ was quite over the top and sometimes cheesy.

The landscaped gardens were a bit ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – there was a musical fountain and many side galleries with exhibitions (that we skipped). The Urban Adventures trip included a lunch that we had at the temple's food hall. We had been discussing a type of street food we had seen that morning, so Konika got some for us as a snack. Golgappa (also called pani poori) are small circular crispy fried pockets of dough that are pierced, filled with a potato and egg mixture, sprinkled with a tamarind and chilli sauce, and drenched in a mint, coriander and green chilli water...and then popped into your mouth. It was absolutely delicious. So delicious that I decided to have its giant cousin – rajkachori – for lunch. It was identical to the tiny golgappa, but about the size of a pancake, and with additions of yoghurt and a crunchy fried topping. I will definitely be having this again. Andrew and Betty opted for the North Indian thali meal (several small vegetable curries served on a platter with rice), which was nice but not mind blowing. Centuries of different cultural histories in Delhi have created a very diverse city, and we love the idea of getting to know a city through its food, so we really enjoyed Konika's enthusiasm for exposing us to new dishes. Sadly, we have no photos of our lunch dishes, as we couldn’t bring our cameras into the Akshardham complex.

We then drove from east Delhi to south Delhi. The World Heritage listed Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb in India, built way back in 1570. I thought it looked like a kind of mini-Taj Mahal in red sandstone (but without the minarets), and later found out that this was a template of sorts for the Taj Mahal.

Humayun is considered to be a great Mughal emperor, and the tomb (commissioned by his senior wife) is considered a Mughal architectural masterpiece. Humayun was the father of Akbar and great-grandfather of Shah Jahan (of Old Delhi and Taj Mahal fame...in case you were wondering). After a life of dramatic battles and intriguing conspiracies (he killed most of his brothers to secure the throne), his death was utterly ordinary – he slipped while going down stairs and cracked his head open. However, his tomb is anything but ordinary.

The tomb is a multi-levelled gigantic octagonal red sandstone and white marble building with a soaring high dome. I loved the symmetry, use of space, and simple clean lines that made all the stunning craftsmanship really standout. I especially loved the elaborate lattice jali-work that created stone grills in place of windows. We were there in the mid-afternoon, and the sun cast beautiful shadows through the lattice work. The tomb was set in beautiful green parkland with water features.

We also briefly visited Isa Khan's older, smaller, and less salubrious tomb – which I liked as much, if not more than Humayun’s Tomb. This tomb probably resonated with me because I much prefer intimate gestures of love over grand public demonstrations. The walled gardens were lovely and it was the sort of place I would have brought a book and a picnic to spend a peaceful afternoon away from the noise of hectic Delhi. Although in hindsight, it’s probably a bit morbid having a picnic in a mausoleum!

By now we were rushing to get to our last stop – the Qutab Complex – before 5pm. It was also in south Delhi and we weren’t far from it, but the peak hour traffic jams and road closures for the upcoming Republic Day weren't working in our favour. Our driver took a few short cuts and we got there with about 30 minutes to spare. The World Heritage listed complex is most famous for the minar (minaret) – a very imposing 73m red brick and marble tower built in 1193. I would have loved to climb the 379 steps to the top, but due to a suicide as well as a stampede that caused many deaths, it has been closed to the public. The complex also contained other beautiful archaeological ruins, but none of them had survived as well as the minaret. We explored the site with a local guide who gave us a brief history of the period and the construction methods used across the complex. He was also very good at taking well positioned photographs to maximise the stunning aspects of (as well as cheesy poses with) the minaret. The red sandstone of the minaret was glowing even redder with the evening sun, and it was a lovely way to end what had been day that had overflowed with cultural and architectural explorations.

After that very full and hectic schedule, we didn’t really feel like going out for dinner, so we did something very unlike us – we ordered hotel room service. The 'go to' guy in the lobby who went out to get Andrew two Kingfisher beers also delivered our food order of butter naans and a serve of aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry). It was quite delicious, and exactly what we felt like.

Delhi’s sights and sounds had been in equal parts intriguing and saddening. It was big, it was bold, and it was busy! Delhi was every bit as gritty and raw as I had expected, and there was no such thing as a ‘leisurely’ stroll down the street. Being more populous than the south, poverty is definitely more evident here. In the evenings, the backstreets were littered with the homeless trying to get some sleep despite the chilling cold (wrapped head to toe in an assortment of blankets). And as goes with the territory of high competition and low incomes, the rickshaw drivers were very pushy and loud in vying for business.

As I ran through the last two days in my head and tried to process my thoughts on Delhi, I kept coming back to the duality of this city. New Delhi was a rich modern city catering to many more people than most modern cities have to. Wide multilane roads with expensive cars were surrounded by shiny tall office buildings, embassies in colonial mansions, spacious high gated communities, big brand name malls and tree-lined streets. Apart from the crazy driving and constant chorus of horns, we could have been in any big city.

Old Delhi, on the other hand, was a study in ultra-high density living in cramped conditions. In among the small streets and old styled low rise buildings beggars begged, motorcycles and rickshaws competed for road space, dogs loitered, dusty delivery trucks spewed fumes, and the call to prayer and temple chanting washed over it all. The narrow streets also contained vignettes of a very close-knit community that made us feel at ease...people washed their hands at water fountains outside the local temple, street stall wallahs (sellers) fired up stoves to cook smoky street snacks, neighbours gathered at street corners to chat, and grown dogs played in the streets like puppies. I said it at the start of our explorations, and I’ll say it again – it couldn’t possibly get any more intense than Old Delhi.

We spent the rest of the night writing notes, drinking cups of tea, eating chips and preparing for our very early 5am departure time the next day... 😊

Next we travel south to Uttar Pradesh to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal!


31st March 2015

The 'go to guy'
Was he called 'Boy' by any chance? In every single hotel in India, there was ALWAYS a 'boy' who fetched anything that was needed. That this 'boy' was 60 plus years old didn't affect the fact he was called 'boy'. I can just imagine Ren's face with the bare feet walking and washing in the holy water...oh that made me giggle. I think even after all these years of living in Asia, I would still be squeamish about that (much to Neil's amusement!)
31st March 2015

Re: The 'go to guy'
Haha he probably was! My stomach still flips when I think of the 'crunchy' and 'squishy' bits underfoot on that walk. :(
31st March 2015

Surviving Old Delhi...
...nice to see you enjoyed Old Delhi, we (my wife, brother-in-law and I) dove in but didn't last long, had a really creepy looking guy following us everywhere which sucked but I really did dig the sensory overload of the whole place...Qutab Minar was one of my favourite spots to visit as well...great writing guys!
1st April 2015

Re: Surviving Old Delhi...
Thanks Jeff! I have wonder if we would have got a different impression of Old Delhi if we had visited in blue sky weather - it may not have seemed so closed in? I don't remember your blogs from Delhi...will have to check them out.
31st March 2015
sikh temple communal kitchen

Quite the roller coaster!
I know its a truism that India, more than most places, is a land of contrasts, but this was wild. The incredible poverty yet wifi in your rooms, the worst barefoot walk ever and the compassion of the Sikh's communal kitchen (though I did miss a photo of Ren in the fetching red polka-dot outfit), Old Delhi vs New. Glad to see your companions remain lovely, the sights and history remain impressive, and the food, so different from the south's, still remains fabulously delicious. I thought I was heading home after South America, but you're painting an incredibly alluring picture of India. I once read that you're not really a traveler until you've experienced India; they may have been right.
1st April 2015
sikh temple communal kitchen

Re: Quite the roller coaster!
Tara I had read that India was a land of contrasts, but I hadn't prepared for such a range of contrasts in such close proximity! And despite the grit and grime of Delhi, we would not hesitate to go back. I would love to see you consider India as a travel option...I'm sure you would embrace the spirituality, ancient culture and food, but you'll need to watch out for those pesky cows :)
1st April 2015

I think Tara summed it up
Your blogs...love me/hate me come visit me/you wont like me - remind me of how I feel about India. Glad to see all your blogs on this trip have been so openly balanced. They make me want to go, then make me not want to go to India. Maybe one day :) and thanks for the recipe and the always present foodie run down in your blogs.
2nd April 2015

Re: I think Tara summed it up
Thanks Cindy! For years I yo-yoed between visiting India or not; and if not for Andrew's enthusiasm for it, I probably would have still been yo-yoing about it. But now that I know the reality of it, I can't wait to explore more of northern India :)
5th April 2015

The senses take notice while in India
Your eyes must stay alert, head swiveling around looking for where each aroma, pleasant or not, may be coming from. The taste of India is amazing, the colors and textures vibrant. Delhi is a sensory overload. I found India to be a test of boundaries, what you could personally tolerate and for how long. I was holding my breath reading about you walking in the warm water as I know some of your concerns. We were there in summer. Most of the time it was fine but the aromas of body fluids can be strong. The toughest for me was the men urinating in the small alley ways. Getting back home to a shower and clean white sheets allows you to go back for another day. Glad you made it to some World Heritage sights.
17th April 2015

Re: The senses take notice while in India
Old Delhi definitely caused sensory overload! As much as we would have liked to be in Delhi when it was warmer, I think walking through some of those streets when it was hot wouldn’t have been very pleasant. The architecture at those sites were stunning! :)
8th May 2015

captivating accounts of Delhi and stunning photography
Wow. This blog had us in stitches, with your accounts of the taxi ride. It sounded like a ride P would be holding onto for dear life. Love the fact you had to instruct the driver. Really?. ☺ As for your experience at the Sikh temple, the shock and horror of the reality that the water was drunk left us speechless. Surely there must be a gradual reduction in number of attendees with them all getting Ill?. It was also insightful to hear about the Sikh religious traditions. This blog evoked soo many emotions and left us wanting more. Great blog!!
11th May 2015

Re: captivating accounts of Delhi and stunning photography
Thanks guys! I still can't believe that people at the Sikh temple were drinking the water our feet were in...but we merely followed what people in front of us were doing, so I really hope it was ok to walk in that water. :/ We weren’t expecting to love Delhi and are still surprised that we did! :)

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