A different corner in Delhi

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February 6th 2015
Published: June 10th 2015
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We arrived in Delhi at 5.30am after leaving Pushkar the previous evening in an overnight train. We jumped off the train, negotiated the platform masses, traversed the overpass, evaded the rickshaw touts and finally found our taxi in the dark surrounds outside New Delhi station. We made our way through the backstreets of Delhi to Hotel Gulnar in Karol Bagh. We checked into a temporary day room, showered and then wandered the backstreets around our hotel until our room was ready. We had a masala chai (spiced sweet milky tea) from our favourite local street restaurant just across the road from the hotel, and we also stumbled upon a cricket match in a small dusty park area.

We decided to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant, so we sat down to cornflakes with hot milk and bananas, chana masala (chickpea curry), pooris (unleavened deep fried bread), masala omelette (spicy omelette with red onions and green chillies), toast and masala chai. We stayed in the restaurant until our room was ready at 10.30am, transferred our packs from the temporary day room and finally relaxed in the privacy of our own space.

Ren was still recovering from the cough/cold she had been carrying for most of the trip, so she went straight to bed. I wandered around the backstreets of Karol Bagh looking for the Karol Bagh Market. After getting lost for about 30 minutes, I finally found the popular market and joined the throngs of people streaming along the streets looking at stall after stall of clothes and shoes. Feeling confident with my navigation skills, I headed back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner – the overnight train incident was catching up with me.

On the way back I met Mr Bill, an overly eager taxi driver. He had been pestering us ever since we arrived, and he was sitting outside his statue shop. He wanted to take us around Delhi, but we wanted to make our own way. He asked me where I was going, and when I told him I was heading back to the hotel, he politely told me I was going the wrong way – so much for my navigation skills. I asked him if he had any metal statues of Ganesh, and before I knew it I was upstairs with his daughter in the family living room. The room was tiny – I had to bend down to avoid hitting my head on the concrete ceiling. Her two children were on a bed watching television and her husband was sitting on the floor. Containers of statues were thrust in front of me, and the sales pitch was intense. I didn’t want to be rude, but I had to leave unescorted. I walked down the stairs alone, with Mr Bill’s daughter yelling after me “How much do you want to pay?”. Mr Bill met me as I walked back onto the street, and he immediately understood the look on my face – I didn’t want to buy and I didn’t want a taxi. He smiled, shook my hand and said he was available the next day if I needed a taxi. I couldn’t help but like him.

We walked to Punjab Sweet Corner and headed upstairs for dinner at 7pm. We shared chana pindi (black chickpea curry), kadi pakora (chickpea fried pakoras served with chickpea flour mixed through sour yogurt), pudina paratha (naan flavoured with chopped mint leaves), mirchi paratha (naan topped with red chillies), paapri chaat (a bed of crisp fried paapri wafers served with beaten yogurt, drizzled tangy green and sweet red chutney, and topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves) and dahi bhalla (fried lentil balls served with sweetened yogurt, tangy green chutney, sweet red chutney, cumin powder, chilli powder, coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds). It was a feast. Delhi was dry for two days because of local elections, so beer was unavailable. It was the third day running that I couldn’t buy a beer. I compromised with two salted lassis (frothy yogurt and milk drink). We walked back to the hotel around 8.30pm and settled in our room. We were exhausted from our month long journey through India, so we were asleep in no time.

When we woke the next morning, there was a hint of sadness in the air – our journey through India was almost over. We were flying back to Australia via Singapore in the evening, and our flight left at 9.30pm. However, we didn’t need to leave Karol Bagh until 5pm, so we had most of the day in Delhi.

We jumped into a taxi at 9.30am and headed to India Gate via Parliament House. Our taxi driver thought we need a running commentary on all things India (and not India), so he started with music. He had replaced his rear view mirror with an iPhone so we could watch a music video with ‘beautiful Indian girls’ (his words, not mine). As we approached Parliament House, he turned the music video off, because he was scared the police would notice he didn’t have a rear view mirror. He didn’t seem to care that his iPhone was masquerading as a mirror, and that it was very obvious from the outside of the taxi. He also told us that Pakistan was ‘bad’ because it was ‘full of terrorists’ (his words again, which he punctuated with machine gun sounds and animation). However, he wasn’t all pro-India. He told us the Indian cricket team was ‘rubbish’. He occasionally interrupted his animated commentary by singing along with the video, hitting his steering wheel in time with the music and pointing to the ‘beautiful Indian girls’. He also talked and laughed to himself quite a bit. We were struggling to keep it together in the back seat.

Delhi was deserted, and it was such a different place to the Delhi we had explored two weeks earlier. It was a public holiday due to local elections, and we were almost able to drive to the base of India Gate. There were more touts than tourists, so we were able to get some great photos of the huge monument without random groups of people appearing in every shot. We drove back to the hotel and spent the rest of the morning wandering the streets of Karol Bagh. The streets were deserted, although people were voting at makeshift polling tables on the side of the road. Karol Bagh Market was closed, and the lack of congestion on the streets made walking so much easier. We made our way back to our hotel and lunched in the downstairs restaurant. We shared an egg curry and tandoori aloo (potatoes stuffed with cashews, green chillies and coriander and baked in a tandoor oven) with naans (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) and chapathis (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread). It was sensational, and a fantastic last meal in India.

We spent the rest of the afternoon organising our packs and preparing ourselves for the long haul flight home.

We arrived in Delhi at 5.30am on the overnight train from Pushkar. I was a bit dazed when I woke, because even though I’d had a few hours of solid sleep, I’d woken up every time the train stopped for more passengers. However, that paled in comparison to Andrew’s night, which had been a bit freaky. There had been an incident with a guy acting very strangely around our bunks, and even though nothing happened, Andrew had been unsettled and hadn’t slept much at all. I wish I’d been awake to see the guy who Andrew described as ‘an intense mad-looking large guy’.

It was still dark as we tried to find our way out of the Delhi train station. We caught a minibus transfer to Hotel Gulnar where we had stayed at the start of our northern trip. This was the end of the Intrepid Travel trip, but they had booked day rooms for us until midday. We didn’t think a long flight back to Australia straight after an overnight train trip would be much fun, so we had booked one extra night in Delhi.

While we waited for our room, we showered in the day rooms and then went for a long walk to explore the streets around the hotel. We were back in the hustle and bustle of Delhi – India's capital. Delhi has been an important city in India for well over 2000 years, and its cultural richness and diversity is quite palpable. It’s a busy and chaotic city, but I also felt that we were just starting to understand it. And unexpectedly, I was excited to be back.

As soon as we stepped onto the streets, the familiar assault of Old Delhi hit my senses again. However, this time I was beginning to see a glimmer of organisation under all the chaos. I suppose it was purely because I wasn’t as overwhelmed by the city this time. We first walked to the local chai wallah (tea seller) at Pure Vegetarian Cafe, and he remembered us from two weeks ago. He brews an excellent masala chai (spiced sweet milky tea).

The neighbourhood of Karol Bagh (where we were staying) was an odd mixture of very local high density living and a fair amount of hotels in some of the streets. While it looked and felt very much like a local residential area, there were insistent auto rickshaw (motorised tricycle with a passenger cabin) drivers who gutter-crawled looking for tourist business. Some of them like Mr Bill (who we met as we were sipping our masala chais on the street), was actually quite pleasant to talk to, but others weren’t. One particular driver from the latter category kept following us for a few blocks, and every time we stopped to take a photo or look at something, he was out of the rickshaw and in my face. I always try to be polite to touts and pushy salesmen, but he was really pushing it so I had to put my no-nonsense voice on. We eventually lost him when we walked into a park to watch a very passionate cricket match. At first it looked like a group of middle-aged men enjoying a morning game of cricket, but on closer inspection they seemed very very serious about winning. In the short time that we watched them, there were at least three heated arguments. So when one of the men asked Andrew if he would like to join them, Andrew politely declined. 😊

We walked back through the old streets, taking in the routines of daily life while trying not to get sideswiped by the occasional drain smell that crept up on us. We walked through all the little old lanes between apartment blocks and through quiet streets that were just waking up. On one such empty narrow long lane, we both realised that we were being followed by a group of about six young men – they weren’t overtly threatening in their behaviour, but they were walking fast and slowly gaining on us. I realised that there was a vegetable market ahead and hoped that we could reach it before they caught up to us, so I put my camera away and we kept walking. They reached us just as the lane opened up into the market street, and they veered off to the right, while we breathed a very heavy sigh of relief and turned left. We are still not entirely sure what to make of that incident, but both Andrew and I have quite sharp instincts and we don’t get unnerved easily… so I would err on the side of caution and say that we were lucky to reach the market when we did.

We walked back to our hotel and had a leisurely long late breakfast while we waited for our room. The buffet had a range of things, but I restricted myself to a masala omelette (spicy omelette with red onions and green chillies) with toast, and pooris (unleavened deep fried bread) with chana masala (chickpea curry), which were both fabulous.

I hadn't expected to, but once our room was ready, I crashed quite heavily. Between the overnight train and my head cold, I was out for the count for a good six hours. Andrew went for a few walks to explore the market area and to try and find a beer...but his search was fruitless as Delhi had been declared a dry area for the two days of the Delhi elections. The last time we were here most of the city was in lock down for Obama's visit and Republic Day. This time, parts of the city were closed to ease traffic around voting booths. There was a large army presence around the city, but I’m not sure if this was normal for Delhi or if it was because of the activities surrounding both our visits.

That night Mohsin, Paige, Andrew and I went to Punjab Corner for dinner. Mohsin was now on a break between his trips and living in an apartment near our hotel, and Paige was staying at a nearby hotel before she left on further travels. Punjab Corner was a thriving casual takeaway shop downstairs and restaurant upstairs. Mohsin ordered a range of unique dishes for us to try. We had paapri chaat (a bed of crisp fried paapri wafers served with beaten yogurt, drizzled tangy green and sweet red chutney, and topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves), dahi bhalla (fried lentil balls served with sweetened yogurt, tangy green chutney, sweet red chutney, cumin powder, chilli powder, coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds), chana pindi (black chickpea curry), kadi pakora (chickpea fried pakoras served with chickpea flour mixed through sour yogurt), pudina paratha (naan flavoured with chopped mint leaves) and mirchi paratha (naan topped with red chillies).

The next morning was our last day in Delhi, and we’d booked our hotel room until our early evening departure. Frustratingly, lots of roads were still closed for the election and we couldn’t really do much. Andrew had wanted to go to the Gandhi Museum but there was some doubt if the road closures would have allowed that. So we decided to hire a taxi with Paige and visit India Gate, as we were assured that the roads in that part of town were unrestricted. The taxi drove past the parliament buildings on the way, but for some reason (which was completely lost in translation) the driver wouldn’t stop. The driver was a bit of a clown and was very eager to engage in talk about cricket, politics in Pakistan and the Bollywood film clip he was blasting through the car. Unfortunately, his English was very limited (well, less limited than our Hindi), and he could only say a few words and then laugh loudly or make sound effects to emphasise his point The topic of Pakistan was interspersed with words like ‘terrorist’ and sound effects of machine gun fire. We just nodded and smiled.

India Gate is monument that was built as a memorial for 90,000 soldiers who died during World War I, although over time it has come to represent soldiers fallen in other wars too. The closest wall to where we were standing was a memorial to the British and Indian soldiers killed on the north-west frontier in the Afghan War of 1919, and there was also an eternal flame burning for the soldiers who died in the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971.

India Gate didn’t really feel like a war memorial – probably because it’s been built in the architectural style reminiscent of triumphant and victorious war arches that I’ve seen in other cities. It was guarded by two soldiers who were both quite friendly and happy to have their photographs taken.

With the hunger pangs of lunch setting in, we decided to share an egg curry and tandoori aloo (potatoes stuffed with cashews, green chillies and coriander and baked in a tandoor oven) with chapathis (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread) and naans (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) in the hotel restaurant. Our last day in Delhi was drawing to a rapid end.

In an unexpected turn of events, I realised that I was sad to be leaving India. When we finished our southern India trip just over two weeks earlier, we were both tired and had wondered if we’d have the energy to enjoy the northern trip. Amazingly, we loved and relished our northern trip so much that we were more energised now than when we started the trip.

Even though my auditory and olfactory senses will be happy to get home to quieter cities and cleaner air, that pales into insignificance compared to the sadness of not being able to get our multiple masala chais, and our curry fixes with delicious chapathis and naans every day!

The next time I write to you, we’ll be flying home. See you then!


10th June 2015

Have a safe flight!
I have really enjoyed your descriptions of India which were very detailed and I could feel myself being there too. Loved your photos as well, as pictures tell a whole story themselves. Just like you, I miss the food, even the naan, which in the States doesn't even compare to how truly delicious it is in India. Undoubtedly India will stay with you forever, and I am glad it was a place you guys enjoyed. Thanks for sharing your experiences and have a safe flight back home :)
11th June 2015

Re: Have a safe flight!
Thanks heaps Jennifer! We really did enjoy it, and have already decided that we will be returning to check out the north western states in a few years time. The naan in Australia just doesn't taste the same either... I'm keeping the search up though :)
10th June 2015
vegetable market

We're sad too!
Your fans are also going to miss India through your eyes and stomachs. Such delicious, healthy food--lentils, chickpeas, veggies, healing spices in such a variety--major yum and no Delhi bellies--congrats! Pretty interesting the range of characters you've met from Mr. Bill and Mr. Crazy Clown to very compassionate people and the chai wallah who remembered you to the beyond-annoying gutter crawlers and touts. And in this land of poverty, you never had anything stolen and escaped the scary guys following you here--bravo. Endings of long journeys are always so bitter-sweet, but I imagine you're going to receive such a welcome from your fur-babies that India will become more of a blissful memory.
11th June 2015
vegetable market

Re: We're sad too!
Journey endings are indeed bitter-sweet Tara. Thanks so much for coming along with us for the ride. We have two more blogs to post for this trip, and then it will be time to turn our minds to the next trip! :)
13th June 2015

I have really enjoyed reading your India blogs (although I was a bit slow to get started!). I visited very briefly about 17 years ago and it was not a great experience, however reading your adventures has given me fresh perspective, and strangely even a desire to go back. I particularly love the food bits :-) India is now back on the list. Perhaps you can get sponsored by India tourism?!
13th June 2015

Thanks Rachael. India's approach to tourism and your approach to travel have both probably changed a lot in 17 years...I'd be very interested to see a comparison blog! I've been saving your food blog to read today :D
13th June 2015

Auditory and Olfactory Senses
Yes, after a trip to India they need a break but the memories of the place, the people and the food will linger and pull you back. Mr. Bill sounded like a nice man although taking you to his daughter's house was a bit much. I hate it that your trip has come to an end. I will miss your descriptions of sights, sounds and smells. The food photos as always have been perfect. It is never fun being ill on the road but you managed to rally and enjoy all India had to offer.
13th June 2015

Re: Auditory and Olfactory Senses
Thanks MJ. Andrew and I have been discussing Mr Bill... he put such a lot of effort into doing business with us, I don't know if I'd have the stamina to make a living that way. I'm normally the one who gets gut related issues when we travel and Andrew usually gets a cold or cough, so it was odd that it was reversed this time :)
23rd July 2015

Entertaining taxi drivers
Back home a taxi rode is a journey from A to B. Simple. Not in other countries like India, sounds like entertainment is thrown in too.
24th July 2015

Re: Entertaining taxi drivers
I try not to think about that taxi ride too much, because when I do, I clearly hear that sound of hucking-up and spitting ringing in my ears! :(
13th May 2016
voting booth

You don't see that every day...
What a great picture!
14th May 2016
voting booth

Re: You don't see that every day...
Thanks! I was so glad they agreed to the photo being taken :)

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