Saturday, 21 August 2010

Two days in Delhi

It was with some trepidation that I arrived in Delhi, the capital of India. Everyone I'd spoken to said it was a place to go straight through, but as I normally like big cities I thought I'd give it a go. I have to say that after sampling clean India in Himachal Pradesh, I didn't really want to go back to dirty, smelly India, and I think I'd generally had enough of the stresses and strains of the country after 5 weeks. But Delhi had another draw - friends from England, Kay and Steve, were arriving in Delhi on the same day as me at the start of a 4 month trip around India and Bangladesh.

With Nepal on my mind, the first thing I did was book a train ticket to Agra, then stopped off for a croissant at one of Paharganj's great German bakeries - one of the few good things about this grotty, tacky tourist enclave. I set out to see the sights of Old Delhi, starting with the Central Mosque. Well, the mosque is certainly big, but at 200 rupees just to get in (plus 100 more to climb the minaret), it's a waste of money compared to the multitude of other more beautiful religious landmarks in India - even accounting for the comical patterened gowns that inappropriately dressed tourists are made (and charged) to wear.

Next stop was the Red Fort, but on my way there ok stopped and turned around - I didn't want to see another fort, and more importantly I wanted to get out of India! Thankfully, I met Kay and Steve that evening for a few beers, a thali and a backstreet lassi. India is decidedly more attractive when you dive into the chaos and enjoy it for what it is, but I think I was beyond that point by now. I met Kay and Steve again the next morning for a farewell brekkie before they caught their train, and agreed to meet up again as our paths would probably cross in Varanasi - me heading north to Nepal and they east to Kolkata and Bangladesh. I should say that Kay and Steve never take a camera with them on their travels, and requested that their photo not appear on the blog... but they do exist, honest!

My second day in the capital was spent exploring New Delhi, the Lutyens-designed extension grafted onto Old Delhi like a mismatched limb. It's all tree-lined boulevards and roundabouts - not really India, but a nice respite for a day. I went first to Humayun's tomb, a spectacular mausoleum big enough to rival the Taj Mahal and Khufu's Great Pyramid for the most outrageously extravegant monument to a dead person. A long, boring walk along New Delhi's streets (most of which are being beautified for the impending Commonwealth Games) brought me to Lodi Gardens, a lovely oasis of green, sprinkled with ruined mosques and yet more mausoleums - and best of all, it's free! Enjoying an ice cream in the shade of a tree, away from all the noise of Delhi was a good way to avoid the heat of the day.

Leaving Lodi Gardens, I headed for the main artery of New Delhi, Rajpath, which connects the grand India Gate with the Prime Minister's residence and the Secretariat buildings. It's a grand boulevard, and the Secretariat buildings still evoke thoughts of the British Raj, looking like a little slice of Whitehall but with Hindustan Ambassadors instead of Jags, and kites perching on the lampstands. Curiously, not a single rickshaw driver would take me back to Paharganj from New Delhi, so I decided to try out a decidedly un-Indian mode of transport - Delhi's metro. Sitting in the clean, quiet car, I felt a little bit homesick for the tube - even the announcements were made in a clipped English voice, and the station signs are a blatent ripoff of LUL's famous roundel. For the princely sum of 8 rupees I was back at my hotel in less time than it would have taken to barter a price for a rickshaw, and without all the pollution and stress... a big thumbs up!

My last morning in Delhi was probably the worst moment of my trip so far. Waking with a bout of Delhi-belly, I spent a few hours in bed before deciding that I needed to catch my train to Agra at 2pm... rather than spend even longer in the capital! What should have been a 10 minute rickshaw ride to New Delhi station turned into a 40 minute journey to hell, as my cycle rickshaw wallah drove through every bump as he circumnavigated Delhi and got us stuck in a traffic jam where we didn't move for 20 minutes. The smell of shit, fumes and other general Delhi aromas made me vomit, after which I decided to shoulder my bags and walk to the station to avoid missing my train. I then found out that the station was 10 minutes in the opposite direction... if I'd seen my rickshaw man again I probably would have smacked him! I made the train with 5 minutes to spare and collapsed onto my sleeper bed... happy to be leaving Delhi and excited about going to see what I hoped would be one of the highlights of my time in India - the one and only Taj Mahal.

Experience your own adventures in Indian with cheap flights to Delhi.

Reprinted with permission from SmithyWorldWide

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