Experiencing Delhi for the First Time

See previous and next. Date: 16th December 2005 Where: Delhi

Arriving in Delhi we came out of the airport to be faced with all sorts of taxi touts, and people asking for money. There were going to be unlucky as we did not yet have any Rupees (the Rupee is a closed currency, one needs to obtain them 'in country', strictly speaking taking them through customs can result in your cash being confiscated).

We walked out to the car through a long tunnel from the airport, at the end of which was a cow walking on the pavement. This would be the first of many.

The car itself had a flat tyre and so we had to wait for the tyre to be changed - which prompted lots of kids to offer to clean my shoes and so forth. Nobody really bothered Monica as she doesn't look out of place (unless she speaks) - I was the obvious tourist. As a westerner one must be aware that people living on the breadline will try and take advantage, and you will be overcharged, but even then the prices are often lower than what you might pay at home. I'll talk more on this as these reports progress.

We stayed at the excellent Hotel Ajanta in Old Delhi. The rooms are pretty basic, but perfectly adequate, good value - and the staff are excellent. We booked this from the UK via something like ebookers.

Delhi is a large connurbationm and is divided into Old Delhi (the organically grown bit), New Delhi (the planned bit) and then the various suburbs that it has swallowed.

When we arrived we were taken into a side room, and three people offered us tea within the space of two minutes (we took Masala tea).

Driving in Delhi is something of a combat sport to western eyes. Lanes are there for guidance only, and the horn is a vital tool in the driving. It seems to be the done thing that instead of a driving looking to see if it is safe to pull out and then indicating before making the manouverm the done thing is to check that nobody has sounded their horn just behind you, and pull out - being ready to swerve back if a horn starts to sound.

Without the horn on the car, you will probably crash!

Rush hour in DelhiThere are quite a lot of people on cycles and bikes, though cars (with dents) and autorickshaws tend to predominate. Many vehicles (especially buses and lorries) have a painted notice on the back reminding passing drivers to sound their horn. As a result, horns are sounded every time once vehicle passes another - it is a cacophony, and quite scary - although one does get used to it when one realises that the basic assumptions used on the road in Europe are just different.

To the newly arrived tourist, it put me somewhat in mind of a motorised Ben Hur.

The hotel is located in a pretty small street, and it felt quite intimidating to the new arrival, it was actually not a problem at all - and it was a pretty good location (we stayed there on our return from Kolkata and walked there from the train station). The only real issue was that it wasn't a quiet location due to the car horns (but it was quiet enough to sleep, and that is what counts).

In the Hotel Ajanta they have a good travel agency, and the woman there expressed surprise that we were to stay three nights in Delhi and not visit Rajasthan - we had planned to go to Kolkata via Agra. We took her advice and rearranged some things, and what good advice that was. We were to get up the next day and drive to Jaipur, spending two nights there. We would then drive to Agra via Bharatpur where there is Keoladeo National Park. We would cash in the two nights in Delhi and these would go toward the Jaipur accomodation (we would keep the Agra accomodation). We would need to pay for the car (which came with a driver who would be out our disposal and take us around the cities) and for the driver's accomodation. He would be staying in the same hotel as us and would be with us for four days. The whole lot was some 180 quid - an absolute bargain. Indeed, if we were repeating the trip I would ask Hotel Ajanta to book everything locally for us.

As a result we were to leave Delhi the next day, and so wanted to see a little of the place before we did, the hotel arranged for us to have a driver to take us around Old Delhi for the rest of the day. The cost was around 350Rs, or about a fiver. In this trip we did not see all of Delhi, but that's fine - it leaves some for next time. We decided to go for throughness on this trip rather than trying to squeeze everything in. After all, we're likely to be going back.

The first trip in Delhi was down the road to the railway station (though mistakenly he took us to the local ticket office rather than to the International Reservations office which is on the first floor in the building with the big autorickshaw rank outside). We had to confirm our connections for Kolkata. The fact that he had taken us too far gave us our first taste of pedestrian life in Delhi. As a foreign tourist the trick is to keep moving unless you really want to be sold to!

The Red FortWe drove to the Red Fort after that. It was too late to go in, but we had a look at the structure - an impressive building. There were some guys at the Red Fort who offered to take us around on Cycle Rickshaws, which we did. The car parked and waited for us whilst we went into the smaller roads of Old Delhi.

Jama Masjid in DelhiWe went up to Jama Masjid, though we could not look around as the Call to Prayer had just gone out. It's an inspiring structure, which is, I suppose, one of the main points to any religious building. Cheekily, the rickshaw guys stopped at 'a shop which they had an interest in', in other words, they get a commission every time they show up with a gullible tourist. The place sold fabrics and small nicknacks. We soon moved on, going up a small road toward Chadni Chowk, a main shopping street.

On the way to Chadni ChowkAfter going west on Chadni Chowk a little, past a Sikh temple, we turned around and went back to the Red Fort, where we took a few photos.

When we got back to the car we found a couple of policemen - they demanded 20Rs as the car was not legally parked (it was). We failed to see how this was our problem, we didn't park it - and we knew we were being taken, however we did pay up, for the sake of 30p it was worth it for a quiet life. I wish we'd have had the presence of mind to take their numbers, but we were newly arrived in the country and it was rather daunting. Even though it was only 30p it did leave a sour taste in the mouth (moreso than the pollution!)

It had been a long day for us - we had not slept properly since leaving home, and so we decided to head back for the hotel. We had some fun and games as plug sockets in India are best described as 'variable', in different cities they are shaped differently. Our travel plug did not fit. Fortunately the hotel could direct us to a small shop a few hundred yards from the hotel down Arakashan Road and then just on the left in Qutb road. On the way back we bought a few supplies (like Shampoo) in a place on the Arakashan Road. Hotel Ajanta is comfortable, but no frills).

That evening we ate on the rooftop restaurant at the hotel, there was a buffet which cost 150Rs a head (about 2 quid). The spicy tomato soup alone was worth the price. The views weren't great, partially due to the fog, partially due to the location, also as it was nighttime - but it was pleasant.

It was rather cold and so we went down to the indoor restaurant to take some tea before turning in, and we had no problem sleeping. It was 11:45pm when we went to sleep. We were out like lights. We would have to be up early the next day, as with our newly formed plans we were off to Jaipur!