Back in Delhi

See Previous Date: 2nd January, 2006 Place: Kolkata

Happy New YearThe 1st was a day for travel. We had breakfast and checked out, then took the taxi to kasba (the guy tried it on by overcharging, but was refreshingly upfront about it saying "I'm requesting a little more..." - he had been very helpful, and he hadn't tried to rip us off so he got the extra).

Me, Monica's Mum, Barnali, Kalpona, Anupam ShejomashiMonica and her MumWe ate lunch at the flat, and lots of photos were taken.

The farewell was quite tearful, and as we left I said 'abar daka hobay', meaning 'we'll meet again'. This caused everyone to smile and cheer, mostly at my Bengali!

Anupam came to the station with us, seeing us safely onto the Rajdhani express. Again, we travelled first class here (and it's well worth it on such a long journey).

The journey was overnight, and they looked after us on the train, with linen, meals and so forth.

We stayed at the same hotel in Delhi as before, the Hotel Ajanta, and knew exactly where we were headed, so on arrival we walked purposely, ignoring the calls of 'Auto, sir?' and 'Taxi, sir?'

We arrived in short order, it's very close to the station - that was one of the reasons we chose it!

At the hotel, we hired a car for the day to take us around Delhi. As we were going around New Delhi too, it cost a little more - the sum of 600Rs, about 7 quid. Bargain.

The Red Fort in DelhiThe Jain Temple at the end of Chadni Chowk, opposite the Red FortWe started by going to the Red Fort. We weren't able to go in previously as it was late, this time it was Monday, it's closed on Monday. Still, we wanted a daylight visit. A good vantage point is at the end of Chadni Chowk and there is an interesting looking Jain Temple there too.

From there we went to Raj Ghat.

The site of Mahatma Ghandi's CremationThis was the place where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated. There are quotations all around the place in various languages, There are Ghandi quotes in Hindi, Urdu, Gujurati, Spanish, English, Zuli, Telugu and others, but no Bengali (that we could see). There were some works going on, so maybe the Bengali has yet to appear.

Humayun's TombInside Humayun's TombMonica on the wall surrounding Isa Khan's TombWe then went to Humayan's tomb, probably one of Delhi's best kept secrets. This is a huge complex, and it had very few visitors on the day we went. The tomb pre-dates the Taj Mahal, and one can see the architectural connection. It's essentially a sandstone Taj. The place isn't just the main tomb, there are outbuildings, each one is a fine piece of architecture in it's own right.

Isa Khan's TombIn some places, the walls can be explored, though this is a little hairy.

It's a great place to visit, though at one point tour guides did try to thrust themselves upon us, which I didn't appreciate - though Monica did listen to what one bloke had to say.

Humayun's tomb is much more peaceful than the Taj due to there being fewer people, although it doesn't quite have the same magic the Taj has, probably due to the marble the Taj Mahal is made from.

India GateShri Lakshmi Narayan Temple in DelhiFrom here, we went to India Gate, it may look just like the Arc de Triomphe or Marble Arch, but the thing is huge. As it's at the end of the Raj path, it needs to be big to be clearly visible from the President's estate and government buildings!

New Delhi (as opposed to Old Delhi) is a planned city, built symmetrically about the Raj Path.

At the suggestion of our driver, we went to the Shri Lakshna Narayan Temple, this was very beautiful, with Swastikas everywhere (the Swastika was appropriated by the Nazis, but is actually a much older symbol ). It's not possible to take photos inside the temple without causing offence and being ejected, so all I have to show you, dear reader, is a shot taken from the road outside.

The place is phenomenal, shrines to various Hindu Deities, enscriptions on the walls, and so forth.

As we left, a rather persistant chap tried to sell us all kinds of stuff. He simply wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, following us down the street and through the underpass (the car was waiting on the far side). He was really very annoying, and started to make me quite angry. His prices dropped phenomenally, he was soon asking for a third of his original price, effectively saying 'I just tried to rip you off massively'. I don't like that - if he had asked for the real price in the first place, he may have got a sale, but harrassing us like that made me want to hit him!

In the temple itself we bought a couple of items, I got a pencil tidy for my desk at work, and Monica got some earrings.

We finished the day by visiting the Cottage Industries Emporium. This was the usual sort of affair, textiles, jewellery and so forth.

I got a light scarf which should be good for the winter (50% silk, 50% pashmina) - though it was hard to find one that wasn't too over the top for my male European tastes. The colour isn't ideal, but it's not bad at all - it cost only 350Rs (about 4 quid). We looked at a few other bits and pieces, Monica spent some time looking at some handpainted pictures, but didn't buy any.

We went back to the hotel, eating at the Hotel Ajanta. To start, we each had Masala Papad (popadoms topped with spicy vegetables). Monica had a spicy soup and chow mein, I had seekh kebab with paneer parantha. We had a desert too. The whole lot, including a tip for the waiter and three bottles of water was 350Rs!

A note about water in India, be sure to check the seals of bottles when you buy - and don't buy bottles that look a bit battered. Also, when you're finished, crush the bottle. There is a mini-industry of people who collect old waterbottles and fill them from a tap of dubious quality.

Traffic in DelhiThe next day we would take a car to the airport and fly back to the UK. I took my chadoor on the flight, as it packed quite small, suitable for hand luggage, and would both be a nice blanket if I wanted to sleep, as well as being warm when I got off the plane in January in the UK.

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!