Friday, 3 December 2010

Doing it on our own - Delhi

Dude Where's My Car...?

After searching the long line of pick-up drivers we found our man and it was off to the Master Guesthouse without a hitch, or so we thought. There was however, a small problem; the driver had lost his car in the airport car park. Luckily for all of us we went down a floor and the car was soon found. We were out of the airport and into the real world. As we weaved calmly through the traffic it was nice to look out the window and watch this new world go by. Not too many animals on the road just yet, but quite a few auto-rickshaws and plenty of traffic. As we were driven into suburbia we were soon at our hotel/guesthouse where we'd stay for the next two nights. On arrival we had our bags taken from us and headed upstairs for our check-in and introduction to Delhi from the hotel owners, Ushi and Nishi who lived on the ground floor of the building. We had some tea, coffee and cookies, a local map and some tips for what to do as well as a briefing on Delhi's metro and on how much to pay the rickshaw drivers (easier said than done when you don't have much in the way of small notes!). We had a nice room at the top of the building that opened out on to the terrace, it was fairly quiet and incredibly relaxed. The room was nice and homely and we felt like we were off to a good start. We took a short rest and unpacked before heading out to acclimatise in our new surroundings to the famous heart of New Delhi, Connaught Place.

I enjoy almost all journeys of any kind, my first ride on the rickshaw from the hotel to the metro station was interesting and surreal, watching the driver navigate through the traffic and around the pot holes in the road. Even for fans of trains great and small Delhi Metro is certainly an acquired taste. For short term tourists it's pretty straight forward, you buy a chip and the further you go the more you pay with an approximate 2INR increase for each station. Despite being mid afternoon it felt like rush hour. The stations have big long platforms but the trains, new and shiny as they are, only seem to take up about half the platform length and as a result they are very busy as people push their way on and off as if their lives depended on it.

As soon as we had left the station the touts were after us, the government shopping complex must have been paying a good commission as every other person we bumped into were desperate to take us there. We walked into the park in the centre of Connaught Place which seemed newly refreshed (but poorly finished) and we got a little flashback from Amsterdam as it was full of men holding hands, which in India means just close friends unlike many other places in the world. The park was not particularly memorable apart from using the same style of signs as the London parks and an incredibly drab water feature... As dusk was upon us we made a quick visit to the tourist office to pick up a free city map and despite the kind man's offer to completely rebook our entire two week itinerary we were pushing our way onto the metro, fighting with the rickshaw drivers and back at the hotel for dinner before we knew it.

After a light dinner of Indian-style scrambled eggs it was off to bed for an early night in preparation for our first day of proper sightseeing. Before continuing with our time in Delhi it is time for a note on the lovely beds I experienced during the trip. In all but one of the hotels and guesthouses we stayed in, the beds were rock hard and I woke up with back ache at best after a night's sleep and at worst after a couple of hours. To this day I do not understand the fascination with such uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. Perhaps I am just getting old.

There's nothing like curry to start the day, so to build my energy for sightseeing I started as I meant to go on with an Indian style breakfast of potato curry, bread and pickles washed down with plenty of coffee. I really enjoyed the food I ate at Master Guesthouse as it was always fresh and reminded me of the Indian food I liked to cook myself. So after another encounter with the oh so friendly rickshaw drivers who were trying to charge us five times the correct fare we were back at Karol Bagh metro station for the push and shove match of the Delhi Metro and we were off towards Old Delhi with its markets, the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. Other than a few calls from the rickshaw drivers and the crazy traffic it was quite calm walking from the station towards Jama Masjid, there were many food stalls along our way just setting up for the day, good job I'd eaten well this morning. We arrived at the mosque only to find out we'd arrived during prayer so we pressed on through the market area and a grotty subway towards the Red Fort where we were greeted by the postcard and guidebook sellers who were swiftly avoided.

Once through the ticket gates and security you walk through a small shopping bazaar and then in to the fort. We picked up a guide who showed us round and told us what the different parts of the fort were and explained the Hindu, Muslim and Christian aspects of the architecture as well as what the British left behind. The main reason for mixing everything was to reassure those that came to visit as they would see something familiar and feel at ease and that they would receive fair treatment. The guide was good and it helped us appreciate Agra a lot more without needing a guide to show us round the tourist sites there.

After the Red Fort we headed back towards Jama Masjid and off to lunch at Delhi's famous restaurant/institution Karim's. The restaurant is actually more like a courtyard with kitchens and seating areas in the surrounding buildings. We soon got a table and sat down to eat. I'm glad we visited and the food was good value though underwhelming (kebab and spinach curry, rice, bread etc.). Maybe we chose the wrong things as many other people seemed to be enjoying themselves. After Karim's we briefly visited Jama Masjid before prayer started up again and then headed out for a meandering walk around Old Delhi's streets. This was one of my best memories from Delhi, walking around watching people caught up in the excitement of buying and selling, the smell of the street food and the complete absence of hassle. Unfortunately looking for the Metro you see the other side of Old Delhi, the poor sleeping and begging in the street, the smell of urine and animals grazing along the road whilst everyone else is swerving round them. After asking around we made it with a huge amount of pushing and shoving on to the metro and back to the hotel, exhausted and just about in one piece. London will always seem a walk in the park after this. Back at Master Guesthouse we had a lovely home cooked dinner and a good night's sleep.

Our final day in Delhi was a damp and frustrating one. Our train to Agra didn't depart till late afternoon so we decided to visit what looked like a local temple. In reality it was more than a half hour's walk away along a main road. Not the best time for a heavy rain shower. Arriving at the temple soaked through we stood there bedraggled and took the first auto rickshaw back, somehow price was not important at this point. Luckily we dried out and it was time to bid farewell to the nice people at Master Guesthouse and get the train from Hazrat Nizamuddin to Agra.

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