Delhi airport has changed for the better since Stefan’s previous visit and we emerged from the plane into large, quiet, open spaces strangely devoid of people. Then we turned a corner and came face to face with a huge two hour immigration queue. We didn’t dare believe that India was going to let us in hassle-free, but after multiple visa and passport checks we were in!
Once allowed to enter the country, we headed straight for a dosa before jumping in a taxi for central Delhi. Our hotel was situated on an incredibly busy, noisy narrow street in Paharganj. Weaving our way between tuktuks, rickshaws, taxis, cows and street vendors we were constantly harassed – with Stefan’s beard grabbing a fair amount of attention.
We had only a week to explore the “golden triangle” of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, which we were planning to do by train… the booking of which is a ridiculous hassle. Two hours of waiting in the “foreigners” booking office of New Delhi train station, and after filling in various forms, we discovered half the trains we were after were fully booked.
A travel agency had been recommended to us, and after haggling them down (half the original quote) we walked away with a good package – including a car and driver and accommodation for the next 5 nights. It worked out only a little bit more expensive than doing it ourselves, but would save us a huge amount of time, and no doubt our sanity. Also we would have the freedom to see so much more – including going further into Rajasthan to Udaipur.
After spending the day exploring New Delhi, we had dinner that night with our friend Raju, who we’d both worked with 5 years ago in Reading. The mexican restaurant we were recommended was a bit bizarre – huge Indian guys wearing fake moustaches and stetsons, nonetheless it was great to see Raju.
A Delhi city tour had been thrown in for free by the travel agent so we were picked up early Saturday morning. This caused a huge argument between us and the hotel owners, who were angry that we didn’t book our trip through them and turned really pushy. Who knows what interrogation they had subjected poor Mr Singh (our driver) to.
I had felt that having a driver was ‘cheating’ in a way, half of the fun of travelling being in the travel itself, but it was actually incredibly refreshing! Delhi is huge, noisy, and dirty, with everything very spread out. Mr Singh battled through the traffic to show us 6 major sights in the luxury of quiet comfort.
Most places of interest are in Old Delhi, and firstly was Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Big enough to accommodate 25,000 worshippers it was fairly quiet in the morning sun. Being modestly dressed in jeans and a loose long-sleeved top – no different to some of the Indian girls visiting – I was really annoyed at being picked out and forced to pay to “cover up” in what was basically a curtain. I soon forgot this as we sat and watched worshipers, sellers and the odd tourist come and go.
The largest of Delhi’s monuments is the Red Fort, Lal Qila. The complex contains palaces, halls of audience, private apartments and a mosque. The scale was impressive but much was closed for restoration and surveys. Also, it seemed to be National School Trip day and thus hundreds of children were asking for photos, covertly snapping us on their mobiles and trying to shake our hand. Quite sweet really and the place was big enough that there were plenty of quiet corners to escape to. There was some really beautiful architecture here, a mix of Islamic and Hindu.
Next up was Raj Ghat, where Gandhi was cremated following his assassination in 1948, and also overrun by school groups; followed by India Gate and Rajpath – Delhi’s equivalent to Marble Arch and Whitehall.
After lunch we drove south and visited the most impressive spot of the day, Humayun’s Tomb. Conveniently we’d timed this with the school trips’ lunch break, so whilst they picnicked outside we could enjoy the mausoleums and gardens here mostly in peace.
Last stop of the day was the modern Baha’i Temple, shaped like a lotus flower and often compared visually to the Sydney Opera House. This place was crazy, a huge surge of Indian tourists pressing to get into the complex. Although we didn’t get up close, it looked stunning in the late afternoon glow.
I think we did Delhi justice!