Delhi. In our original plan, Delhi was going to be our first stop, but everyone we spoke to said that was a bad idea. They said we should get into the swing of travelling before taking on Delhi due to how busy and alien it would be. We had been a bit nervous about arriving, mostly due to horror stories we had heard and read. We collected our bags from the carousel, passed security… deep breath…
…and it wasn’t bad at all. Admittedly it was the domestic terminal of Delhi airport not the international one with the frightening reputation but we are quite good at getting rid of taxi touts now. Also we had arranged a pickup through the hotel, and he was actually there – phew.
On the drive into the city we got our first glimpse of what Delhi had in store for us. At each set of traffic lights there would be beggars approaching the van or people trying to sell things (mostly books, but also a random assortment of things like model aircraft). At one such junction a little girl who looked about 10 climbed onto the side of the van and tapped on the window repeatedly whilst signalling she wanted food or money. Her clothes were covered in filth and you could see the dirt built up on her face, she clearly lived under the tarpaulins at the roadside. This sort of thing happened to us all over Delhi, but we have kept the attitude that giving them anything just makes them target tourists even more, which eventually starts putting tourists off from coming, which in turn means that the tourist money flow dries up. The best way to help is to spend money here.
Once at the hotel (which was quite nice) we had a quick look around, it was dark by then so we didn’t get far. It was a bit chillier than we had expected and there was a thick low level mist everywhere. We soon realised that the mist wasn’t mist at all, it’s pollution. The dry air mixed with the emissions from all the cars and fires makes for a thick dry air that hangs in your mouth and nose. The locals had lit fires to keep warm and the burning of rubbish is fairly routine too, but the sheer volume of rubbish everywhere makes the scene by the side of any British railway line look like a pristine wilderness.
For dinner we had one of the best curries yet and certainly the best paneer masala we’ve had. We have been eating nearly exclusively vegetarian food to try and avoid Delhi belly. So far so good.
The next morning we got up late and after breakfast had another wander around. We got pretty lost, but it didn’t seem to matter. You see people’s lives playing out on every street here, from barbers giving haircuts with rusty scissors to cyclo drivers napping on their cyclos. We even saw a group of about 20 men walking and chanting animatedly as they carried a stretcher with a dead body under a green sheet. Crossing the road here is easy compared to Hanoi, and the drivers mostly stay off the pavement (unlike Hanoi). We had been thinking it could be as bad as Hanoi for getting around, but on foot, Delhi is miles easier, though the scale can make navigation an issue.
Soon we decided to hop in a Tuk Tuk to head towards Humayun’s Tomb. The fun really starts when trying to get a Tuk Tuk. They quote silly prices and sometimes won’t budge from them. We had to walk away from several before getting one at a reasonable cost. The traffic is really congested and slow moving in places as cows compete for space between lorries and bikes.
When we made it to Humayun’s Tomb we were impressed to find what is often described as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal – though it is red and a bit smaller than the Taj.
Next up we Tuk Tuk’d to the Lotus Temple. Thus time all the drivers would agree a fair price and then say “Ok, we go to my friend shop, then Lotus Temple. You no like, you no buy from shop”. Yeah right. We did get to the Lotus Temple in the end, without the forced shopping experience.
As it was a Sunday the queue for the temple was around 500m long, so we didn’t actually go in. Instead we had a look around the park next door and took photos through the fence. It’s a Bahaist temple, which means all religions are welcome. We were asking for trouble turning up on a Sunday then. The park was way more entertaining, with kids playing cricket everywhere and people coming up to us and asking to have photos taken with us. We must have looked funny.
Next up we headed north towards Old Delhi on the Metro. It’s very new and clean. It has some rules than London Underground could do with, like the advertised 4 year prison sentence for obstructing the closing doors.
Before long we had arrived in the heart of old Delhi. It was extremely dusty and dry with loads of people going about their days. We were looking for the Red Fort but somehow came to the Jama Masjid first and had a good look around. Katy had to wear a comedy gown because her conservative clothing wasn’t quite conservative enough. It was a spectacular mosque, the biggest in India.
We fought our way through the heaving market, dodging donkeys, goats and traders carrying stuff on their heads. On the other side we came to the famous Fort. The entrance was the most impressive bit with its vast fortified red walls. Inside was a host of smaller buildings and museums or varying degrees of interest. We liked just watching some of the many chipmunks bouncing around.
After the Fort we were heading towards the Metro and agreed we were a bit hungry. The street food looked about as hygienic as sewage (the grime having built up all over the cooking areas) when we bumped into an old friend. Ronald McDonald. We had heard that Indian McDonalds is different yet similar, so we have it a go with a Chicken Maharaja burger (the Big Mac substitute – no beef here) and a Spicy Paneer Wrap (Paneer is cheese which often pops up, a little like Haloumi without the squeakiness). Despite the different ingredients, it all tasted like McDonalds. But a little bit Indian. It was strange feeling like we recognised it.
Later on we drank more masala tea in a rooftop cafe before Skyping home.
Again we woke up late (Delhi was tiring) and found that the new Biffy Clyro album had been released so we set iTunes to work. No wonder HMV is in trouble when you don’t have to leave your hotel room to get the music you like.
After lunching on the main bazaar we headed south to Minar Qutab, the world’s tallest brick minaret. It was nicely set in gardens filled with other ruins, but we barely had a moment to ourselves as so many people wanted photos with us. Lots of comments about our sunglasses and even more about Jason’s beard. People always say he looks like he should live in Rajastan. We spent the rest of the day exploring on foot, through several parks.
We had a 6am train booked to take us to Agra and we opted to walk the 10 mins to the station from the hotel leaving loads of time. The ‘mist’ was thicker than ever as we picked our way past the potholes and sleeping people along the quiet streets. In the station there was the usual airport style scanners. The Indians are seriously concerned about terrorism, all tourist sites, all metro stations and train stations have these scanners. Though nearly every time they beep and you get waved through anyway. As we approached the scanner someone asked to see our tickets. He then advised us that they needed validating at an office upstairs. “That’s bullshit” was Jason’s immediate reply (we could both smell a scam) and the scammer walked away. We assume it was a scam because our tickets worked just fine.
Delhi was a city of huge contrast from the outset. We would see beggars and street kids outside brand new office blocks, or open sewers next to sparkling new metro stations. On the roads Carts pulled by oxen jostle for position with the brand new AC public busses. The poverty is more obvious here than almost anywhere we’ve seen so far, but the biggest surprise of all was just how much we had enjoyed Delhi.