Sunday, 18 November 2012

Golden Triangle Part 1 : New Delhi

I composed the first bit of this blog from the back of the car en route to Jaipur from Delhi.  The car that I had pre-arranged for our trip was a nice old Ambassador (I’m a sucker for punishment) but unfortunately we were instead given a crappy Tata car of non-descript character.  Apparently, due to it being Diwali last week, there was a shortage of cars and drivers but no-one bothered to tell us that until we arrived.  Oh well, at least we were more likely to get from Delhi to Jaipur and on to Agra without breaking down and at least we were guaranteed Air Conditioning.  Although our driver seemed to prefer the window down method of AC, forcing dust and pollution into our throats and lungs as we flew along the highway to Jaipur.

Traffic and rickshaw mayhem - Chandni Chowk Bazaar, New Delhi
Well Delhi was very interesting and not at all what I was expecting.  It seemed to be much more spread out, much greener and a hell of a lot cleaner than Mumbai. But I am not sure if that was just on the tourist trail.  There were also a lot more tourists than I have seen in Mumbai, most of them overweight Americans and Germans pounding the same trail on organised tours in their giant coaches.

Illuminated ice cream cart at dusk (India Gate, New Delhi)
Our hotel, Shanti Home (highly recommended), was a bit further out of the city then I reckoned upon but it was so nice and so friendly that we didn’t mind. La Visitante was especially enthralled with the fresh fruits available at breakfast.  I stuck to my customary cheese and tomato omelettes. So much better for keeping things ‘bound together’.

Interesting wall on the rooftop restaurant of Shanti Home
Arriving quite late on Friday, we checked into the hotel and then asked our driver to take us to the centre of Delhi so that we could do a quick recce and grab something to eat.  On the way into town we got out of the car to quickly look at India Gate (slightly more impressive than the Gateway to India in Mumbai) and then we went on to Connaught Place in the centre in order to search for something to eat.  We were looking for a Rajdhani, an outpost of the excellent Gujurati restaurant that I had been to in Mumbai (spotted in the Lonely Planet guide) but after about 30 minutes of walking we gave up and went into a local looking restaurant called Saravan Bhawan. Turns out Rajdhani was closed down and we had been needlessly walking around the eternally circular Connaught Place for nothing. We ordered Thalis for about 160 Rs each (£2) and noticed that more and more foreigners were walking in (clearly I consider myself an Indian local by now).  I consulted our Lonely Planet guide and it turned out that Sarvan Bhawan was actually the ‘Top Choice’ eating place in Delhi.  Indeed, the food was authentic and cheap, but I would have preferred to have eaten with few other tourists.  The scourge of the Lonely Planet Guide was something that would become a recurring theme on our trip.

India Gate, New Delhi - 42 metres tall
Going back to the hotel that night was a bit of a mare.  Friday night before Diwali and in a disaster movie-esque way it felt like a volcano was about to erupt and the city was being evacuated.  Everyone, and I mean everyone was in their cars, travelling out of Delhi to get to their loved ones. The traffic inched along at a snail’s pace - worse than any Christmas Eve traffic than I had seen in the UK.  A forty minute journey took about two and a half hours.  Needless to say we went straight to bed when we got back to the hotel. 

The next day we were up early to start our proper tour of Delhi.  The driver was wearing a jumper in the early morning cold – cold to him but it was the perfect temperature for us Brits.

We spent most of the day going from one site to the next.  I have to say that Delhi’s monuments and historic buildings are quite spectacular, making me realise that Mumbai is very much lacking in this respect.  We visited the Red Fort, we battled the crowd at Chandni Chowk, the local bazaar and we also visited Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Here, we had to take our shoes off (as could be expected) but then we were also made to wear ridiculous and brightly coloured burkas to hide our feminine forms.  I was most put out as I was covered from neck to toe quite adequately in my mind but apparently my leggings were deemed far too risqué.  For goodness sake!

Solitary prayer at Jama Masjid 
Tourists wearing ridiculous cover-ups whilst inside Jama Masjid, Delhi
After that we went on to see Humayun’s Tomb (the inspiration for the 'Taj Mahal’ and Unesco World Heritage Site) and then the driver took us to Raj Ghat to visit the grave of Gandhi but this was slightly marred by the hordes of uniformed schoolchildren everywhere. By this time, we were rather fed up of sightseeing and bumping into the same groups of coached-in foreign tourists over and over again, so decided to go and get a cup of ‘proper’ tea.  For this we chose the Imperial Hotel which we had looked up in the Lonely Planet guide as a good place to have High Tea. Little did we realise that this was probably the best hotel in Delhi. The inside of this place is a staggeringly elegant combination of Art Deco and Victorian colonial design – and even has a Chanel shop.  We had our afternoon tea in The Atrium and it was ‘simply delightful’ although we ended up spending more there than we had the last 24 hours.  But it was worth it.

Humayun's Tomb New Delhi - reflected in its own pond
Well deserved (and half-eaten) High Tea at The Imperial New Delhi
Exhausted after a day’s sightseeing activities we went back to the hotel.  Thankfully the traffic was a little better this time.  We had gin and tonics on the lovely rooftop terrace and I managed to fit in a succulent chicken kebab for dinner - despite our massive high tea.

Tomorrow we drive to Jaipur – but en-route we will visit The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in Amber (hoping there will be a heavily discounted factory outlet shop there!) as well as the Amber Fort.

La Visitante at Humayun's Tomb
Contemplation in amongst the tourists at Jama Masjid, New Delhi
The Woman in Orange - Humayun's Tomb
Gorgeous old Jaguar outside The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi

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