Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dashing around Delhi!

Nov 4th. Finally arrived back in Delhi, via a plane, two tuktuks and several local buses... This time decided to stay in Connaught Place, yet another area of Delhi, meant to be a bit more upmarket... well, that's debatable. Found the worlds smallest hotel room (ahem, ok so hotel is a little grand descriptor but hey!)..anyway dumped my bags (my big pack is officially the lightest it has ever been, weighing in at just 11kg -yeehah!!!) and went out to check out my new surroundings!

Oh did I mention that my tuktuk driver,Vijay, asked to take me for chai, and as he seemed like a non-serial killer type, i said "sure why not". We made a chai date for 6pm, but would you know it, the wee toad didnt turn up - i was devasted! Ahhh.... not! No biggie at all but was quite interested in his life; had a "love" rather than arranged marriage, looks after his 3 yr old daughter alone as his wife left him for another man (scandalous here in India!), he will never marry again, no time for love, doesnt believe in it ...i got all that in a 5 minute drive so can you imagine how much more there would have been to find out over chai! Oh well!

Pottered around the local market across the street, had some late lunch then met yet another character! This time, it was Ahmed, a travel agent who tried to tell me all about his great tours; oh yes and his love life too! Hmmn, I do seem to attract this type of forlorn lost soul for some reason.. this time he told me about his love for a Dutch woman; they were soul mates but then he was a bad boy (and kissed someone else - shock and horror!) and now he is desolate in case she is going to leave him (she hasn't decided yet, but you cant really call it "leaving" considering she lives in Holland and he is based here in Delhi!). Anyway, he was a funny, if tragic soul, but I managed to extricate myself after 2 cups of chai and lots of "I'm sure it will all work out in the end" advice!!! Phew Indian men.. do love to chat!

Nov 5th. Headed out to explore today. Took the Metro (which is fantastic; so modern and super clean too!) to the Red Fort, one of Delhi's amazing sights. Sorry to sound like a bore, but i met yet another man (you realise you only meet men here cos there are no women on the streets!) but he was very sweet and walked me all the way to the Metro in case i got lost (as if that could ever happen to me; ok ok it happens most days, but this guy didn't know that!).

Lal Qila, in English, the Red Fort, is a very impressive looking building; Old Delhi's largest monument. Thick red sandstone walls, turrets, lush green gardens, and so many buildings within the Fort Complex itself. From the Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am) to the Palace of Colour (Rang Mahal), it was all quite beautiful. Incredible to think how ornate and bejewelled this would have been back in the 1640's when it was first built, and also about the affect the British had on this place; such a pity as many parts were sacked during the Raj years, and have lost much of their beauty. But still an amazing place. As I sat people watching at one point, saw these lovely girls, all dressed in yellow so asked very politely for a pic.. aren't they gorgeous! Also enjoyed seeing an impromptu game of cricket on the way back to the Metro. These people LOVE their cricket!

Came back to Connaught Place with the greatest of intentions of visiting both Indira Ghandi and Mahatma Ghandi's museums, to try and educate myself a bit more about this great country and its history.. but lo and behold, it was a big festival for the founder of the Sikh religion (i think, not positive!) so everything was closed! Bummer! Best i could do was get a pic of this statue of Ghandi in his traditional "peace walk" stance, oh well!

So back again to Connaught Place, and who do I bump into but my little man who took me to the Metro! Asked if i would have coffee with him as business was so slow due to the festival. Why not, I had time to kill! Two coffees later, and as the conversation began to get a bit weird (he isn't too thrilled about how Indian women are becoming too westernized and thinking for themselves and daring to go for coffee with men who are not their husbands - ahem i had to remind him, that was exactly what we were doing!!)... So as my feminist instincts kicked in, I decided it was time to go! Packed my bags, jumped on the fabulous Metro again to yet another area of Delhi, Karol Bagh, where I would be meeting my group for my trip...

Wasn't sure what to expect to be honest! Especially as, after two weeks in India, i realised it was so safe and easy to travel around, that my fears were unfounded about being nervous being here on my own, and in fact, would have been just fine. BUT after meeting my fab roomie, Liv from Melbourne, and the rest of the "India Unplugged" gang, I thought, hey, nothing wrong with taking it a little easier right!

So to the gang. Gorgeous couple, Ewan and Lindsay, English and Canadian respectively (with quite the Scottish twang having lived in Edinburgh for years, right Lindsay!), the dynamic duo of Mirian and Ricardo from Argentina, Colin (English), and then the girl power gang of Helen, Ingrid, Mariska, Angela and Alison (England, Norway, Holland and Australia represented there!). And then there was Mahendra, our tour guide from Agra (home of the world famous Taj Mahal that I was so excited to see!). Lovely man and so proud of his after a great dinner and some group bonding, tomorrow would start the tour! Yah!

Nov 6th. Off we went today on the beginning of our adventures, as we traveled by local (aka totally rickety about to fall apart), bus to Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad, to give this area of the city its correct title. Checked the outside of the Red Fort (it's a Monday and all public buildings are closed today - hence I went yesterday!).

Then after a quick look at the Dijambara Jain temple, we headed up to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.
This building looks so huge as you walk up to it, but once inside, it seems even bigger. Designed by Shah Jahan (same guy who built the Taj Mahal!), this beautiful and calm oasis from Delhi's madness, is just amazing. The marble domes, the huge prayer hall where more than 25,000 worshippers come every Friday, the reflection pools; I loved it all. So quiet and peaceful; felt quite spiritual I have to say!

So after this, we sauntered down the busy streets to the Sikh temple. And so different yet again. Lots of coloured Christmas-type decorations hanging from the ceiling, three or four senior looking elders singing very passionately (and very loudly) into microphones set up on a wee stage, lots of pilgrims popping in to say some prayers. As we toured the temple, we got to learn a little about this religion. Sikhs welcome everyone here, and provide free food to 20-30,000 people every day (or is it every week - oops!).
They are very proud of this aspect of their religion, and we saw people busily making meals (they have separate vegetarian and non-veg kitchens), chapatis and a ghee-based product that looks a bit like fudge (but isnt!). We were lucky enough to meet one of the Sikh warriors who stays at the temple when he is not required or called up, to "fight" for any particular Sikh cause! Quite the character and spent a few moments before this shot making sure he looked just dapper enough!!!

As we joined the crowds, walking along the bazaars of the Old City, you couldn't help but take in the craziness around us; the noise and smells of the crowded narrow streets and alleys; the throng of people everywhere and then the traffic; so much traffic, you had to take a deep breath and just go for it and cross that road! Reminded me a bit of Ho Chi Minh City actually with regards to that! So we all met up later that evening to get taxis to the train station, as we were off on the overnight train to the golden city of Jaisalmer!


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