India: Delhi

After Goa, we spent a day in Delhi.

Compared to Mumbai, we felt far more in place. This is more of a tourist city – Mumbai, as the Indian finance capital, is far more used to travellers on business, rather than leisure. Delhi has more money; many Indians re-locate there for the improved quality of life – the average salary in Delhi is twice that of Mumbai.

This does not mean that it is any easier to cross the street. Or, walk around. We taxi’d again. Honestly, I’m a little disgusted with myself in retrospect, but in practice – it seemed like the only way.

Our hotel was lovely, again. We were anointed when we came in; I am really going to miss people bowing to me.

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As we only had a short time in the city, we hired a driver for a half-day and asked him to take us to the places that our guide book recommended. It worked, but was a little odd – our taxi driver kind of took over. We didn’t really mind, as it was hassle-free on our part, but it wasn’t always such a great feeling. For instance – he took us to shops, and to a restaurant for lunch. He knew the proprietors each time, and kept actually bringing us back to shops even after we’d said that we’d shopped enough; we had to tell him a few times that we were actually done. I imagine that he gets a commission for bringing people there. It was a perfectly lovely day, but it was odd how little we felt in control of it. Generic tourists.

Red Fort

First stop: Red Fort. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the centre of Delhi, a palatial structure surrounded by a massive fort, all made of red sandstone. It was built in the mid 1600s, and served as home for the ruling Mughal dynasty over the next 200 years. It’s a deeply impressive sight.

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My favourite part was the Diwan-i-Am – the general assembly room where the Mughal emperors would invite people to come and air their grievances. It’s a long, un-walled structure lined with columns, supporting beautifully cut-out arches which curve and whorl throughout the whole room’s expanse. It’s surrounded by a garden, with gnarled trees and stretches of grass. It feels open. And light.

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In order to get to the Red Fort, we had to leave our taxi and embark on a rickshaw, as the roads leading up to the Fort were too narrow and crowded.

It was like an embellished bicycle, with a slanted piece of plastic at the back where the passengers sit. The driver pedals you along, amidst the rest of the traffic. It was a fraught ten minutes, mostly comprising of a) hoping that I don’t die, b) using my core muscles to keep upright on the slanted bar, and c) wishing that I weighed less. Like, this guy was not big. And I’m not a tiny person – I felt so bad for that extra pancake this morning.

View from our ride:

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Shopping

It would be terribly wrong to visit another culture, and not engage with the local economy. We went shopping. I bought two more scarves, lusted after about ten more and my mother bought a table. Which we then had to take to Agra and back. To be fair, it’s a beautiful table.

The fabric was what really got to me though. The colours were just stunning; I could have lingered forever. Except for the browsing thing – Indians don’t really do browsing. Or, let foreigners do it. Everything I even glanced at, it was treated as though I’d made a deeply serious financial offer. Talk about that hard sell…

But so worth it. For the colours alone.

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Market, Mosque, Central Secretariate

Now came the part of the tour where we had no control over. Our driver took over in a big way, and drove us places that he thought would interest us. I suppose it was nice, but felt a little piqued over the lack of control.

We went to a mosque, the presidential buildings and drove through a bazaar.

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Lodhi Gardens

Finally, we went to a place that we’d actually requested that we visit. We had to request quite hard, as it happens – but hey sometimes, you’ve just got to take control.

Lodhi Gardens is a bit of a haven; it’s a 90-acre wide city park in the centre of Delhi. It houses tomb of Skhander Lodhi, second ruler of the Lodi dynasty. It’s a lovely area to spend an afternoon, and seemed a popular hangout for a Saturday afternoon.

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We were only spending a little time in Delhi because we had an evening train to Agra – home of the Taj Mahal. Getting train tickets was difficult. After trying to book via the website, filling in a dozen forms and waiting for email confirmations that never came, I finally gave up and asked my Indian friend Sunil to get the tickets. He’s lovely, and he sorted them all out for us. Interestingly, we met a European couple on the train who’d done the exact same thing – struggled with the online booking system, then got a friend to help. Apparently the Indian train system is so over-subscribed that they don’t bother with international visitors – they have enough custom with locals. Which of course, means that we didn’t see many other tourists like us. Which of course, meant that we were besieged with offers to carry our bags (for a substantial tip). This is the part I didn’t like about being in India. Feeling like there was a sign tagged to my head, saying ‘please, take advantage of me’; being constantly stared at, asked for selfies, having tourist crap thrust in front of your face, requests for money. It’s aggressive, and uncomfortable – and I get why they do it, I really do – but throughout this holiday it’s been the blemish on an otherwise blissful experience.

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