me beside the India Gate
After a mad week of eating extensive amounts of haagen daazs and thai food in london, and a spot of partying and catching up with relatives - i returned slightly apprehensively but still with a large dose of anticipation to the depths of India. This time to the capital - Delhi - to which it was actually my third visit on a plane - but the first time I had got any further than the airport!
The usual hassle of entering India greeted me with taxi drivers, touts and nosy men each asking me where im from, where im going, and then adding some sort of request which usually involves them making money. I stood my ground and waited for the bus to Connaught Place - the centre of Delhi with all the western style shops and restaurants.
This all went reasonably smoothly - and at Connaught place I aquired a much cheaper auto-rickshaw to take me to the hotel in the Karol Bagh
district abou8t 4 kms away. As can be expected - although I told him the name of the hotel and the district - the rickshaw driver stops about 5 times in Connaught place asking people where this is. This is usual practice in India - take on the job and figure out how to complete it later. its even more amazing that they quote and haggle prices with ouy - even tho they dont actually know where they have to take you! so we asked some ppl and they weren't really sure - one guy tried to get me into his tourist office (read: scam centre in India) and I skillfully dodged this probable annoyance to get the driver to just go to Karol Bagh and ask ppl there.
He was a classic old muslim man complete with long grey pointy beard, muslim dress and lack of english language. But he insisted on communication through constantly asking if i had "baby". I kept saying no but he kept pointing at my stomach and saying "no baby?". im not sure how to interpret this. perhaps all that haagen daazs has given me a bit of an overhang? or maybe he was just mad. He apparently had 4 babies and one that died and a wife. In india - life revolves around your marriage, your education and job status, and the number of children (esp. boys) you have. these are their main concerns.
having asked about 10 people in Karol Bagh and gone round and round and round again - we found the hotel and the man got his 50 rupees (note: 80 rupees is a pound for future reference!).
The hotel was nice and i was greeted with filtered water and the news that my intrepid room mate was already in our room and she was Patricia from Australia. I managed to wake Patricia up on my arrival - she had flown in from London on an earlier flight was was clearly exhausted. We had a chat and she seemed very nice. I later found she is from Brisbane I think, and is a lawyer and was working in the British government as a government lawyer for a year - and is going back to Aus for a couple weeks then to Uraguay - where her parents were from - to meet her family for Christmas. All very good.
I wandered around trying to get Malarone - the most expensive but least side effected anti-malarial. This was a palaver! I went to a hospital I had seen on my rickshaw ride - and was told I needed a prescription.
I went into the grubby emergency room and the doctor handed me a prescription for 30. I went back to the hospital chemist who then said "oh good you have a prescription, but madam, we do not stock Malarone. You should walk up there and turn left and maybe you can get some". helpful... I asked in some chemists but they wanted the same price and england - working out at 100 pounds or more for the amount i needed to take for vietnam and laos and cambodia (countries where the cheap anti-malarials don't work thanks to the americans pumping up their soldiers with them during the war years and the mosquitos subsequent resistance). So I went to a more reliable chemist and decided to opt for the cheaper doxycycline and suffer the possible side-effects of photo-sensitivity, not being able to drink and so on.
They only came to about 3 pounds for my supply so worth it!
Then me and Patricia checked out the Karol Bagh area. It was surprisingly calm, as calm as it gets here anyway, and the area was full of westernised items and tacky mobile phone stalls. We ate at a little place which served up good cheap curry local style and I felt happy to be able to fill Patricia in on the Indian way of life and my experiences so far. It was nice to know what was going on this time around! We ambled around and had a nap before we met the group at 6. The group was very different to my last intrepid tour. There was a married couple from England, who were in their late twenties or early thirties I guess, and then two older ladies from New Zealand travelling together, who i later found must be around 60, but they didnt look it!, and then the rest were again late twenties or thirties, so a bit more mature than the last lot! The vibe was more relaxed and mature as well! Quite a nice change in a way to the mad beer guzzling irish people and uni students before.
There was also Hans, a German guy who must be above 60 but very active and interesting. More on him in the next entry! Our leader was different too - before it was a swedish woman and now it was a local guide called Pradeep.
I went to bed the first night while the others went to dinner - needed my rest! The next day we met at 8.30am for sightseeing. We got a local bus up to the biggest mosque in India - the Jama Masjid. It was very peaceful inside - an open square with a pool and pigeons. Very nice. After this we walked down to the Sikh Temple - and we were all given orange scarves to cover our heads and a book on Sikhism. We went into the main hall - a carpeted room, not too big, with the holy book being sung in a mesmerising voice at the front and drums accomanying the sound.
It was a lovely sound, totally strange and foreign. It reminded me of the strange music blaring out at the Meenakshi temple and again I felt I was witnessing something so different and exciting. We wandered out into the back where the Sikh's have a kitchen to feed anyone who wants a meal. We saw all the cooking - pictures attached - and even had a go at rolling the chapatis and flipping them.
After the Sikh temple we got another local bus down to the spice market stalls. It was interesting to see all the colours and smell the spices. A good asian experience. We then got cycle rickshaws up to the tube station to go to Connought Place for some lunch.
The tube station amazed me.
We left the outside streets - the usual mess of mad wiring above and beggars, food stalls, rickshaws, small shops selling all sorts, and descended into a large marble hall, absolutely spotless, with glass escalators and plants and normality! who would have thought it! The tube in Delhi is far superior, albeit far newer, than the one in London. Mad. We were thoroughly searched and ouir bags investigated before going down onto the tube platform. Real measures against terrorism that London could take on. And the station was air conditioned and open and just thoroughly pleasent to be in. However, as in London, the tube was packed on arrival so we squeezed into the air-conditioned carriage for a few stops.
Connaught place didn't attract me at all.
Western shops selling Levis and skirts and vest tops for the modern indian woman in Delhi and tourists I suppose. This is one place where the usual asian conservatism of covering to below the knee and the upper arm is slowly being replaced with the western style, less conservative, clothing. We went into a nice and clean modern restaurant for lunch and had a yummy vegetable curry with a roti bread. After lunch the group split and me and my room mate went down to the modern art gallery. I was pleased with the visit, the artworks were really nice and all different stlyes of painting and drawing, some more traditional and some, like a geometric study of a head, very modern. All in all some interesting pieces and beautiful ones. We then wandered down to India gate, as the art gallery was set in the huge open park land next to it.
This also surprised me, such a massive open expanse in Delhi. And I had been told it was a dump, not at all.
We got a rickshaw up to the Chandri Chowk markets for our last few hours in Delhi (read: massive traffic jams between the new and the old side of the city, and the fumes coming from the old cars and bikes are really suffocating...). We found a side street that led into the narrow mazes of little shops that reminded me of the Medina in Marrakesch. The colours were fantastic, and finally we saw a reasonable supply of women, who I really barely see wandering the streets in India (I can only assume they are cooking and cleaning the house). To shop here for materials and accessories for cl;othes or a wedding must be fantastic.
So many sari sellers, jewellry makers, and each stretch had a different speciality. Soon we wandered amongst silver and gold suppliers, with jewellry, and then fruit and veg stalls, and finally books and house wares. Very exzciting stuff. Then we got the tube back to the hotel to jump into taxis to the old Delhi train station. This took over an hour to go really waht was a short distance. Delhi traffic is suffocatingly poisonous and absolutely tedious. The only low point of the city I found, surprsingly!
We left Delhi behind on the punctual Jaisalmer Express train - which we boarded at 5:45 and which would bring us to our destination 22 hours later.