First priority at the start of the day was to get ourselves some rupees. We made our way through the already warm morning to one of the nearby ATM machines. Delhi was already bustling with activity, although nowhere as crowded as some of the other Asian cities I've visited. That could however just be the neighbourhood we were in...
Kirsten had advised us to have breakfast at a different hotel, the one where we gathered for the journey's briefing.
The quite rusty non-rusting pole.
We arrived at the top floor of this hotel already hot and sweaty, but with plenty of cash. After a decent breakfast Kirsten had everybody introduce themselves and gave some practical instructions for the coming weeks. She also offered the possibility to do a tour of Delhi organized by the local agent of the travel agency. Not really feeling like figuring out everything by themselves on this first meeting with hot and sticky Delhi, 12 out of 16 people gladly accepted the offer.
'Garry', a Sikh working for the local travel agent, was our guide today. He took us to the nearest metro station where a bus would pick us up. After a long wait however, he was informed that the bus couldn't reach the meeting point because of traffic and we had to walk to where the bus was parked. Therefore it was already well past noon when the tour started. Simply driving to and fro the first sight would claim most of the afternoon. On the way Garry told us some things about Delhi, Sikhism and when asked if he could show us the dagger that every Sikh needs to carry (together with a turban and comb) he took out this funny tiny little dagger that probably couldn't hurt a fly.
Quwwat-al-Islam Masjid, India's first mosque at the base of Qutb Minar.
He also told us that his turban was made of a piece of cloth 7 meters long!
After about an hour we reached Quatab Minar, a 72,5 meter high red sandstone tower topped in marble that was build by Qutab-ub-din in 1199 as a symbol of Islamic victory over Delhi. Other buildings at this sight also dated back to India's first Islamic rulers and one of them, India's first mosque Quwwat-al-Islam Masjid was even build on the remains of 27 Hindu temples that were destroyed by the Moslems. A fourth century iron pillar that has 'mysteriously remained free of rust' looked rather brownish at certain spots for a corrosion-free piece of metal. Some of the building features intricate Arabic writing in the carvings on the wall and there was even a small tomb.
Beautiful carvings at Quatab Minar.
During our stay at this place of tranquillity (compared to Delhi's centre) we were treated to a few light and refreshing showers. We had lunch at the Yiz Mal restaurant and after Garry had created some confusion by offering ever changing choices the group eventually settled for a mixture on vegetarian dishes. And these were damn good! If I could have these at home without all of the necessary preparation I would become a veggie right away!
On our way back to Central Delhi we past several important (but less interesting) government buildings, like the president's house (Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the secretariat. We stopped at the end of the broad Rajpath (Kingsway) where official parades are held. Here the India Gate was located, a 42 meter-high stone memorial arch paying tribute to 90000 Indian army soldiers that died in WWI's fights with Afghanistan.
Mural carvings at Qutb Minar.
Time constraints made Jama Masjid in Old Delhi the last stop of the tour. This mosque is the largest in India and was build between 1644 and 1658 by Shah Jahan. Its big square can host 25.000 people and has lines indicating where people should position themselves. We entered through Gate 3 after taking of our shoes and marvelled at the size of the building. Unfortunately there wasn't time to go in one of the 40m high minarets that is supposed to offer a brilliant view over Old Delhi.
Although only a few kilometres, the drive back to the metro station's area took about 45 minutes in the rush hour traffic.
Tomb of Altamish at Qutb Minar.
Unlike New Delhi around , Old Delhi around this time corresponds with everything you would think Delhi to be: busy, hot, polluted and with a wide range of little mobile stands selling all kind of food along the way.
When we had almost reached the hotel, we ran into 'Bill' another Sikh to whom Judith had been introduced by Kirsten. Bill would arrange a SIM card and credits for her phone, enabling her to make local and international calls at (seemingly?) low costs. 'It will only take 10 minutes', he'd said but we would be back at the hotel only 15 minutes before gathering time for dinner. The amount of paperwork, proofs, passport copies etc took ages. Meanwhile a poor and disabled family kept tapping my back and pulling my pants. I felt for them but as always had decided to give a larger amount of money to a good cause after the journey instead of handing out small amounts to lots of beggars.
Tomb of Altamish at Qutb Minar.
Still, the persistence of these poor people made me even more uncomfortable in the already sticky 35 degrees Celsius. (When returning to Delhi at the end of our journey I frequently ran into this family again. The kids were wearing bloody bandages over different body parts every day and had been trained to look as pitiful as possible. Goes to show that thing’s aren’t always what they seem.)
For dinner the whole group joined Kirsten at the United Coffee House (a rather weird name for this fine restaurant). To get there we took the Delhi metro, for which we had seen major expansion works during the afternoon. This was a whole new experience in itself, not only do the Indian people seem to be oblivious to any kind of metro etiquette - people forcing themselves in and out once the doors open - we now also know how it feels to be squeezed in a tiny space like canned sardines.
Tomb of Altamish at Qutb Minar.
At a certain point a Sikh began scratching my back, which I eventually understood as a sign that he wanted to get out.
Dinner was another delicious veggie fest, not unlike the one we had for lunch and a good opportunity to have a laugh and get to know the group a bit better.
Since we had to get up at the next morning we didn't make it too late a night, but found the air-conditioning in the room broken. A hotel employee came to fix it which would 'take only 3 minutes'. Half an hour later he was still fiddling away ... Air-conditioning is a necessity but they make an awful lot of noise, making it very hard to get some sleep. I was therefore more than happy to be able to exchange Delhi for Leh the next day.