Qtab Minar Archway
Amazingly, we zipped through immigration and awaited our bags which eventually came through (although I am always paranoid that mine won‘t show up after our incident in Italy a few years back where I eventually got my bags, three days later…) I accidentally grabbed a bag identical to Cindy's, but luckily we weren't so zonked to not notice (this happened to Cindy before and the person actually left with her stuff and returned it the next day).
We walked through customs with no problem (unlike my last work visit to Bangalore with two computers when they said I couldn't come in with both.
Having been to India before, I solved this by going to another line and trying again. That time it worked but the customs guy took an entire page of my passport to meticulously write down the serial number of everything in illegible script.)
Qtab Minar Tower
I looked into the waiting area and saw a smiling man with a placard with our names waving at me, guess he saw our picture on the Blog. Murli, the owner of the B&B we are staying at in Delhi helped us get some Rupees and then drove us to their home in Shivalik in south Delhi where we met his wife Darshan and their black lab Theo. They are a really nice couple with a cozy home - we are sure to like it here. After checking email and trying to get the Bhutan thing done with the remote help of Andy our broker, we popped an Ambien and went to sleep.
Carved Archway at Qtab Minar
Well the Ambien worked OK, however we realized that next time, whenever that may be, we are asking for the Ambien CR stuff we see on TV that is supposedly controlled release and keeps you asleep since we ended up waking up really early. After hanging out an appropriate amount of time in our room, we ventured out and had a nice, Indian breakfast of Parantha, yogurt, eggs and coffee and talked with Darshan and Murli. We figured today would be a recuperation day with a bit of walking around and some napping when the jet lag kicked in.
Murli drove us out of the complex to a cell phone shop where we got a local SIM for my phone which seems like a good and cheap idea. You actually have to provide a photo and a photocopy of your passport because they have had some issues with terrorism and cell phones.
It actually is a good deal and calls to the States are only about 7 Rupees a minute (about 15 cents). I think I will forgo posting the number here lest any of our stateside friends neglect to remember that we are somewhere between 9.5 and 12.5 hours off of them…
Couple at Qtab Minar
We tried to FAX the wire transfer authorization letter to Andy at a local shop. After the woman’s first attempt I looked at the status paper that the FAX machine spit out and saw a big “COMMUNICATION ERROR” and asked her about it. She did the often confusing sideways head wiggle and said “Fifty-fifty that it made it” and proceeded to tell us that it was 34 Rupees. I asked if she could retry it and once again, communication error (but a different number this time! Unfortunately she didn’t know what it meant..) and now the bill was 50 Rupees. We gave up, hoping that the first time it went through. Murli pointed out some local restaurants for later that day and then we headed back to the house for a bit.
Delhi Vegetable Seller
After trying to rest but not being sleepy, we decided to take a walk through Delhi to one of the local sites, the Qtab Minar complex of Muslim temples and monuments. Apparently at the end of the 12th century, much of northern India was conquered by Muhammed Ghuri and all the Buddhist centers and monks were wiped out. His chief military general in the plains of the Ganges river was Qutb-ub-din-Aibak who was actually a Turkish slave. After Muhammed’s death by assassination, Qutb-ub-din-Aibak was granted power under the reign of the Slave Dynasty (1026-1290). He built the towers you see in the pictures here as a victory tower to proclaim the victory of Islam over the infidel’s. The complex is actually really nice and well maintained and well worth a visit.
There were many locals strolling the grounds or relaxing under the cool shade of the trees. The walk there itself was a bit chaotic and warm, more on the traffic scene in Delhi in a bit, but does give you a lot more perspective than just hopping in a cab or 3-wheeler a.k.a. tuk-tuk. Walking the streets of Delhi is not for the faint of heart (or anyone overly sensitive to large amounts of noise in the from of almost non-stop horn honking…)
One of the transvestite mafia "women" in Delhi demanding payment
After dodging traffic on the walk home and the mandatory getting lost within the complex (only for a short bit…) we made it back to the B&B and took a little siesta before heading out to a really good dinner at Rimpy’s, a local kebab restaurant where we had excellent tandoori grilled chicken, dal makhani, nan and sodas (no beer L ).
Just a word on Delhi and traffic - like many other cities in Asia (see the SE Asia blog from 2006 for Thai, Lao, Cambodian and Burmese traffic if you are intereseted…) things are chaotic, and as someone used to driving in America where there are lanes, turn signals, tickets, very few honking horns, etc.
you could not possibly imagine driving here and surviving. There is some sort of innate knowledge of who has the right of way, of how to weave through traffic as a pedestrian without freezing in-situ, of why it is ok to drive the wrong way on the wrong side of the road as long as you pay attention to the unknown rules of point one above…It is really crazy and REALLY noisy. People talk about pollution here (of which there is plenty) but it is really the noise pollution that gets you in the city. It is a non-stop barrage of horns, not in anger, but as notification of intent to turn, start, stop, etc. Even the tuk-tuk’s and trucks have “Horn Please” signs on the back (I promise to snap a pic of that soon…)
The Lotus Temple in Delhi
After another nice breakfast with Murli and Darshan, there was some commotion out on the street so we stepped out onto the balcony (their B&B is on the second floor) and looked down upon a rather homely group of “women” as Murli explained what was going on.
Well it seems that there is a long term tradition I suppose you would call it in a bizarre group of individuals that we have affectionately named the Transvestite Mafia. Apparently this has been around in northern Indian cities for quite some time and they have well laid out territories and even an elected “Chief”. They have a variety of sources to find out about auspicious events such as child births, weddings, etc. and then go extort money out of the lucky (or unlucky) family. Apparently the police turn their back on this and it is pretty much mandatory that you pay them or they will harass and harangue you and your family. The people downstairs had just had celebrated their son’s marriage (that’s his car decorated with roses in the pictures) and the trannies were demanding 20,000 Rupees (almost $500, a very large sum of money here) out of the father. As of this morning, they couldn’t come to an agreement so we will see what happens tomorrow.
Pigeon at Humayan's Tomb in Delhi
Humayan's Tomb in Delhi
We ended up hiring a car for a day tour of Delhi so our driver Gaurav came and picked us up and first took us to the Lotus Temple built in the 1980’s by the Bahai Faith religion. It is actually a very beautiful nine-sided building built of 45 giant lotus petals covered with white marble. Inside is a vast and tall meditative space and outside are nine additional pools of water.
Our next stop was Humayan’s tomb which ended up being our favorite site in Delhi. The shot with the small pool of water and the Taj’esque building after the long expanse of red dirt is it. Humayan was the second of the great Mughal emperors and his wife had this built for him as a mausoleum.
Architecturally, it is similar in style to the Taj Mahal, but on a less grand scale with less inlay work and no semi-precious stones like the Taj. There is a nice, typical four quadrant garden surrounding the site called a Char Bagh that is found at most of the Mughal sites.
The Red Fort in Delhi
We drove through Connaught Circle which is where a lot of the budget traveler’s stay (including myself in 1984 when I was in and out of Delhi quite a lot) as well as a circle of shops and a crazy underground market. The traffic is particularly noxious here and driving around was enough for us!
We did the mandatory drive by the India Gate which is a war memorial and then up the pretty, wide street to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President's house and some surrounding governmental buildings.
More to follow soon…