Day 136: We're here because we're here
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 184 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Ed (Netherlands)
Ed and I never planned to spend a day in Delhi. Ed has been here several times before and I would have plenty of other opportunities to explore the city, so we had planned to leave for Ladakh immediately. However, now our Ladakh trip has been cancelled and we are going to Rajasthan instead. The first available train out of Delhi was not until tomorrow, so we have a day to spend in Delhi.
Not the end of the world though - it gives Ed an opportunity to acclimatise a bit, and for me it is nice to visit the city with someone who knows his way around.
Not that we were in a hurry. First we met up with Mahinder of Merrygo travel to finalise the details of our trip. When I booked the trip last week I was still very much adamant to abide by my no-flights rule. I had booked a couple of overnight trains for us, and at the end of our three-week trip Ed will fly back to Delhi from Mumbai, and I will take a train up north to explore the area around Manali.
Only... a after having thought about it for a few days it didn't seem all that much of a good idea anymore. Mahinder had axed one of the overnight trains from the itinerary. He said it would be better for him if we drove there and slept in a hotel.
The second overnight train was scheduled from Udaipur to Mumbai, however, as this train only runs once every two days, we would have to wait an extra day in Udaipur, which means that basically we only get 1.5 days in Mumbai. Which is rather short. It made more sense to fly, even I had to admit that, so I gave in and we exchanged the train for a flight.
Then there was my train up north. It turned out it was impossible to get a good combination of the train to Shimla afterwards, which would mean I'd spend a night at the train station, arriving at 2 AM and leaving again at 6, meaning that I would most likely sleep through what is called the most beautiful railway journey in the world.
On top of that there was the weather forecast, which didn't look very promising. Manali was also struck by heavy rains and flooding, and it didn't look as if the weather would be improving over the next month. Mahinder also told me that in monsoon season a 30-hour train journey, spanning half the country, could easily take up to 40 or even 50 hours!
I decided that it wasn't going to work and cancelled my train up north and booked a flight back to Delhi on the same day as Ed instead. After India I am planning to go to Nepal and it seems the 3 weeks I had initially planned for that country is way too short. So I decided to cut my India trip short and spend more time in Nepal instead.
And the no-flights rule? Well, I justified it by regarding my three-week trip with Ed as a separate thing.
We had the rest of the day to explore Delhi. Merrygo had given us a car and driver for the day, despite our trip not actually starting until tomorrow (I suppose that means we had paid them too much, or am I too cynical now?).
Since Ed has seen most of the city already, he let me choose the itinerary. Utilising the fact that we had a car at our disposal, I opted for some sights that are further away from the centre.
My first choice was a place Ed hadn't visited though: the Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of very elaborate (and big) architectural astronomical instruments, which were built by Maharajah Jai Sing II in the 18th century.
I don't know, I just love geometrical designs. Among the instruments is a huge sundial, which basically looks like a staircase leading nowhere. Other instruments measure planetary movement with circles and semicircles, large concrete bowls or buildings that resemble a Colosseum rather than a scientific instrument.
I loved this place - it's a photographer's paradise! And the one in Jaipur is said to be even better (bigger, prettier), so I'm quite looking forward to that one.
The second place we visited was the Qutb Minar, one of India's oldest surviving mosques.
There is not much left of the mosque, apart from a 73 metre high minaret / victory tower, and part of the prayer hall. Apparently most Indian mosques are open-air, so the prayer hall was more a courtyard than an actual hall.
We walked around amongst the ruins, but soon found ourselves way more drawn to the many squirrels that roam the grounds than to the half-restored piles of rubble.
Squirrels can be found all over India, so many that these cute rodents could actually be considered a pest. A cute pest though. The ones at Qutb Minar are quite tame and would happily pose for photos.
Next up was the Bahá'í House of Worship, better known as the Lotus Temple, as it was designed to resemble a lotus flower.
The Bahá'í is another interesting religion. Much like the Sikh they open their temples for followers of all religions. Anyone is welcome to practice his or her religion in the Bahá'í temples.
It's origins are relative recent, it was started in 1844 in Shiraz, Iran (though it is outlawed in present day Iran). The Bahá'í faith also incorporates parts of other religions. It is a monotheistic religion, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and it recognises people like Abraham, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammed all as messengers of God. The core beliefs are unity of God, unity of religion and unity of mankind. On top of that it is free from sermons and religious rituals. To me this all comes across as a very progressive, free-for-all religion, which is probably why it is becoming such a popular religion (it is believed there are over 6 million followers in over 200 countries).
I was impressed by the architecture of the temple. It is very new (built in 1986) and made of concrete, but even so the design is very graceful. It reminded me a bit of Sydney's Opera House.
Another thing I wanted to do in Delhi had nothing to do with India or tourism: I wanted to go to the cinema. This is the first country on my trip where it is possible to see an English language film in its original language and after having been deprived of one of my favourite hobbies for so long I really wanted to see one.
Inception was a film I really wanted to see and I was in luck - it had just opened in India and there were regular screenings in English.
Our driver drove us to a large mall, where we could hang out until the film began. I know, not very Indian all this, but for me it was nice to hang around in a large, rather Western, mall again.
We had our dinner at the food court of the mall. Ed introduced me to some Indian fast food: Chaat. Basically this is a doughy snack topped with whatever flavours are available: chickpeas, pickles, chutney, curd, herbs, spices. We both chose a different one from the menu not having any idea what it was. Ed's was a great looking ball of colours ad flavours, while mine consisted of some deep-fried spinach leafs, topped with all of the above. Nice, but not particularly filling, so after the Chaat I bought myself a huge vegetarian Thali (consisting of rice, dhal, cheese curry and a vegetable shashlyk) to fill up.
The cinema was a modern affair, just how I liked it: digital projection, surround sound, comfy seats, the whole kit and caboodle.
We ended the evening drinking some beers and having some snacks in an English pub in the mall.
A great first day travelling with Ed. As I said earlier, not very Indian, but very welcome in my case. Tomorrow we'll go local again.