Delhi – My First Taste of India

After a slightly delayed take off from London Heathrow (part of the undercarriage of the plane was missing!) the flight wasn’t too bad.
We had some amazing views of the Himalayas from the flight while crossing over Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, where I managed to snap some photos out of the window but struggling with the transfer of them from my phone to iPad without internet on my phone.

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After a short rest on arrival my dad and I went for a walk into the centre of Delhi, a circle from which all roads radiate, called Connaught Place. We wanted a cup of tea and to look around but the heavens opened and so we hid in the entrance of a cinema with about 50 other people, mostly stall tenders. We found tea at a super posh hotel where my dad has gone for tea on previous trips called The Imperial. Apparently it has solid marble baths in the bedrooms – bit out of our budget unfortunately, we’re staying in the YMCA.

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On the first full day here we visit Qutb Manar, an extraordinary thin tower made of red sandstone with beautiful details carved into it. It dates back about 900 years. During the British era a solider ordered the Indians TI place a cupola on top in a completely different style, but the Viceroy had it removed. Quite right too, it sits in the corner of the grounds to this day and would look ridiculous on top! Also in the same complex are some tombs and ruins of mosques, all made from red sandstone and marble, and beautifully carved with lotus flowers, lines from the Quran in Arabic and also some Hindi writing. In the square of one of the mosques in the complex there is an iron pillar. It doesn’t look like anything special except for some details at the top, but it is over 2000 years old, long before anything like that had been made.

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Once we had found each other, and had a lunch of veggie samosa and sprite, we took a tuk tuk to India gate. India is proving to be very different from South East Asia, in many small, indescribable ways. In the tuktuk, a small girl (maybe six or seven years old) came up to us trying to sell us flowers. I didn’t buy any, but for some reason she licked two fingers and touched my foot, I’m assuming this was a respectful thing, though I found it kind of strange. Nothing like that’s happened to me before.

India Gate is a huge red sandstone arch build as a memorial for people who died during the First World War. It’s on a road called Rajpath, which simply means King’s Road. It was built in a huge park with many lovely flowers and fountains at one end of Rajpath, and at the other end there are some incredible red sandstone government buildings, all built during the British era. These beautiful buildings were finished in 1941, just six years before the British rule ended. There was a lovely atmosphere there, lots of families taking a walk in the afternoon sun, guys climbing on the fountain, kids running around playing and people selling things. As with any developing country we got pestered something rotten to buy things from sunglasses to roasted chickpeas and personalised bracelets to having our photo taken. It happens quite a lot here, but no more than in Vietnam. I think the people here are slightly more respectful here in that way. No, they have no idea about personal space, but they won’t stick a camera in your face while eating your lunch, they will always ask for a photo, which can still be annoying but is much nicer than looking up with food in your face to find a camera pointing in your direction!!

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On the way back to the YMCA (still can’t say it without singing it) the tuktuk driver said he couldn’t go any further because there were protests happening on the road we needed to go up. He dropped us there so we tried to walk up it but it seemed quite an angry protest (something to do with farmers… Not sure what exactly) with lots of police and TV vans, so we went back to the roundabout where we were dropped to walk up a parallel road, which also had police blocks and riot vans, PLUS a loony man who was dancing around and started shouting at us when he saw us. About turn and up the next road we arrived at the YMCA.

In the evening we headed out for dinner and a walk round the centre circle of Connaught Place. We found a place from the guide book to eat called Kwality – an Indian restaurant that’s been open since 1940. My Dad has been to a similar one in Kolkata, which we assumed was another branch, but it’s actually a close relation, not the same company – whatever that means! I ate a really hot mutton curry, which was described as mild and yogurty in the menu, but was anything but that. It was just a little bit too hot to enjoy it so I didn’t really eat much. For dessert I had something which had the word ‘mango’ in it, so I automatically assumed it would be delicious. Kolfi mango Parsi it was called! Well, I couldn’t really taste the mango. It tasted like some weird Scandinavian cheese I once tried/ evaporated milk, and was brown and came in a slice looking a bit like an old bit of pineapple. We had a short walk after dinner, but I was pretty tired, so we headed back shortly after for another early night.

On our final day in Delhi we went to the Red Fort. We couldn’t have gone the day before, because it’s closed on a Monday. We took a tuktuk up to the northern part of Delhi where the Red Fort is. It’s huge. The Red Fort is an 18m high wall containing around 110 acres of land. It was built by Sha Jahan in the 1600s, and has housed his son, emperors and armies since then. The barracks inside the fort where inhabited by the Indian army until 2003. The is a market inside the main gate (Lahori Gate, because it faces Lahore) called Chatta Chowk where people sold food and things that the palaces and other inhabitants would need if the fort was under attack. They also grew some crops inside the walls. The emperor had his own entrance to the fort from the river, by boat. the river is now diverted to a few kilometres away, presumably because Delhi takes up so much room, that a river is just something that gets in the way! The river was just one side of the octagon that is the Red Fort, the other 7 sides were made out of red sandstone and stood behind a moat filled with crocodiles and alligators!!

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Inside the walls are some beautiful gardens, with monsoon houses, for the emperor and family to enjoy the gardens even during the rainy seasons. One monsoon house for July, and one for August, because the rain comes in different directions each month. The rain collected in the roofs of these houses and poured down into a gulley in the middle, which then ran over the edge filled with plants, into a long pool running between the two houses, creating a waterfall effect.

Other buildings included a harem, barracks, a courthouse, meeting houses and a bathhouse which had furnaces rooms underneath to heat the copper pipes. The copper pipes went directly underneath the marble baths in these solid marble buildings heating the water. There were also piping hot baths, saunas, cold baths and fragranced baths. I’d like something like this in my garden too!

We walked down the main street called Chandni Chowk leading directly down from the fort to find lunch. There were several places recommended in the guide book but we don’t know if the one we found was one of them or not. We found it by spotting lots of frying pans being used to cook poori and different breads in at the entrance to a small street cafe. We had a delicious but spicy thali, THREE chapattis and a dessert called gulab jamun, which is like a maple syrup sponge pudding, but made from semolina – very nice!! I’ll be looking out for it in the future.

In the afternoon we walked from the YMCA along to this curious place called Jantar Mantar which is this strange, strange selection of bizarrely shaped buildings, built around 300 years ago by Jai Singh II to observe and calculate astronomical events. We paid a guide to show us round, though he couldn’t really answer our questions. He could tell us what the buildings were FOR (such as a giant international sundial) but he couldn’t tell us how they were used (such as the main building which was supposedly used to calculate eclipses). The guide seemed in a hurry to tell us everything and then leave, pretty keen to get the next customer I guess. We wondered around taking in the relaxed atmosphere (in the grounds- the park next door was a camp for people protesting!) taking photos before heading further into town for a coffee.

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On the way into the centre we were told by two separate, very chatty men about a place where we should shop, a government shopping mall where we can get handicrafts cheaply and duty free – no hassling and they could get us a tuktuk straight away if we wanted. This happened at least twice more during our time in town that afternoon! They must have all been on a scavenger hunt for tourists. We also had two or three people telling us about the government tourist office that we should de finally go to and not to be scammed by other people – like them then?!

We walked full circle of Connaught place, buying a few tiny little bits and bobs, like some local soaps then went to look for dinner.

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Dosas were our food of choice. For those of you who haven’t had the delight of eating them they are thin savoury crepes from southern India and soooo good. We found a place with the name Hotel Saravana Bhavan, so assumed it was a hotel. It wasn’t. It was a little downstairs canteeny type place. I had a masala dosa, so a dosa stuffed with potato and spices, with different sauces to dip it into. Really, REALLY good! I had gulab jamun for pudding again, but they had out some sort of herb or spice in it and put me off. That was a short lived addiction!

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Only a few days in Delhi, and my first few in India! I’ve been massively surprised at how welcoming and kind the Indians are. I don’t feel in danger though still keeping my things safe and next to me at all times. So many people told me stories about how dangerous it would be that I had got to the point of not really being excited. They were all wrong!!

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