If you’re visiting the blog just to take a peek at the photos, skip right to the bottom!
After the slightly nerve-wracking wait at Indira Gandhi International Airport for our luggage (our lonely bags seemed to be the last off the plane), we were met in the jam-packed (at 2am) airport arrivals area by our driver, who drove us to the “Colonel’s Retreat” in an area of Delhi called the Defence Colony, which had first been created for housing the British military. It was about 3am and the night watchman escorted us right to our room, where to our disappointment, once we’d collapsed onto the large, low bed, it turned out that the bed frame creaked like mad – every time we turned over it was like the bed was going to fall down…making for a fitful couple of hours rest before dawn. But, the lovely floors were marble, nice and cool on our feet, the ceilings high and the bathroom simple, with a large shower. Most of the places we’re staying in India are not 5 star hotels – and so far we’ve really enjoyed them, in their own special ways!
We were a little tired the first day, but that probably made us all the more relaxed as we faced the pollution, heat, crowds and rather amazing traffic. We pulled ourselves out of bed for a nice breakfast of omelette (including a tasty masala omelette), banana bread, oranges (very sweet and easy to peel), bananas, great coffee (choices included a Malabar, peaberry, Viennese roast), toast and delicious housemade jams – fig, marmalade and mixed fruits. After breakfast we met Shishir, our Journey Sutra representative who went over the schedule with us. (Once we’d determined our general plans, Journey Sutra assisted with internal travel, hotel reservations and booked entrance for us at most monuments. They provided local guides who a number of times was able to facilitate visits, show us their personal eating places, and sometimes helped deal with the very persistent children asking for money or chocolate.) We’d decided before leaving for India that we would make a donation to a specific organization (most likely Fair Trade related) or to people who were engaged in a craft or work of some kind, and not give money to individuals – it’s tough to say no (in fact, better to simply not acknowledge the taps on the car window) but this makes our daily interactions easier.
We spent the first day a bit tired, but it probably made us all the more relaxed as we faced the pollution, crowds, and rather amazing traffic. We were grateful for our guide, “Dynamo” and driver, “Geerish”, who made the 1½ days in Delhi a perfect introduction to India. (Note: I’m using phonetic spelling for person/place names that I never saw written down.) We left the hotel and the schedule as planned changed immediately – and has pretty much every day – we have seen everything we wanted, but not in the order/time we thought. We went to the Qutub Minar first – a complex featuring the “minar” or victory tower, dating from 1199. Then, on to Chandi Chowk, the Old Delhi market, where we visited the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and built by Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal. We engaged a cycle rickshaw to ride through the old market. It was incredible in so many ways – very very crowded; the rickshaw would crunch against the wheels of other rickshaws and the drivers would hop off to quickly untangle them; we clipped against the shops which lined the barely 8’ (or so) wide lane and I was terrified that we’d end up running over some one’s feet – but everyone was keenly aware of the movement of the marketplace – it was amazing. The colors of the spices, jewelry, fabrics; the sound of the rickshaw drivers calling out, the shop keepers bargaining, mothers calling their children; and the aromas, some fantastically enticing (spices, bread cooking, chai being made) others not so great (no need to describe.)
We ended the day with a visit to lovely, pink, Humayun’s Tomb – a precursor to the architecture of the Taj Mahal. There weren’t crowds of people, and it’s a peaceful site, so a nice way to end our first day of exploring.
Our travel learnings from the first day included “just buy water.” Drinking bottled water and using it for things like brushing teeth has made me a lot more aware of just how much water we use every day. We’ve put a case of it in the car so we don’t run out on the long drives we’re now doing.
On day two, we got a bit earlier start (it seems to take us about 3 days for the jet lag adjustment to a 6 hour time change). We visited a beautiful Sikh temple – made of white marble with lots of gold leaf in the interior. Musicians were seated cross-legged on cushions, playing to one side of the center canopy and many people were just sitting and listening, so we joined for a few minutes, partly needing to simply have a few moments of respite, and to listen to the music. Also on the busy agenda were India Gate, the President’s Palace (designed by Luytens and originally the home of the British Viceroy), part of a very regal government complex now with a combination of British and Hindu architectural elements, including elephant sculptures.
Lesson Two from Delhi: Know a little history! I’m so glad to have read books ranging from William Dalrymple’s, “The City of Djinns, to Monica Pradhan’s “The Hindi Bindi Club,” among many others. India’s not only enormous in size, but a country with ancient history, a variety of religions, cultures and languages, adding up to a complex place and people to try and understand – knowing even a little about both the ancient and modern country helps appreciate the places we are seeing – especially when the forts, palaces, temples, mosques, tombs and city gates start to blur in my mind a little! It’s fantastic, in every sense of the word.