A cow meanders down the road, a trill of horns beep, a three-wheeled autorickshaw trundles past with four more following in its wake while a motorbike scraps between them. Dirt floats above the ground as the constant movement of vehicles rustles it from its resting place and as the morning fog clears, the men come out for business.
Yep this is the hustle and bustle of a city of 11 million people, the capital of the most populous democracy in the world and the home to a rich culture prospering from its stark simplicity. Welcome to New Delhi.
After an approximate 12 hour flight from Sydney, with a brief two hour stop in Thailand, six girls arrive to the dawning of a new day in Delhi. Stepping outside the airport we are smothered with fog and bitten with it’s blanketing chill.
Just a little brief on my style of travelling. I’m the type of traveller who researches my required medication three days prior to flying out, organises my insurance the day before, starts packing the night before and gives my parents a rough itinerary the morning of my departure. This is not advised. So with that in mind, my single cardigan and sole jumper is not fully prepared for the ten degree temperature of Northern Wintered India. Regardless, I am only in the North for five days, so I will survive.
Arriving at out hotel, Hotel Grand Godwin, we wait in the warm lobby until check-in at 9am, watching the street come to life and listening to the crescendo of horn beeps.
Most of the morning is spent organising our next few days in the North. Unlike my travel spontaneity, most of my travelling partners are more organised. Maggie, Charlotte, Sarah, Alex, Lucy and Sarah balance it all out so we take the admin business seriously. We are offered a transport deal by the hotel manager to escort us through the treasures of Rajasthan (the state of India home of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) which we reluctantly accept.
(Charlotte and Sarah looking at the map in front of our hotel)
Stepping out in to the street, autorickshaw’s slow to check if the white tourists are in need of a ride, taxi drivers beep their horns and the men stare. Taking a walking route to a tourist office, we are able to feel the action of Delhi and hear the rhythm of its Indian breath. Our walk takes us on a bridge over a train station, around a roundabout, across busy roads, past government buildings, through a market place and finally to a guard we see standing by the street. We had gathered whiffs of smoke, smidgens of soft dirt and wafts of the India spice, who’s smell we only fully appreciate (or not) when we change out of our clothes that night. We had admitted defeat and as we question the government guard about the correct direction to the tourist office, four other men come to check out our problem. We agree to a 20 rupee autorickshaw ride to the office. (20 rupee’s is equivalent to about 40c. 1 Australian dollar is about 50 rupees.) With three girls in the back I squish in to the driver’s seat and we take the adventurous plunge through the streets as I hang on to the open door frame for balance.
(Photo credits to Marjan Farid)
At the office we are offered a separate transport deal for the next five days and discover we had been ripped off by the hotel. I mean that is bound to happen wherever you go, the question that is left up to you, is who do you want to be ripped off by? Allira and Mr Patrick (as the Indians like to call him), had now joined us, as they arrived in Delhi a day before us, and decided they would head back to the hotel to cancel our deal.
While they are doing the deeds us remaining get our first taste of Indian chai tea, an effective mixture of cardamon, cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger and black peppercorn. Served in a small tea cup, after five warm sips it’s finished. The office recommends us a tasty restaurant three shops down, Anand Restaurant, where we get our first taste of India. Positive sign number 1: it was cooked in an enclosed area. Positive sign number 2: it was a place for the locals. Positive sign number 3: the food was reasonably priced for India. A meat curry would cost about 190 rupees, a vegetarian curry 130 rupees and naan bread 30. Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomach for this meal but even with one third left over we were all curry filled and satisfied. After we had paid and left, we returned for Allira and Patrick and as Alex aptly stated: “We loved it so much we came back ten minutes later.”
The remainder of the afternoon is spent exploring the Red Fort. The Red Fort is founded by Shah Jahan, who’s birth name is Shah abudin Muhamma Khurramknown, the same Mughal Emperor who ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal. His name comes up often in a historical recollection of India, so perhaps a name worth remembering. We amble through the grounds of the Fort admiring the sandstone that gives the citadel its colour and conveniently enough, its name. Sitting on the stone chairs admiring the architecture of the Emperor’s private palace, it is difficult to envision life within the still cold sandstone. However, two local girls approach me and ask me for a photo reminding me that the life of the Emperors continue in the respect and memories of the Indian citizens.
It has been a long day with very little sleep and on empty stomachs we were ready to leave and eat and sleep. However, easier said then done. At this stage, Matt, the final member of our group joins us and we all go out for our first family dinner in Delhi. Following a recommendation from the tourist office, we split into three autorickshaws and head over to a restaurant called Alpha Spice. Negative sign number 1: there are doormen waiting to let us in. Negative sign number 2: there are initially no other local indian families sharing a meal. Negative sign number 3: the food is a little overpriced. I order my first lassi drink: Mango lassi, a yoghurt-y concoction much like a smoothie.
Three side dishes accompany the meal. A green coloured sauce myself and Matt decide to call Indian pesto, a reddish one Alex decides to label Indian Kimchi and the spanish onions are there for a taste bud refresher. However this “Indian Kimchi” I am now labelling as the worst flavour I have ever tasted. It tops my dislike towards chicken feet salad. I do quite like Kimchi, so perhaps this is not the best description. Asking the waiter I think he tells me that it is pickled pickles. But whatever it is I do not recommend it. This meal does not even come close to meeting the standards set by our lunch, but it still satisfy the cavities in my stomach.
I take an autorickshaw ride back with Allira and Lucy with an older Indian driver who speaks no english, appears to be low on petrol and does not know where he is going. He drops us off a few streets from our hotel so we take the hike through the streets to reach our warm comforting beds.
An early start the next morning leads us to the tomb of Humayun. Walking through the gates we pass a cricket match in action on the large dirt field and approach the grand enshrinement originally built for one single Mughel Emperor. I feel a greater connection to this site and perhaps the reason is simply it had the touch of a woman’s love engraved into it’s existence. This garden-tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife who was left widowed and well, you know, decided to build a great monument for the love of her husband, just as you do in India. However commissioned in 1569 the red sandstone walls, the white marble and Persian architecture set a standard that subtly influences the designs of many of the following monuments of India.
(Sarah, Matt and Allira posing at the entrance to the garden tomb)
Our final quick stop before heading out of New Delhi is by the Lotus Temple. A rather different influence, however apt for us Australian tourists. As Alex rather perceptively noted, the white folds of the lotus petals was a good reminder to the white sales of the Opera House. We only stopped for a look and a photo. So with our home in our mind and India’s touch on our skin, we leave behind the bustle of Delhi and head out on the road to Agra.