Monday, December 5, 2011

Golden Triangle Part 1: Delhi

Listening to: My daughters and my nieces playing

The husband and I decided to take a trip before he fell headlong into the rabbit hole otherwise known as work. Since my list of places to visit in India is huge and growing by the day, we thought we’d try and get bang for the buck and time on this vacation. We had a week free, so we decided on a 5 day trip. I’m sure we could have spent another 2 days exploring stuff, but by the end, 5 days turned out to be more than enough. The golden triangle is an area in north India comprised of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. The first stop on our trip was Delhi.

We left my inlaw’s house in Hyderabad at the ungodly hour of 4 am. My apologies to those of you who regularly choose/have to get up at 4 am, but that’s pretty darn ungodly to me. We flew spice airlines. The plane was small and a bit crowded, but the flight was only 2 hours and got over quickly.  One thing to note – there is no such thing as free anything on planes here.  Want a soda? 50 rupees.  Snacks? 50 rupees. 

We were met at the airport by our contact and the driver, who scared me by trying to take my suitcase without explaining who he was.  It doesn’t happen very often these days, but rogue cab drivers used to try and get you to use their cab by just taking your luggage from you and walking towards their cab.  Anyhow, he apologized and explained who he was. The drive to our hotel took about a half hour. Delhi traffic is pretty bad, just like everywhere else in India. We stayed in the Ashtan Sarovar, which is almost in the center of New Delhi. The rooms were almost tiny, but very well decorated and modern. The room had a double bed and they placed an extra mattress on the floor for us, which I have heard is normal in Delhi. No idea. The service was also excellent.

We headed down to get lunch from the hotel restaurant. Hands down, this was the best food we had for the entire trip. The first day we had sandwiches for lunch, which turned out to be pretty good. We went back to the room to chill for a while as we waited for the driver to come back from his lunch.

Qutub Complex

Around 2, we headed out to the Qutub complex. Delhi is full of history from both the British times and older. Being the nerd that I am, I loved it. We took a turn around the Qutub complex, enjoying the ruins, reading signs, and taking pictures. I noticed with a small amount of alarm that the place was just about covered in huge red hornets. While it was disconcerting, they weren’t bothering us, so we continued. We also saw lots of bright green small parrots that are apparently everywhere in the north. We only had the cuckoos in the south, so this was good fun for the kids to see.  As we decided to leave, I brushed my hand against my shirt at my collarbone and felt one. And then it stung me on my collar bone.

Not sure if this is exactly what stung me, but it was huge and looked like this.

That had to be the worst bee sting I have ever had in my life. It didn’t hurt that much when it stung, but the pain slowly built over the next half hour until it felt like someone was jabbing a hot needle into my nerve and twisting it. Every time my shirt or one of my necklaces brushed it, it made me wince. 

Mine swelled up much more than this, but you get the general idea.

While that sucked, I was really glad it wasn’t one of the kids, especially with my younger daughter’s allergies. Since we were done anyhow, we decided to head out.

Humayun's Tomb

We went to Humayun’s tomb next. I really like old tombs, especially those inlaid with different stones and decorated with Arabic writing. They just strike me as incredibly romantic. The grounds were very large, green, and well cared for. While we were exploring some of the rooms on the grounds, Naveen scared a pigeon out of a dark room that ran smack into my legs. I decided I had better avoid any more wild life. 2 animal run ins in one day! We got a very nice view of Delhi from all around the tomb, which sits about 3 stories up. After spending some time exploring here, we decided to head out again.

Dilly Haat

We asked the driver to take us to a place called Dilly Haat. It’s a small open air market place with handicrafts and food from all over India. One of the most fun places I’ve been so far. Every week they feature a cultural show from a different part of India. The one that was going on when we went was from Orissa, a state in the northeastern part of India. Let me tell you, Orissa has definitely been added to my list of things I must see before I leave India.  They had a small band playing and 2 young boys were dancing. It was very neat to see and I found it interesting how feminine their movements seemed while dancing. The kids really enjoyed looking at all the bright, shiny stuff and toys in the market stalls and I really wished I had a suitcase or two handy for all the shopping I wished I could do. As it was, both our suitcases were full to the brim (darn you moving!) so I had to pass on the shopping.  This may or may not have been intentional on my husband’s part.   As all of the eating places looked a bit shady, and we were trying to avoid Delhi belly and typhoid, we opted to just have coffee. The kids had juice.  We hit up the Tamil stand for some tea and were a bit disappointed. Usually south Indian tea/coffee is amazing. This was just eh. After dumping in some sugar, we watched some more dancing.

After Dilly Hut, we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. Our driver was turning around and managed to almost flatten a motorcyclist who decided that in spite of the loud chime indicating that we were backing up and the fact that the car was already moving backwards, it was a good idea to go behind him anyhow. The driver and motorcyclist had a good 5 minutes of yelling at each other about how stupid the other one was before our driver just drove off.  That was good fun.

We had dinner again at the hotel restaurant as there wasn’t much other choice on the street for food. There was a shady Chinese joint, but again with the food poisoning and typhoid, we decided the hotel was safer. The food and service was great and we went back to the room to crash.

India Gate

The next day, we had a breakfast buffet at the hotel. The food, and most importantly for me, the coffee was good. Our guide was waiting for us downstairs and we took off. We drove to the India gate and got down to walk around and take some pictures. There wasn’t much else there to do, but we later discovered that Aamir Khan had been there earlier taping an advertisement. Just this close to a celeb sighting in India. Phooey.

Oh Aamir Khan, you still remind me of a cute little boy

Back in the van and then on to the red fort.

The Red Fort - It was impressive from the outside anyways

We got down and took some pictures but didn’t go inside, as she told us it wasn’t really all that great to wander around in.

A cycle rickshaw. I wish this guy was our driver. He looks much more interesting

We hopped in a rickshaw of the unmotorized type and headed off through Chandni Chowk.

Chandni Chowk - yep, the by-lanes are really this small and crowded, but fascinating

I really enjoyed this too. It seemed to me like the stereotypical idea of old India. Small lanes lined with vendors in stalls, brightly colored everything for sale, and tons of carts piled high, rickshaws, cows, and pedestrians. 
Jama Masjid

After Chandni chowk, we went to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Delhi. The guard at the door grabbed all the western women tourists and made us put on Chinese style long sleeved robes, even though I was already wearing long sleeves. We noticed with some amusement that none of the Indian ladies got pulled aside, even if they were wearing saris.  We wandered around as the guide talked nonstop about the mosque. We took a lot of pictures and declined all of the kids trying to get 50 rupees out of us for taking a picture of us. While the begging/harassing tourists to buy stuff seems less than I remember from last time, there is still quite a bit.

Bahai Temple Delhi

After Chandni Chowk, we headed out to the Ba'hai temple. It was absolutely beautiful and worth the drive. The effect of silence inside is a bit altered from the noise outside (it was really, really crowded when I went) but it's still a a wonderful experience sitting in silence inside. I've always wanted to visit a Ba'hai temple, and I'm glad I got to.

After the Ba'hai temple, we were taken to a Kashmiri craft/carpet shop where we were shown how Kashmiri carpets were made and given the hard sell to by a very expensive carpet and some very expensive shawls and saris. We politely apologized for not buying anything and backed our way out the door. I was rather unhappy to have been brought there in the first place, but as we later discovered, this is part of having a guide. They get a cut of whatever you buy, so they steer you towards places like this.  Our Guide dropped us off at a western style restaurant and said goodbye. At first, we were very wary because it looked like a dumpy 70’s style lounge, with Def Leppard of all things on the radio. The food turned out to be quite good though. We got some butter chicken curry and naan, north Indian flat bread. The kids got pizza.

After lunch, we headed back to the India gate to hang out. We saw a children’s park and decided to let the kids run off some energy. Most of the playgrounds in India are rather shady and look decidedly unsafe. We let the kids play for a while and wandered the very nice grounds for a while until the husband got uncomfortable with the looks we were getting and the safety with the equipment. Back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to go to Agra the next day.

A note on the feel of Delhi - Delhi is a totally comopolitan place. I don't think I got any looks at all while we were here. It's the capital of India and was ruled by the British for a long time, so many things are progressive here. A word of caution though. There have been many stories circulating in the news about violence and rape against women, especially foreign tourists. Use your head - dont' wander around by yourself in neighborhoods off the beaten path or at night if you're a woman.

Just a side note: None of these photos was taken by me. Still waiting on my stuff to come. Will share my photos later.


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