Five minutes of fame and chaotic Delhi
We had heard that in parts of India tourists aren’t that common and therefore the subject of great attention and straight out googling. So far the only experience we had with that was in Mumbai, where a few people wanted to take pictures with us. As New Delhi is the capitol of India, we figured that tourists would be a common sight and that we would’t cause too much disturbance. Boy were we wrong…
It turns out that India Gate, which is a huge monument to soldiers who have lost their lives fighting for the british and later the Indian army, is filled with schoolchildren from the provinces. These schoolchildren must have though that we were fresh out of Hollywood and therefore the shaking of hands and photosessions had no end! It culminated in two Indian men fighting about who would get to take pictures of us first… This caused us to flee the scene in proper paparazzi style to the other side of the gate where yet another school class waited patiently… Im not lying when I say that indians have more pictures of me in India than I do.
Since New Delhi is the capitol of India it was a definite on the to do list. I had heard from my sister and other as well that New Delhi was more chaotic and buzy than the other cities we had visited so far. Delhi was a mess… It was filled with people, bad accommodations, persistent shopkeepers, touts (people trying to get you into their hostel), hawkers (people trying to sell you stuff) and rickshaw drivers trying to get as much money as possible from you. As we closed in on Paharganj, the area we were supposed to stay in, the chaotic scene that was the main bazaar unraveled before us. The main bazar is where most backpackers stay, those who can’t afford to stay at places like the Hilton or Oberoi.. It was jam packed with people, shops, restaurants and the biggest number of guesthouses I have ever seen in one area. The one thing they had in common was that they were all crap and that they were all overpriced… We established a base at the nearest restaurant we could find and I went guesthouse searching… It seems like cleaning is a non existent word in a guesthouse keepers vocabulary as they were almost competing to show me their ugliest rooms. We ended up with a 500 Rs a night bedroom with three beds and a tv at the Hare Rama guesthouse. The bathroom was as uninviting as cancer and there was a huge mould problem in the roof, but it was our best bet so far and therefore became our home in the heart of Delhi. Veronica had another close encounter with a cow while walking to the guesthouse and scared everyone by screaming out when she found herself face to face with it after paying more attention to the sights than the 2 metres ahead of her. The cows seem to be the only ones not bothered by the throng of people heading up and down the street, not to mention the taxis and rickshaws trying to squeeze themselves through all the people constantly blowing the car horn.
We figured we had to do the sights and went to Connaught place which is part of the New Delhi built by the british shortly before their empire crumbeled. Delhi and New Delhi are in fact almost two different cities, and the old Delhi is the actual city where the Mughals (Indian rulers of the north) used to live. New Delhi is more of a planned city and contains all the embassies, official building and expensive shopping options. Connaught place wasn’t much to look at and since the park there was closed we headed of for our five minutes of fame at the India Gate. India Gate is connected to the presidents estate and a bunch of other victorian style buildings by the Rajpath. The Rajpath is pretty much like Champs Elysse without the shops, people and charm… It’s a long wide avenue with the India Gate at one end and a fortress like collection of government buildings at the other. The difference between New Delhi and old Delhi is here as stark as the difference between black and white.
We spent half an hour trying to get a rickshaw to get us to the old part of Delhi, so we figured that either we smelled or they simply couldn’t understand us, because most of them just shook their head and drove of. It turned out to be the traffic.. Not sure if our rickshawdriver just went the wrong way but we were stuck in a gridlock a long way outside our destination and ended up walking there by foot. This walk turned out to be the real test of our indian survival skills… Nowhere in the world have I seen so many people crowded in one spot, and we were still on the outskirts of the old part of Delhi! A nice policeman pointed us in the right direction and we suddenly found ourself smack in the middle of the spice markets headspinning commercial centre. It was a real assault on the senses, the smell of spices, flowers, chai (indian tea), urine and frying food attacked you from all sides and without barely making an effort to talk we slowly drifted along, carried along the current of tens of thousands of indian out doing who knows what..
Although filled with shops of all brands and items finding a place to eat proved hard but we ended up in the indian version of McDonalds! Haldiram’s provided fast food indian style decently cheap. Go for the Thali! We didn’t really understand the system and ended up eating chinese fried noodles…but if you ever go there get the Thali which pretty much everyone else bought. In the centre of Old Delhi lies the Red Fort, the last remains of the Mughal power in Delhi. We didn’t have time to go there but got a good look as we passed it knowing that we were soon to go to Agra where the Agra fort is both bigger and better preserved. If you ever go to Delhi and will be leaving by train make sure you go to the New Delhi trainstation, it’s located right at the bottom of the Prahganj. They have an office for tourists at the end of the station (there’s a big sign), where it’s a breeze to get tickets to anywhere in India. Don’t trust the touts! They will tell you that you have to go to some other booking office…and they will of course get comission out of it..
New Delhi and old Delhi certainly deseved more time, and although chaotic, it was the first time we really felt that we were smack bang in the middle of the India we’ve seen on tv and read about it books. But as a word of caution, if you go to India don’t start with Delhi… Start with Mumbai, Kerala or Goa like we did, or you will likely have a small heartattack, or atleast a few hours in your hotel room rocking slowly back and forth in arrivalpanick 🙂