Wednesday, 22 February 2012


In which there is a VIP moment and I learn to use Indian GPS
Starring Punit whose lessons in how to say 'no' turned out to be extremely useful.

The first thing that happened when I got to Delhi was that the customs official checking all my paperwork complimented me on how neatly and accurately I had filled in my form. I knew immediately that I would love India. 

Everyone tells you what a nightmare it is arriving in Indian cities (particularly when exhausted by a sleepless might in a shitty Bangkok hotel) so I was particularly pleased to get myself into a taxi and en route to the hotel without being even vaguely hassled. My driver, Punit, even assured me that he knew exactly where the hotel was. He proceeded to give me a Hindi lesson including counting to ten and yes (ha) and no (nahee) that only came to an end when the traffic ground to a halt and everyone out of their cars to see what was going on. "Has there been an accident?" I asked. "Oh no," said Punit, "this is a VIP moment."

Needless to say he did not know where my hotel was, a confession he made by saying: "We have a puzzle". I made several calls to the hotel. We drove up and down several streets, zig-zagging through the area and eventually, after asking several people, Punit pulled over and told me I must "walk from here". "Nahee!" I replied. We drove around a bit more. In the end I did get out and put into action what I have since had described to me as the Indian GPS system - you ask one person and they'll send you part of the way, then you ask another person and they get you a bit further. And so on. Effective. 

Delhi is choked - with smog, people, cows, rickshaws and incredible architectural treasures. I spent hours wandering around Humayun's Tomb  - an enormous complex of tombs and gardens which were built in the 16th century and whose architecture preceded and was eventually refined into the Taj Mahal. 

A short rickshaw ride away are the main political buildings - the secretariat buildings and President's House where you can stare through the gates as guards march up down. Rajpath the main thoroughfare leads down from there to a huge memorial gate. Because it was a public holiday the grass was full of picnicking families, ice-cream vendors and balloon salesmen. I made slow progress as I kept getting asked for a picture. 

The most iconic building is the Red Fort at the eastern end of the Old City - another enormous complex of buildings though a number where obliterated by the British who also stripped the temple domes of their silver and copper and built large garrisons in the grounds. In a rather neat twist of fate, one of these garrisons is now the home of the Museum of Independence dedicated almost entirely to describing how appallingly they conducted themselves in India. 

The main mosque - Jama Masjid - is also exquisite with sweeping views out over the city. We also visited a Sikh temple which was fascinating because it was less a temple and more a community centre including a library, a pharmacy, a dormitory and a huge dining hall that dishes up free food to anyone that wants it. We helped out in the kitchen by inexpertly rolling chappattis. They had an extraordinary machine called the Chappatti Queen that you drop dough balls into at one end and the perfectly cooked chappattis pop out of the other side. 

It feels like where ever you go there is something to stare at - colours, clothes, faces - and I originally felt guilty about practically gawking at everyone and everything, but you soon notice that everyone is ogling you right back. 

The market street in Old Delhi, called Chandi Chowk, is a mass of people and rickshaws crawling along at snails pace with motorbikes squeezing through between them and the incessant cacophony of horns. The most interesting streets and lanes are off to the sides - fabric and haberdashery stores with reels of embroidered ribbons and drawers of jewels. It's known as the woman's market for obvious reasons. Most women have their saris made and then come here to purchase embellishments that ensure each outfit is completely unique.  At the far end there's a spice market with sack after sack of raw spices and dried fruit. Had no idea that you could chew cinnamon sticks - actually rather tasty. 

Delhi has an incredible metro system. Incredible because it is only 10 years old and when it was introduced it almost instantly took 900 buses off the streets. It was also profitable within a year yet single fares to even the furtherest destinations  are well under 50p. It also has brilliant women only carriages at the front with a train monitor furiously blowing his whistle at any errant males. 

So it's easier to get out to sites that are a bit further afield like the 73m Qutb Minar which was started in the 12th century. It's surrounded by the crumbling ruins of an enormous mosque in the centre of which is a metal pole over 2000 years old that was so expertly forged that not only has it never rusted but historians are at a loss to explain how it could possibly have been forged with the technology available at the time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment