Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Better than Disneyland"

Breaking in the newbies, aka, Day Tripper
Old Delhi

Really, really wiped out after a full day of sight-seeing (yes, sight-seeing - I've never done this in Delhi) with 2 brand newcomers, Jeff (Canada) and Susanna (Holland), both of whom just arrived at about 4am this morning. It was great fun to see India through the eyes of total newbies, and for my hard-earned local knowledge to be appreciated, but I am exhausted.

I set out a blueprint for "your first day in Delhi" at about 11am, and we followed it almost to the letter. I am glad to say it worked out very well, especially considering it was all stuff I've never done before.

Goes something like this:

1-Ignore the hotel's insistance that you take a taxi tour of the city (all day for "only" 750 Rs, or nearly $20 US). The rickshaws - auto and cycle - are a great intro to India and are part of the fun. And, we saved about $16 by taking them!

2- Autorickshaw to the Red Fort . --From Paharganj, 40Rs. According to Jeff, just the auto ride was "better than anything at Disneyland!" It was fun seeing the chaos, cows and oxcarts through the eyes of newcomers.

It was their first-ever auto ride - they had arrived from the airport in proper taxis.

3-Red Fort - for foreigners, 100Rs or $2.50. A good start, but frankly Humayan's Tomb is better in many ways. The Red Fort, though, is very centrally located and walking distance from 2 more attractions (below).
The secret no one tells you about the Red Fort is that the best part is outside. That gate, and those walls, extending forever it seems. Seeing it from the steps of the Jamma Masjid is awe inspiring. It's really all downhill from there!

4-Walk directly across the street (an adventure for Jeff and Susanna) dodging traffic to the Jain Temple and Bird Hospital. (Voluntary donation; I gave 10rs).

Note: if you are going into the Bird Hospital, do not leave your shoes at the temple gate like they ask you to. The birdhouse floors, as you can imagine, are filthy and wet.

The Bird Hospital housed many many pigeons, quite a few parakeets and the classic green wild parrot, and three forlorn peacocks/peahens. One, the steward told me, had been hit by a golf ball at the Delhi Golf Course. The other 2 had fractured legs from various mishaps.I especially liked the naive-folk wall murals depicting all the heinous fates that can befall a bird. Dog attacks, cat attacks, ceiling and desk fans, hunters, kite entanglement, and so on. I never would have thought of kite entanglement.

There's also a big mural on the office wall showing the Jain legend of a king who sacrificed his life to save a pigeon and a crow. The moment he died, the 2 birds automatically reverted to their true states - they were deities in disguise. The two deities (Indra, god of the heavens, and Varuna, the water god) blessed him and said they had come as birds to test him.

5-Walk most of the way to the Jamma Masjid, the biggest mosque in all India.

6-Finally give up a few 1000 feet from the Masjid entrance and get a cycle rickshaw directly to the gate. Otherwise, it is a long, long slog through a few acres of cheap sweaters and an open-air goat market. --30Rs for three people.

7-Have fun watching the bewilderment and awe on your friends' faces as we approach the enormous, overwhelming front steps of the mosque. It's actually more fortress-like than the Red Fort. "THIS," said Susanna, "is what you imagine India to be." Meaning, I think, ancient buildings, calls to prayer and loads and loads of people swarming every which way.

8-Entrance to the Masjid is free; but depending on the time of day, you must wait for the appropriate time. We had to wait some 30 minutes because prayers were going on. We managed to photograph some shy young ladies seated on the steps, but the elder Muslim ladies with their orange henna hair generally said "no."

Jeff and Susanna were mesmerized by the swarms of activity and people-watching. However, the mosque demands a 200Rs ($5) fee for each camera taken into the mosque. We thought this excessive and eventually decided to pay for only one camera, and share the results.

9-At this point it was 4.30 pm, so we wandered around the vast expanse of red sandstone enjoying that twilight haze. (I think it accompanies a mental haze, but that is still theory.)

10-Beat a retreat out the side entrance - to avoid the madness out front - and go via cycle rickshaw through Chandni Chowk's famous silver jewelry market and flower market, to Haldiram's for dinner. (The ride was an overpriced 50Rs, but we were very very tired at this point, and the driver was a good guide, pointing out stuff to us.)

The back alley markets below Chandni Chowk are fascinating in themselves, and had we not been so tired, we definitely would have gotten down from our chariot and walked around. Maybe some other day.

11-Watch as your friends' eyes widen at the crowds in Haldiram's. Order for them as they have no idea what most of the food is (in fact they requested that I order for them). Send one of them over to fight for a table and hold down the fort till the food comes.

This is the one thing that was not perfect in the day. Haldiram's was tooooo crowded, and I can get a better veg thali elsewhere for half the price (mine was 102Rs). Madan in Paharganj would have been much cheaper, closer to the hotel, and less frantic.

11-Autorickshaw back to Paharganj - perhaps overpriced at 60rs, considering we only paid 40rs to get there in the daytime, but it was nearly 7.30 everyone was asking outrageous prices. The traffic was pretty crazy at this point so the guy had to take a circuitous route.

As am I at this point, so I am signing off for now.

1 comment:

Madhukar said...

You could give a try to Paranthe Wali Gali near Chandni Chowk for some paranthas. Hope you don't mind oily stuff.