Delhi, India – 31st July
We were picked up from the airport (for free) courtesy of our 3-star hotel which was lucky because there are no ATMs at the airport so we had no Rupees. The taxi delivered us to the hotel which was right in the middle of Old Delhi. Old Delhi was created by the Mughal leader, Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) back in the 1600s. New Delhi was designed & built by the British just south of original city & is a total contrast having tree-lined boulevards & large open spaces.
Our hotel was clean, with air-con but not many facilities (well none). The location was interesting, being down an alley off the heaving main market street near the Red Fort. Although we were one of the few Europeans there, we didn't feel particularly threatened but we were constantly being hassled by trickshaw drivers & touts. We enjoyed our 2 day stay there but moved to Connaught Place, the hub of New Delhi, into The Lalit, a luxury 5-star hotel for some rest & relaxation. The temperature in Delhi was about 40 deg so quite tiring walking about & the city smog obvious as we looked out of our hotel room.
We took a trickshaw to the Red Fort which was Shah Jahan’s residence from 1648. It is massive area inside the red stone walls but largely empty now. The main entrance opens into Chatta Chowk which used to house Delhi’s most talented craftsmen but now houses Delhi’s most pushy souvenir vendors. The marble Diwan-i-Khas (private audience room) is at the back of the spacious gardens & is the most beautiful building in the fort. It is made of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
The Jama Masjid Mosque, another overblown piece of architecture designed by Shah Jahan, is in the heart of the old city. It is the biggest mosque in India & can accommodate the prostrate bodies of 25,000 worshippers in the main courtyard.
Humayan’s Tomb, Delhi’s first Mughal mausoleum, was built in 1550s & is seen as a prototype for the Taj Mahal. This Persian style building is made of red sandstone inlaid with black & white marble.
In total contrast is the Baha’i Temple, an ultra modern building with similar style to the Sydney Opera House. When we went there were long queues of visitors waiting to go in, it has more visitors than the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower.
There is so much crime & corruption in Delhi that big businesses are moving to other cities. Although Microsoft have just announced they are building their new centre here, but then they are no strangers to corruption.
You can never believe anything anyone says, taxi drivers will take you to the wrong hotel (for their commission), prices are hiked depending on how gullible you look & you have to guard your valuables, day & night – everything is so much of a hassle.
Traffic in India & particularly Delhi, is chaotic & frightening. The rule of the road is simple; people give way to motorbikes, motorbikes give way to Tuk-Tuks, Tuk-Tuks give way to cars, cars give way to lorries & everything gives way to cows. We encountered cars & lorries going the wrong way on dual carriageways, taking short cuts to side roads. Everyone drives in the outside lane (the lane with fewer bumps) so they overtake on either side, if you have your nose in front then you assume right of way.
Horns are sounded to say you are overtaking or want to overtake or don’t want to be overtaken or anything – you can get deafened on Indian roads.
In the cities Tuk-Tuks are like swarms of insects, they come from every direction. However, we found them cheap & convenient for small trips. In the country they are weapons of mass destruction – I saw a Tuk-Tuk with 7 inside, 4 hanging on the back & 4 on roof, I doubt if it could ever stop in an emergency. When we drove south it took 1 ½ hours just to get out of Delhi.
I was fascinated to see that Morris Oxfords are still being manufactured in India. My father had a Morris Oxford back in 1961 (until I wrote it off) & I remember it as a large car (big enough to have your relations in the back) but they seem quite small now. The style & design of the Morris Oxford made British Leyland what it is today.
After Delhi, our plan was to see the main historical sites in Rajasthan (the Golden Triangle plus a few others) but we didn’t want the bother with all the organisation, so we got a tour company to arrange it for us. The organiser was a charming young man but you felt that after shaking hands with him, you should count your fingers. He arranged a car with our own driver, a Sikh called Happy Singh, who would be taking us to these major tourist sites - little did we know how long this would take.
I was pleased that Happy was a careful driver who wouldn’t hurt a fly, literally, he would catch flies in the car & let them escape through the window rather than kill them.