Delhi.. a shock to the system

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
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Trip End ??? ??, 2006


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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Delhi 22 May
It's no good pretending otherwise, Delhi itself was a shock to the system, and a general assault on all of our senses.
The nightime view from the planes window as it circled the runway gave little away as to what we might expect. We could see what appeared to be small open fires flickering close to the airport perimeter fence as we came into land...campfires, we presummed, a few lights from surrounding buildings and the feint patterns of suburban streets but little else. The airport building was straight from the 1950's a very plain grey unremarkable concrete box . It had the appearance of a very dated provincial airfield rather than an international airport befitting a capital city.

Although we thought we were prepared for the fact that india is a 'third world' country ...we were'nt. Arriving at 2:30 in the morning meant we had a 45 minute drive from the airport through the dark and only partially lit streets of its suburbs to the centre, where our budget hotel was located. We passed inumerable small groups of people camped at the side of the road in ramshackle 'tents' constructed from plastic sheeting / canvas with makeshift poles, alot of the women were cooking on open fires.
Rows of Cycle rickshaw 'drivers'could be seen asleep on or under their machines. Huge heavygoods lorries hauled their loads noisily through the potholed streets. Packs of stray dogs and all manner of cattle wandered about the streets suddenly appearing in the headlights of our taxi. Our immediate impression of delhi was as Intimidating as it was exciting!

We reached our hotel (in one of the seedier parts of the city) around 3:30 am and in order to 'check in' we had to wake up several men who were asleep on the floor of the foyer! (Not quite the reception we had received in our HK hotel). Our room was small and it has to be said by our standards so far, the worst we had experienced (apart from the brothel in Taiyuan). Our balcony overlooked a narrow side street and a scene that will stay with me..the road was partially surfaced but full of holes it resembled a Beiruit scrap yard with vehicles of all descriptions crammed in all directions. There was a car sat opposite us with a massive dent in the roof which contained a large sleeping dog . It looked as if it had fallen from a great height onto the roof of the car and had been rendered unconcious by the impact, to add to this effect it's tongue was dangling from the side of its mouth over the edge of the roof!

There was a mesh of cables and wires running everywhich way back and forth across the street between the buildings creating a kind of safety net, presumably to stop guests committing suicide once they realised what they had let themselves in for! Just as we prepared for bed the relative quiet was shattered by amplified singing and I mean AMPLIFIED at full volume we hoped it would be a one off (if it happened tomorrow night we'd be moving!)To top off our arrival the air con wouldn't work and it was a delightfully warm 38 degrees (95 ish)in the midle of the night!... Welcome to Delhi!

As we lay on the bed sweating to death, Jane gave me a look as if to say...what are we doing here? The next thing I remember was waking in the Morning to the sound of traffic from the street below.

At this point I feel obliged to let you all know how hot Delhi is in May...BLOODY SWELTERING! Our thermometer read 47 degrees C (117f) and all the local newspapers agreed. Not unusual for an Indian summer but very unusual for a lad from Notts.It is difficult to explain just how stupifyingly hot that is, unless you have experienced it for yourself. (try turning your oven to that temperature and sticking your head in, and see how you like it!)On average we found ourselves drinking about 5 or 6 litres of water each a day just to stay hydrated as well as soft drinks and the odd beer or two. (And even then we didnt need to go to the loo!)


Our first morning saw us hiring an air-conditioned car with driver for a bit of sight seeing (as many of the sights in Delhi are spread over the city), good value, for a few quid they take you anywhere you want and wait for you!. We planned to come back to delhi later on in our trip so we only needed to see a few sights this time around.

The trip from the airport the previous night was the only experience of driving in india we'd had so far and it didn't prepare us for the ensuing chaos. Driving in Delhi can only be described as UTTER MADNESS , like 'Wacky Races' on acid, and is an experience in itself. The only rule is ...'that there are no rules!'(more on indian driving later)

First stop was India gate a 42 metre high memorial arch erected to the Indian troops who died in WW1 and campaigns in the northwest frontier. It overlooks the Rajpath (Kingsway)a massive road surrounded by ornamental ponds amidst large open lawned areas. Despite the heat hundreds milled around it laying on the lawns and children were splashing about in the ponds. We were tempted to join them!
At one end of the Rajpath we toured the Presidents formal residence (once the home of the viceroy) a magnificent brick building, immaculately kept, in stark contrast to many of the buildings we had seen in the vicinity. It was also heavily guarded ...no parking or stopping in the area, our car had to drive around while we took a few quick photos, watched by armed guards.

Next we made a quick stop at Chandni Chowk the main Bazar and shopping area, scouting for bargains in readiness for our return to delhi in about a month (even so jane couldn't resist buying a made to measure Salwar Kameeze (Indian style long blouse and trousers)in an attempt to blend in and combat the heat. The last stop of our half days sightseeing was the temple to the god of wealth, we said a few quick prayers (well you never know) and the rest of our time we spent driving around the city getting our bearings for later exploration.(the above does'nt sound much but while we were acclimatising to the heat it was enough!)

We arrived back at our hotel soaked in sweat and decided to cool off and plan our next move. The hotel had a travel agency in the basement so we payed them a visit and managed to land a great deal! We showed them our pre-prepared list of 'must see' destinations and they came up with an itinerary which included them all and others besides. The deal was for us to have a car and driver for a three week tour of Rajasthan with all accomodation and breakfasts included..this cost a little over 900 GBP. After checking out the competition we discovered it was a great deal (because it was the 'low season', nobody else is daft enough to attempt it during the summer!)
So we agreed to set off the following day.

The 'tour' would mean that we would be driving for 4 to 6 hours a day and only spending a couple of days in most places but they agreed that we could change our schedule to suit ourselves providing the entire trip took the planned 21 days.
We felt a little guilty, as we were supposed to be making our 'own way' around India in true backpacking style on buses and trains, but the deal was too good to turn down. We would get to see far more than we could have hoped under our own steam, in the time available. It would effectively leave us with 'spare time' afterwards to explore additional places in the way we had originally planned.

Later that evening we decided to visit the cinema to end our visit to Delhi but couldn't find anything we wanted to see, so we put it off untill our return. A good job to! Because in the morning we were confronted by the headlines "Cinemas Bombed" apparently some Sikkh extremists had bombed two cinemas killing several people and injuring many more...a lucky escape!

After reading about our 'near miss' we packed all or kit into the little 'Indicab' car, got aquainted with our Sikkh driver Mr Harinda Singh, known to all as 'happy', and set off for the five hour journey through the frenetic streets of Delhi and onto the plains of Rajisthan, more than a little relieved to be leaving Delhi behind us (for now).

Mandawa A small fortified market town established in the 18th century was to be our first destination. It is known for having some fine examples of old merchants houses (Havelis')... and we couldnt wait to get there!


NOTE
The next few entries will be brief (as will our stays in each place), just covering the highlights but we will try to add as many photos as possible.
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