Under Foggy Skies Delhi Comes Alive

Trip Start Dec 18, 2013
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Trip End Jan 03, 2014


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Where I stayed
Cottage Yes Please New Delhi
Read my review - 5/5 stars

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Curry Breakfast and Punjab techno
The day really started at 630am with me strolling my way through the ghostly fog over Paharganj. The deserted main bazaar slowly awakened with rickshaws cruising out of alleyways and pots of chai boiling away at nondescript tea stands. By the time I walked the entire length of Paharganj main bazaar to New Delhi train station, the streets of Delhi truly sprung to life with hordes of cars, buses, rickshaws and pedestrians waltzing in opposite directions. 
 
I found a hole in a wall breakfast joint, went upstairs and sat down for breakfast. Punjab techno music blaring away, was loud and dicey. The chickpea curry was just as spicy as the music was loud. Looking out towards the train station from upstairs, it was a perfect setting to watch Delhi's chaos unfold as the shroud of fog grew even more paler in the morning light. Slowly the din of car horns just kept getting louder and louder, almost like a national competition.

New Delhi Train Station
Rocked up to the New Delhi train station, inquiring about train services to Agra and decisively bought a 6am ticket leaving tomorrow, at the Tourist Information Bureau office which I must say a blessing for foreigners. Especially for a first timer. My understanding is that one can also fill in a reservation form for a seat, submit the application and wait for your ticket to be approved, all done at the local ticketing booths. 

Old Delhi - Jama Masjid
A quick autorickshaw ride to Jama Masjid - India's largest mosque, opened up my eyes to Old Delhi's squalid living conditions. Climbing the steps to Jama Masjid, framed by the backdrop of Old Delhi's maze-like alleyways and street stalls, the experience was unbelievably surreal. Did I just travel back in time? Stepping into the grand compound of the mosque, my heart skipped when hundreds of pigeons took off from the marble floor, fluttering into the sky and puncturing the shroud of fog over Jama Masjid.
 
Ticket Scam at Jama Masjid
The entry fee of 300 Rs included my DSLR camera ticket but whilst in the mosque a "ticket inspector" insisted that I must buy another 300 Rs ticket for my iphone clearly visible in my front pocket. A pair of slippers I bought at the entry gate for 100 Rs was probably worth its purpose of protecting my feet from tons of pigeon droppings...but the two tickets of 300 Rs translated into AUD$12 left a rather bad taste. Not sure if this was a scam. Even after I stepped out of the mosque, sitting at the steps, I had random people coming up to me and insisting that I buy another ticket. "Piss off!" I raised my eyebrows at them. 
 
Passive/Aggressive Behaviour
It took another 100 Rs to scale the minaret tower for a hazy aerial view of Old Delhi. On a clear sunny day, it would have been a revealing cityscape of Old Delhi. But alas, grey fog was all I had captured in my camera! I chanced a view into the living quarter room of the mosque caretakers and asked for permission to shoot some photos. Leaving the room , a young caretaker started behaving badly and insisted for a tip. I ignored him and walked away. To my surprise, he started shouting "Oi! Oi!" at my face but alternated with soft begging of "Please. Please. Tip. Tip. As you like.." while he grabbed my arms. Very passive/aggressive behaviour. This just simply convinced me to keep my rupees firmly in my pocket. This shouting and harassing people in a mosque just did not cut it for me. I wanted to talk him down as I was so disappointed that he represented the mosque but decided against it. The muslim chap who opened the gate to the minaret tower on the other hand, was very pleasant and we even chatted briefly about islamic principles. 
 
Confusing Smells
Directly south of Jama Masjid Gate 1 lies the amazing network of Old Delhi's alleyways and street markets. Narrow lanes crowded with shoppers, beggars, wandering cows, honking motorcycles, lined with shops in every nooks and crannies selling everything from goat brains, hoofs and vegetables to fabrics, spices and local sweets. My sense of smell went into overdrive, frequently bombarded by a barrage of different fragrances/pollution/smoke/odours of the unknown. I got really confused olfactory but in an interesting way.
 
Extreme Poverty
Needlessly to say, I lost my way in this man-made cavern with streetscapes that looked really identical front and back. In this part of Old Delhi, extreme poverty truly revealed itself. Where there were food stalls, the poor huddled themselves close to the outdoor stoves for warmth and an anticipation that some kind souls would throw them some leftover food. A part of me just died on the spot. Quietly I took a few photos and caught the attention of one young beggar. Persistently he huddled close to me and repeatedly asked for 10 rupees. His english was effective and he did it with a kind smile. I asked how did he learn to speak english and he replied " Tourists". 
 
He stuck with me for 20 odd mins, consistently keeping close to my shoulders, sometimes holding on to my arms, so I was quite wary about my cash in my pocket...especially when he kept breaking eye contact to look down at my trouser pockets. I just didn't hand out my cash like he expected me to but man, he was persistent. To diffuse the awkward situation, I started joking with him and begged him for 10 rupees. To my surprise, he laughed nervously and played along. This went for quite awhile as I was lost in the bazaar maze. Seeing his light hearted spirit, I eventually gave him 10 rupees in exchange for his photograph. He was delighted. I was relieved.
 
Lost in Old Delhi
From my Lonely Planet map, I knew that I was in the vicinity near the Red Fort but I was helpless trying to exit this maze. Getting directions was fruitless, no on understood english (except for my stalker who had left me). Eventually a young pharmacist directed me out to the main street. According to my map, I was furthest away from the Red Fort as I could possibly be in Old Delhi. The few kilometres walk to the Lahore Gate at Red Fort, was another assault on my nose. Smells of sewer, manure and what nots even wafted through the pollution. Frankly speaking, the Old Delhi alleyways smelt better. 
 
Red Fort
It was kind of a school excursion day at the Red Fort. Just scores of school children in their uniforms. All smiles and excited faces from the kids. Really fortunate kids to be able to afford an education. The entry at Lahore Gate was definitely impressive with its epic scale but within its premises, Red Fort is really just another touristy venue. Domestic tourists flocked to this place. The Museum of India's Independence located here is probably worth a mention. The stepwell that I wanted to visit was out of bounds. It was at this point that I noticed alot of animals roaming the place, like squirrels, pigeons and dogs. Probably owing to the fact that most of the Indians are vegetarians. There is just an abundance of urban animals in Delhi!

Superb Mutton Curry
Even before I arrived in Delhi, many Indians had recommended for me to eat at Karims. So my culinary mission in Delhi was to check out this well known food institution. Getting to Karims on foot from the Red Fort, I had to meander through Chandni Chowk which brought me through its brilliant bazaars. I asked my way around, eventually realising that Karims is just directly in the main alley street outside of Jama Masjid Gate 1. I had travelled in a loop! Fortunate for me, I found myself wandering through the outdoor market outside of Jama Masjid Gate 2 which was truly fascinating. But unfortunately, Karims was closed today due to the death of one of its directors. So I settled at the next door eatery Al-Jawahar for a superb lunch of mutton curry with paratha.
 
Slum at Nizamuddin East
Took the autorickshaw down south to visit the monumental and massive Humayun's Tomb. Its beautiful facade of white marble and red sandstone is very well conserved. Set in a garden, people tend to forget that this is a tomb. Ironically Humayun's Tomb is surrounded by massive slums although not readily visible from the main streets. I caught a glimpse of Delhi's grim reality whilst on my way to Humayun's Tombs. Backtracking the same route along the main highway, I entered the slum compound via a rubbish heap bridge hidden from view with dense shrubs and trees. The entry area was a rubbish dumping ground and the residents - men, women and children were deep in their knees picking out rubbish that might be of value. In this sense, they were actually recycling. This area is known as Nizamuddin East. This is just a small community. Apparently the larger slum is just down south of the turning circle to Humayun's Tomb, known as Nizamuddin West. Unsure of their hospitality, I ventured cautiously deeper into the slum, brandishing my camera around my neck. No sooner than 10 minutes, the kids were already crowding around, asking for photographs. I obliged and more kids arrived. The more photos I took the more it brought out laughters and excitement from the children.
 
A Strange Oasis - Connaught Place
The pride of Delhi apparently is the shopping district called Connaught Place right in the middle of Delhi proper. It is well served by the Delhi Metro Interchange station - Rajiv Chowk at its core. The shopping strip radiates out from this station into inner and outer ring roads fronted by endless lines of international brands. A kind of western modern oasis of boutiques and restaurants, frequented by both the affluent and homeless. At least the walkways were properly paved...well almost anyway. Chai walas roaming and calling out, making sure shoppers always have access to hot masala teas. Ice cream kiosks and Indian snack stalls vying for your rupees...One plus point for me that came out of Connaught Place was that I managed to purchase an extra Canon battery for around AUD$60. That was 2900 Rs. (As I was writing this blog entry on 31 Dec at Bikaner, I spat out a clear plastic ribbon from my scoop of ice cream!) 
 
Mango Lassi
Returned to Paharganj and checked out Metropolis restaurant. Dinner was a superb but expensive mutton biryani washed down with a delightful mango lassi. Had to retire earIy at 9pm - jet lag kicking in! I thought I did well today.

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