India Delhi #5 History abounds ( Part 2)

Actually, I have to admit today we decided to try the Hop On Hop Off bus… HOHO…..usually great for visitors new to a city to get a feel for, and lie of the land.My friend read out the first review on Trip Advisor… ” this was shit…..” we laughed so much and still did it. result? it is as described ( shit), difficult to find the meeting point, no maps, route different to that on the map ( eventually given to us) and filthy seats. As this is not a review site, I digress.

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Dilli Haat- nice unhassled shopping and lunch. Good for souvenirs

Previous visits to Delhi have been much more locally oriented, hanging out with locals, eating, walking, looking at all the varied and interre3sting sights around Connaught Place. Check out the book vendors around here, incredible what they have, and so cheap compared to Australia. I pick up books for under $5 AUD each. This trip I was determined to catch the monuments….

TIP: seems to be many hotels ( especially smaller ones) have scant information on most sight seeing activities apart from organised tours. Make a plan, do the research and download travel apps that can be listened to offline whilst going around these monuments…They advertise at the site, but unless you have cheap roaming you are hardly likely to download the app there, check this one out…it seems to have a free trial.Would have been very helpful to us.

Today’s sightseeing sites were:

Dilli Haat– Photo above, we just called in for lunch. Nice group of stores and handicrafts, not too many in your face sales people which is welcomed. The pressure on the streets can be very oppressive.

Qutab Minar

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Tower is built in five different stages

Well worth the trip. A 73-metre  high tower originally started in approx 1200 AD. Read up here for more info…vey cool in India, you can actually walk around and touch history.

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Part of the Qutab Minar complex

The Bahá’í Lotus Temple

In a city dominated by Temples, Mosques, Shrines the Bahá’í built one of the most outstanding pieces of architecture as a place for non-denominational worship. It is like a mini Opera house and is just magnificent, and oh, so quiet.

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A grey day but look at the water colour!

Humayans Tomb

India has a number of UNESCO heritage sites, and this is one of them. I can’t believe we can actually walk around and be so close to history- in a lot of parts of the world this would be roped off and behind glass ( well parts of it)

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Sometimes referred to as the mini Taj Mahal

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The actual tombs

So that’s it, we are all monumented out now for the day. Time to put our lives at risk again in a crazy auto rickshaw run to our home base near Hauz Khas. Not sure at what point we were ok with going up a three lane highway the wrong way and given the simple explanation of “it’s ok ma’am, it’s legal at night”… really? oh well, must be ok then, after all, this is India…. More to come….

India Delhi #4 History abounds.

Visiting India in monsoon is hot, chaotic and can be trying on the most laid back people at times. Remembering we have a cool hotel room to go back to, whilst most people don’t put it into perspective for me quickly.

Sure, we have heat and humidity in Australia, but this is punishing and relentless for Delhites and the rains are welcome, often romantic. My last post was about the two personalities of the monsoon rains, the romance, and the chaos. This is purely about some of the magnificent historical sites there are to see in Delhi.

The Red Fort, like my last three visits to Versailles, this has been closed on each and every of my six visits to Delhi ( sigh). Rookie mistake….check before you go to any monuments. Closed days for most monuments are Mondays but on this occasion, Independence Day is coming up so security preparations are underway.

First stop is the Sikh place of worship. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. Located very close to Connaught place it is easily accessible and easy to find.

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Inside Gurdwara Bangla Sahib

We were made to feel most welcome here and it is such a calm place. Of note was the large pool, or Sarovar inside the grounds which was a surprise. Built originally in 1783 as a small shrine. The Sikhs have a concept of Langar which means that all people of all race and religion may eat in the Langar halls. My son was told this when he embarked on his overseas travels! As with most places of worship, shoes need to be removed and heads covered.

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Very serene pool, or Sarovar, even with fish!


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Beautiful hypnotic sounds of kirtan playing inside.

Second stop today was India Gate, also under tight security for the upcoming festivities on August 15. India Gate resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and is a 42-metre high war memorial to the 70,000 Indian soldiers who fought for the British in WW1. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, as are many of the British style buildings in Delhi. There is also an eternal flame for the troops killed in the 1971 war with Pakistan. I really have no words apart from what the hell were the British thinking, how dare they come and take over another peoples country …makes me embarrassed of my history. ( that’s a rant for another post!)

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India Gate

The most positive part of this large memorial is the magnificent grounds that surround it and watching families enjoy the sunsets and picnic here.

It seems apt to now mention Mahatma Gandhi, who, through non-violent civil disobedience was the revered leader who led India to Independence and became an inspiration worldwide. At our bus stop was this guy dressed as Gandi with a Charkha. A good definition is given in this article Needless to say he drew a huge crowd and it was quite moving.

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Depiction of Gandhi and his Charkha

A visit to Raj Ghat which is Gandhi’s memorial is moving and left a long lasting impression on me. We didn’t visit there on this trip, so no pictures are included.Needless to say, it is worth the while and certainly to find out more about this remarkable man and his life.

By now monument overload sets in, as frankly there is a lot to see and do and would rather take longer at each one than rush around. The heat at this time of year also makes it slow going. Tip: if possible don’t come at this time of year ( August)

India, Delhi #2 The romance of Monsoon

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple is a travelogue novel  I read several years ago about the authors love affair with the city of Delhi. The colourful stories of his time and experiences learning about the history of this intriguing city made for a compelling reason to try and follow in his footsteps.

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My romantic view of Delhi

 

Classical poets and music romanticize monsoon. The intense heat, languid afternoons, walks in the gardens and the smell of freshly washed flowers…romance blossoms and is rekindled in the warm rains.  A welcome relief from the intense heat at this time of year, it is a time to come out and appreciate nature, the trees have a new sheen to them after being washed, watching children play in the rain..remember when you were a kid? splashing in puddles, standing under drain pipes, dancing in the rain… even on cold days when it rains the noise on my tin roof is comforting and soothing.

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A walk in Lodi gardens after the rain

 

Six years ago my first visit to India was in the intense heat of summer, what was I thinking? Not realising that pools are generally not common place in hotels here, it was so hot I longed to stay somewhere with a pool. The trip to Rishikesh was long and hot and the relief of a swim was so longed for. Upon arrival, the pool looked so inviting, but as it was getting dark, it could wait until tomorrow. The morning came and to my horror, the pool was being emptied! ” Monsoon is coming madam” of course it would have overflowed…. aghhhh… Monsoon came the promised day and it poured. After initially thinking this was grim I began to enjoy the rain and the joy it brought. I met an extraordinary woman during monsoon, we have remained friends ever since. Maybe we met because of monsoon.

The best part of this monsoon was that I met an extraordinary woman, we talked and talked, and did yoga together for a few days then she flew back to her side of the globe and later I went to mine. We have remained friends ever since. Maybe we met because of monsoon.

Monsoon brings people together, in a sort of “we are all in this together ” frame of mind as witnessed today in Old Delhi. We were aware that monsoon was in full swing, and living in a sub tropical climate we are used to heavy rain. What was an experience it was being in Delhi, a city of 24 million people and an infrastructure that is overloaded. The rains whilst giving much-needed relief from the heat brought the city to its knees. The traffic was gridlocked and the streets flood within minutes. What I didn’t see was tempers overheating ( apart from the obligatory horns that form part of the daily noise in Delhi) or people getting aggressive, but rather,  in general accepting and enjoying the rain, getting on with their day and being part of the moment.

The ever precarious overhead wires!

A visit to Old Delhi is a must whilst you visit here.There is almost a demarkation line between the old and the new.

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Reality view of monsoon in Old Delhi

 

Specifically the spice markets of Old Delhi were the destination for today. Once in the Chandni Chowk area everything changes, cycle rickshaws and other auto rickshaws that are only specific to this part of the city ( not allowed into the other areas) abound. This meant getting to know the prices again. Our first trip seemed very cheap at 20 rupee, the driver assuring us his umbrella ( cover on cycle) would keep us dry… after about 50 meters we were soaked so opted to stand in the shelter of a Shiva Temple to wait out the downpour… which only got worse and flooded our comparatively dry spot. Everyone was quiet and happy for the rain but being eager torsits we decided to brave it.

Flooded streets bring the city to a standstill

The result was not good and the driver announced the price was actually $20 USD whaaaat? Sure it’s fine to up the price for tourists and haggling over small price hikes for people who earn so little is unfair in my opinion. However this was not on… so beware of this- the US dollar trick was one I hadn’t seen before.

After negoation out of this one we finally found the famed spice markets. A network of streets with all sorts of colourful samples of spices and legumes varying in quality and size. Obviously there is much more going on behind the scenes as men with loads of books and dockets were intensely busy!

Old Delhi spice markets

Not being one for organized tours this may have been an instance where we would have learnt and understood a lot more had we done this. The streets are chaotic, dirty and probably a place not for the faint hearted. If you are going to pick a walking tour make sure it is one with only a few people as trying to stick with a group honestly would be akin to herding cats!

Kala Nemak or black salt in raw form

Spices are a sensory pleasure so spotting a vessel full of something resembling coal was instantly interesting to me . It was indeed Indian black salt, an ingredient I have used but was not aware of its raw form. Also known as kala namak or sanchal. It has a particularly sulphuric smell that is so good in vegan cooking as it makes stuff smell and taste like egg! Its health benefits are numerous according to ayurvedic medicine. Of course this had to be a take home souvenir. Why why why did I decide two kilos of salt was a good idea to haul around in my bag all day. Because it’s what I do, travel and cook….sore shoulders are a small price to pay.

Wrap up of monsoon and  old Delhi? both are fabulous and frustrating. Advice after this? Either research very very well, get a private guide ( best idea) or go on a small group tour. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing)

Check out the blogs by Food Tour In Delhi and read some to the great reviews they have… I think well worth it!

JAPAN : Insiders guide to Pachinko, Toilets and more

This is my very first blog on one of my favorite countries- Japan, and I have chosen to title it like that- what was I thinking? There are so many oddities here for us westerners that I would be remiss of me to not mention them!

This trip to Japan is a quick one ( seven days) but covers a lot of ground. If you only have a week this is totally achievable and will leave you hankering for more. I will be posting articles on each city I visited separately. This post is about some of the more curious aspects of Japan and modern Japanese culture that I find fascinating. In fact entire TV series and books have been made dedicated to the  quirkiness of Japanese culture. I have family in Japan and as a disclaimer I love and respect the Japanese people, but man they have some peculiar ways of doing stuff!

TOILETS . When I first came to Japan in the late 1980’s most toilets outside the hotels were the squat type so McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts were the only places us delicate types would venture to use. Now the Japanese have mastered the art of sitting in peace. Or, one could say this is a natural extension of Zen…A typical toilet, even in airports has a heated seat, a bidet ( for the back bits) and a washer ( for the lady bits) and even music that is optional in case you don’t  want the person beside you to hear your personal sounds ( how perfect this would be at home many of you are thinking) The instruction panels range from the very pictorial basic ones to mind boggling variations that leave me wondering, really, just how many ways are the to do this? Beware the flush button as this may be confused with the attendant call button.

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A basic control panel!

PACHINKO

These parlors make our Aussie  Pokie rooms look like child’s play- do not be fooled,  it is way more serious. I have now had two attempts at this, both unaided and I have come out no wiser as to how on earth this game works. A disclaimer is that I was never any good at Pinball. So, from what I can gather you put money in, get a load of steel balls and shoot them around to win more steel balls. Sounds relatively simple, but I just failed miserably in getting any balls back , so after my Y 2000 ( about $23 AUD) was all gone I gave up. This place is not for the faint hearted , the noise is incredible, the players relentless in their dedication, ambition and their chain smoking. Obviously this is a game of skill that is beyond me as many people had basket upon basket of balls stacked up beside them. Have a go- if not just for the experience.

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View of the machine- sensory alert

TRAIN ETIQUETTE

Japan is a nation of many millions,and as as such their cultural etiquette is all about politeness- on the surface at least. Order is what makes thier society work. Follow the signs and the rules. Of course the Gaijin (or Foreigner ) card still appliers in most instances whereby any dumb move on your behalf is written off. That being said, when in Rome do as in Japan I say.

On the escalator, stand on one side-which side I do not know as it seems to vary, just follow and all will be well. At the platform, orderly queues for before each train is due ( and they are ALWAYS on time) let the people get off first and then you are good to go. Thinking back isn’t this they way I was bought up? yeah.. what has happened to modern day western politeness?

SMOKING

Wow the Japanese love to smoke! its changing but beware that smoking is still allowed inside most restaurants, although there are usual designated areas. Odd since its not allowed outside- in Tokyo at least.

POLITENESS

The English are known for their stiff upper lip, and politeness- but most of the time this is cynical humour- I am originally English so feel somewhat justified in saying that. The Japanese however take it to the next level. It can be somewhat foreboding until you relax into it and just accept this is what they do. Being greeted at my hotel- and a cheap one at that by people bowing can be a little unsettling, but rather nice. Then the entire staff at the check in all do the same thing.. walk to the lift and someone is thee to push the button- well that saves my energy I thought.. lovely… get in the lift and the button pusher is there bowing to me as the doors close- awesome!

PUBLIC BATHS

Today I had my first experience in a “public Bath” how hard could this be.. yahoo, in Australia we refer to them as spas or hot tubs, generally an experience being sometimes a solo affair with a quiet cup of tea or a team event involving numerous people, cocktails and rowdy music. Not so in Japan. Of course I was aware that here bathing is taken seriously, so when I booked onto a hotel that offered this , I was ready to go. After a full days sightseeing experience in Osaka, a relaxing bath was just the ticket. I read, and re read the instructions carefully, also phoning a friend to do some double checking. I did put a cheeky little bottle of wine in my bag, just in case I was alone and could recreate my bathtub at home.

After dressing in the appropriate “room wear” having stripped down entirely, I donned the room slippers and headed off. Boys and girls have their own rooms… enter the anti chamber… another pair of slippers is required, so I leave my ones at the door and don those for the meter walk into the changing area, I then did a quick scope of the bath chamber and realised I needed to now bare all. Whilst being a bit confronting, nobody gives a damn! I sit myself down on the child like chair and shower then hop in the HOT bath. Hmm clearly the quick shower is not quite enough, my other bathing companions are slowly and surely lathering themselves from head to toe methodically. Ok ill give it a few minutes, if I don’t pass out from the heat…silently wishing I had had a swig from the wine to calm my unsure disposition. After what seemed like for ever I decided to exit stage left and got out and proceeded to do the full lather for extra cleanliness.

CAPSULE AND LOVE HOTELS. Usually I would have put this under the heading of sub culture, however this is so mainstream that it deserves a mention here. My Airbnb lodgings were in very mainstream areas and I constantly saw hotels advertising rates by the hour- of course I cant say exactly what goes on behind closed doors, but short term hotel stays of 1- 3 hours is quite normal- maybe they just need a cup of tea and a lie down huh!

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Love Hotel

SUB CULTURE

Much has been made of the weirder side of life in Japan, the sub culture or quirkiness of places like Hrajuku in Tokyo with the numerous Maid Cafes, Cat Cafes, Bird and even Hedgehog Cafes, and on it goes. There is a glitzy sub culture of sexuality and I am not talking Geisha girls here…so what ever rocks your boat you will find it here in Japan that’s for sure.

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Maids outfits

As I have neared the end of this insight into some of the quirkier things I have experienced I realise there are so, so many others. I   will either write chapter two or intersperse them with the following posts. Thank you  for reading- I hope this has been helpful and informative, and when you experience these things on your travels- please share and let me know.