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 #3 In search of Baoli

 

Not being one for organized tours, and this, my sixth visit to India I am feeling pretty confident about finding my way, even learning a basic smattering of Hindi. Helpful? well not really as we found out on a visit to Nizamuddin.

Nizamuddin Baoli


Most monuments and shrines are easy as long as you are respectful and follow the rules, that’s not a big ask. Whilst researching some of the less visited parts of Delhi the stepwells came onto my radar. A stepwell, or Baoli  is described by famous French photographer, traveler Louis Rousselet ( 1864) as  “[a] vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting” at the shores of which bathers washed, surrounded by jungle greenery. He was not describing a lakeside scene or one of India’s famous riverside ghats, but an ancient well.

So that was the mission for today. Dehli has over 30 stepwells, and I had three on the list to see. This article describes more of the history of these beautiful feats of architecture that make up part of India’s rich history.

A walk through Lodhi Gardens after the rain is peaceful and beautiful amid the relentless traffic of Delhi. Nizzamuddin is where one of the Baoli still intact is a short walk from the gardens. If you intend to go there on your own ( without a guide) be aware this is absolutely not for the faint hearted. Most information I read blithely says, slightly to the north of Nizamuddin Mosque, what is not apparent is that the Baoli is directly at the entrance to one of the most important shrines for the Sufi faith, Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga. Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in

Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan in the company of a family who kept me under their wing the experience was wonderful and enlightening. Not so today. The walk through the market place is confusing and confronting with many places openly slaughtering animals for sale in incredibly unsanitary conditions. The entire marketplace is hot, dirty where it need not be. Poverty is one thing but is that an excuse for the mess and filth this place was?  this was another level altogether.

Probably at this stage turning back and revisiting with a guide was a good idea especially for female western tourists. We fell down the rabbit hole and after being pushed and shoved,  purchasing flowers and offerings ended up within the shrine where a large sign proclaimed Shariah Law. You need to come here with an open mind, check…an open heart- check…..What we didn’t understand or appreciate, in a place of worship was the pure looks of disgust aimed at us, mostly from women and the need to actually protect ourselves and belongings. We needed to leave now, but no,  that was also not going to happen with out the requisite filling out of the “visitors book” and extortion of money. We paid some money just to get out. the prescribed amount seemed to be in the realm of 5,000 rupees. Only carrying small sums of money we simply did not have this and felt very intimidated.

Sufi music is undeniably hypnotic and this shrine has a big night on a Thursday I would love to have gone to, but no way were we stepping back in there. Of course, now I read reviews and see some warnings, in hindsight this was another instance a guide or a small tour would have been a good idea. Self-doubt has crept in somewhat after today…

So did we see the sought after famed step well? YES and it was every bit as amazing as I thought, some eager children happily diving into the pure green water with big smiles on their faces. We left quickly and quietly.

 

 

 

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!

India Delhi #1 Friendship day, Lord Krishna.

Being met at the airport with flowers is most girls dream! Today this happened, a friend picked us up bearing flowers for friendship day, what a wonderful start to a trip! The first Sunday of August was declared Friendship Day and made a holiday in the USA in 1935 as a day dedicated to friends and friendship- how did I not know about this!

The huge proud flag flying at Connaught Place, Delhi

This is my first trip to India with a friend rather than family or solo and it’s her first trip so it’s very important to me she loves this place as much as I do.

August is not necessarily the ideal month to visit as monsoon is still in full swing but tickets were cheap so off we went.

Green Park is a residential neighbourhood of Delhi close to Hauz Khaus, a trendy cosmopolitan area which has numerous cafes and hangouts plus a lovely park. The hotel is, well, ok… it’s clean and comfortable which is all you need when busy out seeing the town, so no recommendations here for this hotel, but the area, yes.

Our first full day was a public holiday in India know as Raksha Bandhan. The day celebrates the love between brothers and sisters. It was one of the quietest days I have ever experienced in India!

ISKCON TEMPLE

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Lords Gaura and Nitai

Located south of the city and near the Baha’i Lotus Temple is the International Society For Krishna Consciousness temple. A truly magnificent and joyous place. Today marked the celebration of Lord Balarama’s appearance day ( birthday) It was colorful, loud and festive. There is a 30 min Vedic show outlining the basics of the Bhagavad Gita which was well done and informative.

An avatar of Krishna as Nrsimhadeva, protector of devotees

On our way out a bird fell from the tree to the ground without a head and its spine protruding out of its body!!! Oh, said the man next to us, must have been a tree snake- good grief !!! I am wondering if this has any significance for me and am trying/hoping to think this is not an ominous sign in any way!!!!

BENGALI MARKET

A trip to Delhi for me is not complete without a visit to this small area. This was where we lost all our clothes once in a fire at the dry cleaners! I was so pleased to see they had rebuilt the business! The sweet shops here are magnificent and a cheap thali lunch is around 280 R for two people   ( approx $6 AUD)

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Chole Bhature, a favourite chick pea dish


The sweet cabinets at Bengali Market

Then came the rain, and wow did it rain, quite spectacular, although most of what we planned for the day was outdoor so plan B was to head back to the hotel, drenched but happy. The rain initially makes us grim but it soon seeps away and leaves a lush green warmth from the newly washed trees.

After an hour or so of planning it was off the Hauz Khaus, the hip trendy area of Delhi for happy hour and dinner. Again, being a public holiday this vibrant nightlife area was quite quiet tonight so some modern Sufi music at Reloaded, a rooftop bar was just perfect- and the rain had stopped!

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It’s good to be back Delhi, see you tomorrow.