Delhi is a mole and reflects India with all its contrasts. There is an incredible India advertised by the Ministry of Tourism, the India of sumptuous palaces, hotels or old trading houses. It is not for nothing that one either loves or hates the place.
12 Hours in Delhi
I left for New Delhi and start dreaming a lot about this trip. On the flight I see a couple leafing through the Lonely Planet guide of India. We started a conversation and they go for two weeks. Their idea is to travel through the famous New Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle and then visit the Valley of flowers in Uttarakhand.
We arrived at night in New Delhi and we take the taxi together. Once we have collected the luggage we look for the official taxi kiosk. A waiter takes us through the parking lot to a corner where the taxi driver awaits us. My backpack flew into the trunk. When I was in the car, he asked for the address.
I give the address of a random hotel among those in the Paharganj area, the backpacker's district in the Arakashan Road in New Delhi. The subsequent drive to the hotel was the most thrilling car ride of our lives. He took out a colorful paper bag, from which came two leaves wrapped in leaves. This only happens in India, I thought to myself. I sat in the taxi for three minutes and smoked a cigarette.
Delhi has presented itself just as I expected, with sultry heat and neglected peripheral streets. The taxi stops in front of the hotel where our driver waits for his succulent commission. We doubt, but due to the late hours of the morning and the fact that the hotel does not seem so bad outside makes us give up and we get off the taxi.
In the end, I can rest in my sordid room facing, the dilemma of whether to turn off the fan and spend a suffocating and humid heat or keep it on and withstand a hellish noise caused by the contact of a piece of the broken blade that hits the base of the device at the end.
24 Hours in Delhi
I do not know what time it was, but it was very early when the phone rang to offer me breakfast and a lot of tourist proposals and excursions. I rejected saying that they let me sleep. But even though I lacked hours of sleep, the jet-lag, together with the commercial sense of my innkeepers causes me to get up. So I took a shower, dress and we went down to breakfast at the Japanese restaurant of our hotel.
Breakfast is buffet style and most things are Indian style. So in addition to the classic toast and coffee, I grab some baked chicken and one of the stews in the trays. I choose a masala tortilla. We left the hotel at ten o'clock and I launched the first of the activities I do when I arrive in a city. I take an address that points to the supposed center or point of interest and walk without hurry following the trail that leaves the flow of traffic and pedestrians.
I do not see even the slightest trace of places that may have tourist interest. In view of the situation and the relative humidity of the environment, I decided to end the experiment and take out the map. It seems that I am less than a kilometer from Connaught Place so with the recovered course I head there. Throughout this area, we can find all kinds of tourist services, hotels (of a higher standard than Paharganj) restaurants, travel agencies, banks and exchange centers.
From there I approach the so-called Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory dating from 1724, with restorations in 1852 and 1910. Its ocher structures are actually sundials that made it possible to calculate not only the hour but also the solar and lunar calendars with surprising precision. Like Connaught Place, a certain monumentality is perceived in these places, but it has been devoured by indolence.
When we reached the area of India Gate, we walked through several streets taking advantage of the fact that in that area there were sidewalks. On the way, we met a lot of animals. For example, striped squirrels that ate what was on the ground, a bird, a pretty quiet puppy and a macaque that looked had fought. But my favorites of the day were the green parrots and I found a different scene with squirrels and parakeets sharing food.
We went to Raj Ghat to see the Mahatma Gandhi memorial. Fortunately, the entrance is free. It has several gardens and in the center of these a marble slab has a flame lit in his honor accompanied by flowers. In it are engraved what were supposed to be Gandhi's last words, Hey Ram. I must confess that I did not find anything special.
From the Gandhi Memorial, we headed to the Akshardam Temple, making a short stop on the road to take a photograph of the entire temple as inside photos are not allowed (in addition, the place has a security measures worthy of the White House). The truth is that it is one of those visits in New Delhi that is worth doing despite not being able to photograph the temple while inside it is beautiful. To get there we had to queue separated by sexes.
The frisking was quite strict. After the security check we started the visit of this temple made of pink sandstone. That color of the exterior contrasts with the interior of the main temple where white and gold abound. Here is a Swaminarayan statue of more than 3 meters.
Then we reach the Humayun's Tomb, a funeral monument that inspired the Taj Mahal. The walk is very pleasant. We then visit the oldest monument in Delhi, the Purana Qila. The next building is the Qila I Kuhna mosque. The entrance gate is made of red sandstone and beautiful marble inlays.
We look at the intersections and are amazed at how big this structure is. The combination of marble and red sandstone fits perfectly. We look up. The last stop here is the Safdarjung Tomb. Our next stop was the Baha'i House of Worship, commonly known as the Lotus Temple. Its impressive exterior design, often compared to the Sydney Opera House, contrasts with the austerity of the interior because in this type of temple we cannot find images or icons of any kind.
Dozens of tourists head towards the main building of the Lotus Temple. We had to stand in line and go through the appropriate security arc to enter the premises. Our driver then took us to Qutab Minar.
Time is running. We get off at the Saket Mall and flee from the extreme heat. We enter and are immediately in another world. It is air-conditioned, sparkling clean, there are shops from Zara to Vero Moda and even a Swatch watch shop. This other world is just now convenient for us. We find the food corner and indulge in Chicken burger, a huge portion of chips and a large coke with lots of ice cream. After so much rice and curry, a burger is a feast.
As we leave the mall, the heat almost takes our breath away. Back at the hotel, we stop at one of the many street stalls that flood New Delhi and we buy mangoes, bananas, and pears. That was going to be our dinner. So after leaving everything in the fridge in our room, we went for a walk.
I take a rickshaw and go back to the hotel. At the hotel, I decide to move to another hotel in Paharganj. We go to Main Bazaar, the main street of Paharganj. We decide to eat there as I have not eaten for more than 24 hours. The place is on the third floor, with a flight of stairs and on the first floor, there is a makeshift bonfire and a lot of pots around where they cook the food. This place is quite reasonable.
We order murgh makhani, chicken breasts cooked in tandoori with tomato, butter, and cream, accompanied by sada chawal, basmati rice and lachha paratha. The curry I ate was not bad. At the exit, we are chewing a bit of jhilmil supari, a mixture of digestive spices that refresh our mouth. We enjoy a sudden tropical storm that catches us halfway. With the aftertaste of curry still on our palate, in the end, I go back to the hotel.
48 Hours in Delhi
My plan is to head north as soon as possible. Manali is my destiny. According to the guide at any Paharganj agency, I can buy a seat on the buses of the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) for 400 rupees with 16 hours of bus travel to Manali.
I go to the station. I cannot resist the temptation to ask for Shimla, and I am punctually informed. If I take the train to Kalka at 6 o'clock in the morning, I will arrive there at 11.30 and at 12 o'clock a mountain train will go to Shimla. Once there many agencies can take me to Manali. I am so eager to leave New Delhi that I bought the ticket on the spot, thus breaking my pre-established plan.
With the satisfaction of having my escape route confirmed I am ready to tour old Delhi and look for a pedestrian way to the Jama Masjid. We go through an intricate network of alleyways in the neighborhood of New Delhi. I arrive in Chandni Chowk and once emerged I am again surrounded by chaos, stronger than ever. At the end of one of the narrow streets, I can see the bulbous domes of the mosque that show us the way.
During the visit, perhaps what most impressed me about this mosque was not the magnificence of its architecture. It was the result of a mixture of Mughal and Indian styles. Particularly noteworthy are the two large minarets that flank it. Inside it houses (people say) a sandal, a hair and a footprint of the footprint of Muhammad himself. After a while wandering and photographing what happened there, we took out the phone to take a panorama.
The rain surprises us by the way, but the shower, although very intense, hardly lasts about ten minutes. As soon as it dissipates, we have the same suffocating heat as before but with even more humidity. We go to the Red Fort. The path that took us directly to the Red Fort through the streets was much easier on Google Maps.
We buy a ticket and are searched by security, as everywhere here at the sights. We enter the Red Fort through the Lahore Gate. We continue through a covered shopping arcade with many souvenir shops. There is a lot of shopping, but mainly from the tourists. First, we come to the Naubat Khana, a three-story red sandstone gatehouse. The outer walls are beautifully decorated. Here the guests of the Emperor were received.
The terrain inside the fortress walls is quite extensive. Next, we come to the public audience hall, the Divan I Am. The pavilion is supported by countless sandstone pillars. And again we are asked for a photo. But this time the other way around. The family wants to be photographed. They do not have a camera, but for them, the highlight is to see themselves on the screen of our digital camera.
The imperial private-room is called Khas Mahal. Here we find filigree marble stonework. The marble is sometimes so thin that the light shines through. Unfortunately, the rooms are not accessible to the public. We continue through gardens to Diwan I Khas, the private audience hall of the Mughal rulers. The audience hall is made of white marble and gives the glory of back then only hint.
The massive columns feature precious inlays, gilding, and paintings. Here the Mughal rulers have received high-ranking personalities to private audiences. We spent over two hours in the Red Fort. On the one hand, because the terrain is very spacious, on the other hand, because of the heat. At these temperatures, we take regular breaks and sit in the shade to rest.
We then visit Dariba Kalan, where women buy jewelry, fabrics, flowers, and decorations. Then there is the first time Delhi Street food to try. At a stall, we taste the Aloo Tikki, a type of potato pancake with tamarind and coriander mint. It tastes delicious. On the way to the Khari Baoli Spice Market, I try Naan, Chapati, Paratha, Puri, chickpea curry and a lassi. All this in a small restaurant whose upper floor is so low that even with my 165 cm I reach almost to the ceiling.
The spice market itself is a unique experience. Sacks of spices from all parts of India and the world pile up in the streets, and in the streets where chili peppers are ground and a huge assortment of spices is offered, I can hardly breathe. This is not possible without sneezing. For me, this is one of the most fascinating markets in Delhi.
Along the way, I get to know the importance and meaning of Indian wedding cards. For the elaborate cards, one could spend here per piece up to 15,000 INR. Shortly before Diwali, there are also fireworks everywhere to buy. The conclusion is a visit to Karim's Restaurant for the famed Shish Kebabs.
So, after reviewing the extensive list, we ordered a couple of portions of garlic naan and butter naan. It must be said that everything was delicious. We could not finish everything because the portions were quite generous and, of course spicy. Fortunately, the beer tastes warm even when it's still warm.
And when we finally reached the street from which we had left in the morning we saw how it was transformed into the night since the neon lights gave it a different touch. Of course, still without sidewalks so it was quite difficult to walk between the vehicles. As I have to take a train at 6 o'clock in the morning I tell the receptionist to prepare the bill for me!