India, I had always heard of India from the backpackers like it was a lighthouse. A beacon in the distance. Finally, I was within a short skip to India, and I just had to go! Now why would I leave the great nation of Nepal to go to India, which lets be honest has it’s fair share of issues. But it also has one thing, it’s called the Taj Mahal, and it’s kind of a big deal. And I just could not be that close to the Taj and not check it out. Upon arriving in Kathmandu, a fellow adventurer, Maddy, agreed to come with. First stop: Delhi!
Arriving in India and the Best Hostel in Delhi
Maddy and I flew to Delhi from Kathmandu Airport (in which by the way we were heavily frisked three separate times, as if we actually could figure out how to stick bombs in our bras). Promptly upon arrival, I succumbed to my first (and not only) case of Delhi Belly.
The moment I stepped into the actual country. Literally, the exact moment. I was standing at Immigration, willing the sour bureaucrat to stamp faster, knowing that speed is not a bureaucrat’s forte, and hoping that I didn’t die of dysentery on the floor of an airport named after Indira Gandhi. How awkward would that be?
Thankfully, Maddie and I had both handled our Indian visas while in Kathmandu. Now it’s even easier to get through Indian immigration with the revamped and oh so modern e-visa system.
So I did manage to get through immigration and to the closest restroom, which was closed for cleaning. The maid made an attempt to stop me, but like a bull in a china shop I jumped that CLOSED sign and it was business time.
With that first harrowing escapade escaped, we were almost had by a cab company racket scam, but were not, because we are extremely smart people, and made it to the Moustache Hostel in Southern Delhi. 2 hours in and India was already exhausting. Moustache is a GREAT hostel, probably the best hostel in Delhi. Fact. Maybe it’s the best hostel in India. Not a fact, but maybe.
Best Things to Do in Delhi
Ride the Delhi Metro
Our first day in India we headed to Old Delhi, meaning, the older part of the city of Delhi. We went via the Delhi Metro system, which is amazing, and the Vancouver Translink system could take note. It cost $.50 to get across the city, and the train was clean! Later we discovered that there is a specific car, the first of each train that is devoted to ladies. It’s the Ladies Only car. I won’t bring the whole blog down with issues of gender violence and sexual assault in India, but there is a reason there is a Ladies Only car, and we were glad to make use of it. We also noticed the ladies car smells better and is a lot more chatty!
The Red Fort, Old Delhi
The Old City houses a few big deals in Delhi: first off the Red Fort. The Red Fort, named so because of the red sandstone with which it was constructed, is a sprawling fortress made in the 1600’s by the Mughals who then ruled the city and acted as their royal residence as well. The Red Fort provided our first ideas of domes, symmetry, decorated archways, fountains, and Indian school groups. Already you could see a huge difference between Nepali and Indian architecture, the latter being heavily Persian influenced and the former being whatever they felt like.
After the Red Fort, it was lunchtime, so we walked to a highly touted cafe, Karim’s, where you could get the best mutton this side of, anywhere maybe. I had the mutton, obviously.
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
After lunch we went to the massive mosque of Jama Masjid, also in the Old City and built in 1650, which can apparently hold 25,000 people and is said to hold a hair from the prophet Mohammed’s beard in it’s pavilion.
We went in the south entrance, and were waved through by a cranky door guy. Apparently he didn’t care what we were wearing, but other cranky door guys did did, because any white ladies who entered through the other entrances were all made to wear billowy floral patterned mumu-esque robes.
We were definably fashionable in comparison.
Tour of Old Delhi Neighbourhood
After the mega-mosque we did what I know Lindsay Manko is going to berate me for, we acquired a cyclo taxi. Meaning we sat like two fat tourists on a covered bench on wheels while a skinny Indian man cycled us around the Old City. While I do find it mildly embarrassing to be pedalled around, and I know Lindsay finds it appalling from our time in Southeast Asia (something about inequality of weight distribution…), it’s a legit way of getting around Old Delhi. Other people were doing it, so we did too.
We were cycled in and out of windy lanes and alleys, through hoards of people, cows, rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, and anything else that moves people or objects, until we found ourselves back in the vicinity of the Metro, and were again back in the 21st century.
Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi Temple in Delhi
Our first night in Delhi, happened to be a Thursday, which is when the qawwalis, or religious song and chanting, takes place at the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi temple built in the 14th century. This was a great way to wrap up the first day in Delhi, yes all of this was our FIRST day, and we also got to chat with some really nice teachers. Which proves teachers are great in every country.
We were confused for a time by a girl who was flailing around in a corner and seemed to be losing her mind, speaking in what sounded to us to be tongue, but was really just Hindi. We found it generally annoying and obnoxious, and then the teachers told us they thought it had something to do with penance: that she had done something wrong so she was trying to redeem herself. Obviously then I just wanted to know what she had done to warrant the flailing.
The Lotus Temple, Delhi Baha’i House of Worship
Day two in Delhi started with another spiritual temple, but one with far less screaming. We paid a visit to the Delhi Baha’i House of Worship, or better known as the Lotus Temple. The complex is a huge piece of property with beautiful gardens, and the center piece is a white marble sculpture looking structure designed to look like a Lotus flower, with 27 marble palms and 9 pools surrounding the flower.
Inside is open to all, but silence is mandatory, which is a wonderful break from the rush of Delhi and flailing Sufis of the day previous. It is a gorgeous structure, and a beautiful place to sit for a while before braving the scamming rickshaw drivers, or an even greater evil that I did not see coming, the men of the Delhi Train station….
Hell at the Delhi Train Station
We went to the train station to go to a very specific place, the International Tourist Office, where tourists can go to book their trains for all over India, commission free. This is a good thing, because you can’t book online unless you have an Indian phone number and credit card. Not useful India. So we were looking for this office.
Of course we entered from the wrong direction, and for about 25 minutes were pointed in all kinds of different ways by different touts, telling us the office was gone, it moved, it had burned down, etc. I had men yell in my face demanding to know “Why don’t you listen???!?!?! I’m telling you, this office is THAT way!” No it’s not, I might never have been there, but I know for certain it is not down that dark alley. “I tell you where the office is! Why are you not listening to me?!?!?!”
Because I don’t believe a word you are saying, you lying bastard.
The best was when they physically tried to turn me in the direction they wanted me to go. Don’t touch me!
On the verge of giving up, we found a post for the Delhi Police. I marched inside and asked the most senior looking of the 4 policemen (always men)where the tourist office was. He then pointed to a man who had suddenly, and creepily, apparated behind me, that that man would show us. Absolutely not! I said, “This man already tried to lead me astray, he is BAD”. The liar man then acted innocent.
I gave puppy dog eyes and eye lashes to the police officer and asked “Please sir, will YOU show us?”
Ahh shucks, oooookay. Finally, with police escort and leaving a wake of frustrated men frustrated, we made it to the office, and booked train tickets to our hearts content.
After I came down from fighting with touts, it was lunchtime. We went to an amazing South India eatery and had huge dosas, which are basically massive crispy quesadillas, filled with potato and curried stuff inside. You then dip chunks of it in the various chutneys, dhals, and yogurts that come with it. An overeaters!
Humayuns Tomb, Delhi India
We wrapped up the day with a trip to Humayuns tomb, an amazing complex with several tombs. Old Humayuns is the center piece, built in 1565, with one of the first examples of the classic Mughal dome. Interestingly, the tomb for Humayun’s most trusted barber is also on the premises. One of true reverence indeed. I wish barbers/stylists were given such fancy places to lie for eternity now; Alexis Jones could be the best buried person I know!
The next morning we left Delhi, very early, on our first train ride of India. Thankfully we didn’t have to go back to Delhi train station, but to a smaller peripheral station. W went through security, found our car and our seats, and we were off to Agra!!
Travel in Delhi as a Female Traveller: Delights and Disasters
Back on the frisking and ladies topic, you get frisked and your bag goes through a probably not really functioning x-ray machine everywhere! Getting on the metro, going into tourist sights, going into banks, everywhere! Most of the places have a ladies and a gents line, and more often than not the ladies line is much shorter. I’m not normally a queue jumper, but if you have the proper anatomical parts, well then… another win for the more delicate sex.
Food in India is a blessing and a curse. Upsides: It is delish, cheap, and normally pretty real food. Downsides: overeating is a threat at all times, death by diarrhea is always a possibility, and almost every time I started a meal I had a clear and vivid thought “I really hope this food does not make me violently ill in the next 1-24 hours.” Water is obviously a no go, ever. Lassis and samosas were constantly ingested, as well as dhal, rice, naan, chapaati, and the extremely sugary sweets that can be found on a Delhi street cart near you.
Transportation in Delhi is exciting! It made me think back to Southeast Asia when I thought my ideal way to die would be in a tuk tuk accident. Like [intlink id=”226″ type=”post”]Kathmandu[/intlink], vehicles of all kinds ply the streets, roads, alleys, and what in the West we would consider footpaths. Passing each other with millimetres to spare and honking at every opportunity. And non-opportunity. When you are walking, you just hope that whoever is honking up behind you will not run you over.
On the metro, the speaker system plays a constant looped barrage of warnings, rules, and regulations ranging from “No eating or drinking”, “No Smoking”, to “Beware unattended objects like bags, suitcases, toys, thermoses and transistors. They could be bombs”. Verbatim.
Haggling in India is required. I came up with some haggling lines of my own “That is India price, do you have Canada price??” and “How about we get a discount as your first/last customer of the day?” and my favorite “Ooookay, but I’ll only pay that if you don’t kill us with your tuktuk.”
Does Delhi Fascinate you? Maybe you could pin this post?