When I think back it seems I have always yearned to visit India. How I wish I had done it years ago.
I won´t linger on our departure from Heathrow on Kingfisher Airlines other than to say it was a superb flight with attentive cabin crew and delicious food. The landing was on time with hardly a bump to disturb the baby who slept next to me as we hit the tarmac at Delhi airport where tour guide Jasbir Singh was waiting to collect our weary group of travellers.
Nothing can prepare you for the journey ahead, Delhi is just a taster that opened our eyes. In India you are either very rich or very poor with little in between.
We sat on the bus with its gold papered interior, our ‘welcome’ garlands of fresh flowers round our necks and looked agog at the confusion before us. The journey is straightforward until the first junction then its everyone for himself. In a frenetic dash, trucks, buses, tuc tucs, rickshaws, cars and bikes vie for every inch of space turning the 3 lane road into 6 lanes but they all get around somehow, really gives a new meaning to he who hesitates is lost but everything moves and we joined the rest of the traffic, weaving, honking and tooting our way to our hotel. Many vehicles bear the scars of the daily grind and in any western country would have been scrapped long ago.
We arrive at the Park Hotel where we are met by smiling guards with guns who steer us through the electronic screening system, we never did find out why security was so tight. After a short nap we hit the town and wander down to Connaught Square just a few minutes along the road and a million miles from anything we had seen before. In that short distance we stepped over mounds of rubbish, potholes, people sleeping on the pavement and market stalls selling everything imaginable. It’s chaos but all very exciting to this India novice.
Strangers waylay us asking what we want and are happy to recommend restaurants or point out directions. It takes some getting used to but these are such friendly people they are hard to resist and we can tell there is no ulterior motive. After drifting around for a couple of hours and risking life and limb crossing the traffic choked roads we head back in almost total darkness to the hotel.
Our first full day and up at 7.30 after a good night sleep and an interesting mix of Indian and Continental breakfast. We headed to the hotel lobby to meet our rep and start our tour of Delhi, home of the majestic three-domed Jama Masjid mosque, Red Fort and amazing bazaars.
First stop after a noisy trawl through the Delhi traffic are the sites of Raj Ghat the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi and Shantivan which is dedicated to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
On to Old Delhi and the Red Fort which we could not go into, having been told there are better forts as we progress along our route few people stopped to take photos.
Next, to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Asia, where we doffed out shoes and donned vibrant coveralls. Although crowded, by comparison to the 20,000 people the courtyard can hold, it was relatively quiet when we arrived. To our surprise we were stopped by several people who wanted photos taken by us and with us. Despite saying we were only tourists, in case they thought we were famous, they didn’t mind and snapped away – we felt quite important. Our guide said this was common; Indians love to show their family their new ‘European friends’.
A trip along the Rajpath took us to the President’s House, the former home of Lord Mountbatten, Parliament, and the massive India Gate.
Time was pressing and the heat rising so we decided to avoid the massive crowds around Chandni Chowk, reputedly Asia’s biggest market and went where acrobatic child beggars and snake charmers entertained us while we talked over lunch to locals about modern day life in Delhi.
After lunch and passing an elephant walking along the street, obviously an everyday occurrence, a short drive west took us to the splendid Humayun’s Tomb. It was busy with school children all immaculate in their various uniforms, well behaved with teachers in control; rather reminiscent of school outings when we were children.
Next to Mehrauli Archaeological Park. We looked over the site including, the Iron Pillar, Alai Darwaza Gateway and the massive Qutb Minar, India’s tallest brick tower. The carving was amazing. Again we were approached by several people asking for photographs, I think the 83 year old in her bright yellow sari pleased me most, she was no bigger than a child but after the photos hugged us and her son said we had made her day – she certainly made mine.
The final visit of the day was to an upmarket Kashmiri shop. We drank cinnamon tea and admired the range of handicrafts and handmade carpets at upwards of £5000 then quickly headed to our coach for our return journey to the hotel before anyone was tempted! By this time our intrepid group were feeling brave and we headed to a local restaurant for a few beers and a curry.
Delhi is a captivating blend of old and new, elegant shops and lively bazaars, impressive forts and mosques. Horrendously noisy, chokingly polluted and smells of a pungent combination of incense, spices and urine. It is a wonderful city to experience even for a short time.
But tomorrow is another day….. Page 2