After years and years of dreaming and planning, my dream finally came true in 2012. We went to India. What follows is our journey through beautiful and incredibly colourful India.
I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times, so a few days before our flight I was already having sleepless nights. Not only was I worrying about flying, but now that I was finally realising my dream of going to India I was worrying what might happen if I didn’t like it. We would be travelling for 3 weeks and it could prove quite long if I absolutely hated it. Plus it would be sad if I hated the experience. Departure day finally arrived and with our fur-child in good hands, we boarded our Singapore Airlines flight signifying the start of our adventure.
During the flight I caught up with the latest Bollywood films. We had a few hours layover at Changi Airport in Singapore and were quite surprised. It was our first time there and we spend a good few minutes staring at all that is to offer. I introduced Hubby to the addiction that is Starbucks (I had my favourite, a white chocolate mocha) before we visited the orchid garden complete with khoi fish pond and the beautiful fern garden. We then found a spot where Hubby got some shut eye before boarding our midnight flight to Delhi.
We arrived in Delhi (or Dilly as the locals pronounce it) just after 5am. We were met by a rep from the travel company who organised helped organise our holiday for us. As it was our first visit we thought it best to have all our guides and our drivers pre-arranged. It was the best idea ever as everything ran smoothly.
As we followed the rep to the car park and met the driver I was thinking we’re in a strange country, we just followed an absolute stranger into a car park and we’re getting into the car and they can just take us anywhere, rob us and leave us stranded. Luckily none of that happened. I spotted monkeys playing in the trees and some wild pigs frolicking about as we drove from the airport. There was very little traffic so we managed to get to our hotel pretty quickly. It’s an old haveli located in a very narrow street. Our room was at the back of the building, so away from the street (which in India is a good thing!) Our air-conditioner sounded a bit like Darth Vader but at least it was nice and cool. As we sat down in our little lounge area admiring the beautiful windows a knock came from the door. One of the guys working at the rooftop café brought us some delicious chai (tea). After a refreshing shower and changing into something cooler we headed up to the café to have some yummy breakfast while watching birds of prey swooping in the air.
The area we stayed in is called Paharganj. It looks a bit like a slum but it was originally one of five markets place during the Mughal era. During Partition Paharganj became home to many Hindu refugees from Pakistan. They arrived with nothing and had to start all over again. It’s estimated that Partition displaced about 25 million people.
After a bit of a rest our driver met us downstairs to show us around Delhi a bit. We were going on a full day’s sightseeing the next day but thought we’d go and see what Delhi’s like. We visited the President’s house (absolutely huge, complete with equally huge gates), India Gate, the Lotus Temple, the ISKON Temple and the Laxminarayan Temple. We also visited Dilly Haat and bought some clothes. I was really surprised when Hubby picked out a kurta pajama for himself (no, it’s not sleepwear but just as comfortable).
Traffic by this time was absolutely crazy. It consisted of cars, buses, motorbikes, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cows and people going every which way. Hooting lets you know where the car is so you know whether it’s safe to veer across lanes. We stopped for a very nice lunch at a popular Delhi restaurant called Pindi’s where a snake charmer was playing outside. We didn’t get a photo of him but I also wasn’t going to get any closer with a cobra popping out of a basket!
Driving around Delhi was quite stressful. Our driver, Pradeep, seems to have super human abilities and managed to just weave in and out without crashing into anyone. By the end of lunch we were both exhausted. Sleep deprivation was catching up on me and the sudden heat after our cool autumn started to make me drowsy. We returned to our hotel for a nice nap on our huge but very comfortable bed.
After our nap we decided to do a bit of exploring in Paharganj It used to be a popular place to stay back in the day when the original hippies were travelling through India. Today it’s popular with backpackers and the budget conscious. As soon as we stepped into the main bazaar road we were surrounded by chaos. The narrow street is lined with shops and restaurants of dubious hygiene standards. Backpackers were negotiating prices with shopkeepers while others were pondering the meaning of life. The only thing I found was my life flashing in front of my eyes. I got mehndi applied to my one hand in the market and bought a beautiful bag before heading back to the tranquillity of our hotel’s rooftop restaurant.
We woke up really early. I think we were still on Perth time. The air was thick with smoke but we were looking forward to seeing some of the monuments. We weren’t disappointed. Our first stop was Jama Masjid next to Chandni Chowk. The mosque was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (he also built the Taj Mahal) and it was completed in 1658. The mosque can accommodate up to 25,000 people!
While walking around at the mosque we noticed some guys taking photos of us and videos. It didn’t bother me much. I guess it’s a bit like reverse tourism. Everyone takes photos of the beautiful Indian women in their colourful saris, I guess they also want to take photos of us.
After our visit to the mosque we went for a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk. I know what you’re thinking…it sounds nice. A relaxing rickshaw ride through the narrow streets must have been amazing. Well, it was pretty scary! There are wires dangling down everywhere and you don’t know if they’re live or not. Every now and then we would hit a pothole and I was convinced the whole thing was going to fall over. Not to mention the near misses with other cars and motorbikes.
Built at the same time as Jama Masjid, the market was once divided by canals which reflected moonlight at night (the name means moonlit square), but today it’s a labyrinth of alleyways lined with various shops selling wedding saris, jewellery and food. The day we were there most of the shops were closed (thankfully!) This meant that there was considerably less traffic which suited us fine. We were able to see some beautiful old buildings hiding in alleyways and see families relaxing on a day off.
Our next stop was the Raj Ghat which is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. It was very peaceful, a rarity in Delhi. After that we went to the very impressive Humayun’s Tomb. It’s absolutely huge. The tomb was built for the Mughal Emperor Humayun and was commissioned by his wife, Hamida Banu Begum in 1562. It was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tomb also houses his wife, Hamida, and several other Mughal Emperors.
Our next stop after a delicious lunch (the food here is so good!) was Qutab Minar, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed out of red sandstone and marble, it’s the tallest minaret in India and is a staggering 72.5 metres high. It was started in 1193 by the first Sultanate of Delhi, Qutb-ud-din-Aibak. He destroyed 27 Hindu and Jain temples and reused the building material to construct the minaret and the adjacent Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. The mosque is full of defaced statues which were used as building material. Whether or not the tower really is a minaret is still open to debate. Our guide believed it was more a symbol of power as it’s a bit overkill for a minaret.
The Sultan, Alauddin Khilji, began the construction of a second tower called Alai Minar after he doubled the size of Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. It was meant to be twice the height of the Qutab Minar, but construction was abandoned after the Sultan’s death.
An iron pillar also stands in the complex. The pillar is 7.21 metres high and weighs over 6 tonnes! It was originally erected by Chandragupta Il Vikramaditya in 402 AD in Udayagiri. It stood in front of a temple dedicated to Vishnu. Anangpal shifted the pillar to Delhi in the 10th Century where he wanted it to be part of a new Vishnu temple. The iron is so pure that it shows no rust.
We didn’t visit the Red Fort as we were going to the fort in Agra which is older and more of it is open to visitors. The Red Fort was built as a replica by Shah Jahan after his wife died. He felt he had to leave Agra as it had too many memories of her.
We agreed with our driver, Pradeep, to be ready bright at early as we were going to Agra. We went to relax at the rooftop café (probably one of my highlights in Delhi!) and had the best malai kofta for dinner. It’s a cheese and nut ball in a delicious creamy curry. Yum! It was polished off by a cold Kingfisher beer. We watched kids flying kites on the rooftops of buildings, mothers preparing dinner and fathers returning home after a long day working. It was magical.
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