After being delayed in our departure from Agra, our train washed up in Delhi after 1:00 in the morning. We had known that we would get in late, and as the area near the train station did not appeal to us, we had booked ahead at the Pooja Palace in an area called Karol Bagh. Unfortunately, we were rather groggy when we got off the train and headed for the pre-paid taxi area. This led to two poor decisions: first, believing an apparently helpful cabbie that the pre-paid stand was closed and second, taking him at his word when he quoted us 500R for the ride to Karol Bagh claiming that is the pre-paid rate. To be fair we never went back to the station to confirm but given the short duration of the ride it would definitely appear that we were ripped off. However, at that point we were just happy to be in bed before 3:00 AM.
Our first morning in Delhi we got off to a bit of a slow start. Our destination was Old Delhi and the Red Fort and we hoped to cover both of them before lunch. We headed to the metro station and purchased tourist passes for 300R and thirty minutes later we were standing, slightly disoriented, in Old Delhi. Red Fort was our first stop and we didn’t do a very thorough job exploring it. The exterior is impressive and, like Agra Fort, the interior runs mostly to palaces and administrative buildings. We wandered through some of the various courtyards and empty fountains. Because we were a little later than planned arriving, it was starting to get crowded so we cut our visit short to head into the Old Delhi markets.
Old Delhi is chaos! But interesting chaos. The main attractions are the various market areas. We had chosen to explore the cloth market and the spice market, but it’s not as simple as that. Walking meant that we were constantly accosted by rickshaw and cyclo drivers who appeared to be very offended that we did not deign to turn over our money and be driven around the streets. The cloth market was quite interesting and very colourful. There were porters everywhere with bales of raw cloth on their heads. Shops were selling pre-made outfits displayed brightly in their front windows, tailors were trying to rope us into their shops, basically, it is very close to what we imagine it would have been a few hundred years ago. The down side was the press in the narrow alleys could get pretty intense and there were always motorbikes etc. trying to force their way through. At one point, Blake was actually hit by a cyclo, although not hard. The guy didn’t even pause.
Although it was a bit of a walk to locate, the spice market was much quieter and had a more relaxed vibe. It was also, in many ways, more interesting. There were still porters, though they now had bags of spice on their heads, but the narrow alleys had room to move and the spices filled them with (comparatively) pleasant scents. We did not stay long, but bought some raisins and cashews to munch on the metro ride.
We then headed over to Connaught Place, one of the central locations in New Delhi. This is a planned city and is basically two main circles inside one another with adjoining roads radiating out from the centre. There are lots of rather expensive shops and restaurants in the area and a little further back there is a bazar that is allegedly government run where all kinds of ‘locally made’ stuff can be purchased. For us the draw was the various cafes where Tamara could study. We spent the afternoon there, with Tamara studying and Blake alternately reading and exploring. As a side note, apparently Blake looks shady as he was offered drugs five times in under two hours! He was also apparently a hit with the local university crowd, as he was hit on several times, and not too subtly either.
For our second day in Delhi, and our last day in India, we planned to take the metro into South Delhi and explore two areas that had caught our eye. Suri Fort and Hauz Khas village. We located a cute little cafe inside a gated community – South Delhi is apparently much more affluent than the other areas we had visited – and stayed there relaxing until after lunch.
From there we headed east into the Suri Fort park area where we got a little turned around. We found two things though. The official, partially restored ruins of the fortified town wall, and a bunch of old ruins hidden away in the bush. Of the two, the ones in the bush were by far the most interesting. We also learned that just because there is a very long path does not mean there will be a gate to let you out at the end of it. As a result we opted to take a rickshaw to Hauz Khas village.
This is a walking village that is full of restaurants, cafes, and bars. We stopped by the travel cafe for a bit and then discovered the really cool part of the area: the old college and royal pond. Out the back gate of the walking village there are a bunch of different historical buildings including the tomb of a ruler, a restored artificial lake, a mosque, and the ruins of a medieval college. The ruins were by far the most interesting to us and we spent quite some time wandering through the deserted rooms and ruined stairways.
For dinner we were lucky enough to find a restaurant with great views over the park and we stayed here for our last tandoori and sunset in India. It was a pretty great send-off.
Eventually we had to make our way back to the metro and return to our hotel to collect our bags. The staff were very kind and, when they heard that we would be travelling for the next 24 hours, offered us one of the empty rooms to shower and change in before we departed. We caught one of the last metro trains to the airport at a little after 11:00 and our 4:00 AM flight followed soon after. India was a great part of our trip due mostly to the amazing people that we met. Everyone (almost) was so incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful that it really made us want to come back and see the rest of the country someday. But, for now it was onward to Africa!
We walked or took the metro to get around Delhi. It is possible to purchase one or three day tourist passes for the metro for 150 and 300 rupees respectively. These are good for an unlimited number of short trips and you get 50R back when you return the card. They must be purchased at the information booth, not the ticket counters.
The above passes are not valid for the airport express metro, which was 100R each, and was the best way to get out to the airport if your hotel is located anywhere near the metro. To catch it from the centre you must go to the New Delhi Station and transfer there. When we were there, only one ticket counter was open so we waited in line for about 20 minutes.
We splurged a bit and stayed at the Pooja Palace in Karol Bagh. It was part of an effort to avoid staying in the main bazar area in front of the train station. We didn’t spend much time in the area, but apparently it’s great for shopping. The hotel was OK, although a little pricey for the actual rooms. However, the front desk staff were incredibly helpful and the hotel is very close to the metro.
We found that touts and various transport drivers were far more annoying in Delhi and Agra than anywhere else in India. Some would be quite rude when we would finally convince them to leave us alone and let us walk. Learn to use the Indian style hand signal for ‘no’. It’s tipping your hand back and forth and usually means ‘maybe’ in the west. It seemed most effective in getting them to leave us be. Not foolproof by any stretch, but a handy trick (no pun intended).
Incidentally, New Delhi is one of the towns that make up the larger metro area collectively known as Delhi.