the unexpected charms of Delhi

Hinglish in its absurdityI strongly suspect that my reasons for rather liking Delhi are probably due to the fact that four months in the country has made me immune to a certain amount of tourist hassle and the somewhat darker side of India. My stomach has become hardened to pretty much anything that I stick inside it including slum water, street food and dodgy lassis (touch wood) and my lovely friend Shuchika has been taking me sightseeing for the past few days with her driver. So, rather than hating this place as everybody else I’ve met in India and Nepal did, I’ve found the city is definitely not without its charms. It is however freezing. 18 degrees maximum (now either I have totally adjusted my heat tolerance to local standards or they are measuring this temp next to a Tandoori oven) and a minimum of 3 degrees which I can more than believe. On the way to the rickshaw stand on Sunday I had to stop in the market to buy a highly attractive pair of toe socks to wear with my flip flops. My feet may not be sexy but at least they are warm!

Lotus templeOn the weekend I began my Delhi adventure by attending a religious singing lunch at Shuchika’s house with her Mum’s friends, musicians, song books and a huge lunch afterwards. Then Shuchika and I went to visit the fantastic Bahai temple built in the shape of a lotus flower by the people of the Baha’i faith. Honestly I’d never even heard of the faith before, they have temples in such different locations as Western Samoa, Israel, Uganda and Germany and of course this one in Delhi. It’s made of white marble and surrounded by clear pale blue pools of water, very relaxing and picturesque. Pigeons in Connaught PlaceOn Sunday after porridge and coffee in, what else, but a German bakery next to my hotel room in the slightly seedy tourist town of the Paharganj, I caught a cycle rickshaw to Connaught Place and sat taking photos of pigeons in the fountain gardens in the centre in the peace of Sunday morning. Later we went to visit Qutb Minar, sight of the first cities built in Delhi in 1193, a huge tower, the first mosque in India and an Iron pillar that continues to baffle scientists with its inability to rust in 1000 years. Qutb Minar and meMost amusingly a mother had decided that, despite the ruins being a World Heritage Site, she was going to ignore the toilet facilities and get her two young daughters to piss against the side of the ancient walls in full view of where we were siting. The youngest girl proceeded to wee all over her knickers and jeans much to the dismay of her mother. Now that is rapid karma in action!

I’ve been shopping around markets, government emporiums, had gelato ice cream in Delhi’s newest mall, visited the shops of India’s best known designers and drooled over some of the most beautiful clothes. I saw India Gate and Parliament, evidence that the English did leave some good legacies behind them. Everything is unfortunately cornered off for the upcoming Republic Day and the Red Fort was closed as the entire city is on red alert due to the terrorist risks. Probably just as well I’m leaving tomorrow morning.

Not exactly slumming it!My final day I took a ride on Delhi’s brand spanking new metro (perfect in every way except the crush when everyone battled to get into the carriage, makes the northern line in commuter hours look positively tame!) and went to see the Jama Masjid mosque and then go happily lost around the bazaars in Old Delhi which are a world away from the modern shopping malls. Tiny streets with networks of maze like electricity wires criss-crossing overhead, goldsmiths, fabric shops, ribbon shops, rickshaws, mopeds and people bustling around everywhere. And, as the markets are wholesale, they are not really for tourists, so you can walk around to your heart’s content and everybody ignores you. After a while I stopped for curry and stuffed parathas in a tiny street stall before heading south for a change of scene to Khan market. Khan market is a diplomats haven in the south of Delhi. You can buy magazines, books and food from all over the western world. They even had hobnobs for sale. I didn’t buy them, I went for the chocolate covered digestives instead! I brought Ganesh headed stationary, cheap DVDs and magazines before Shuchika and I went to a Chocolate cafe for Earl Grey tea, cake and waffles. I was then invited back to hers for dinner with her family which was lovely but I am now completely stuffed to bursting!

Old Delhi bazaarsSo Delhi has felt like a mini holiday from my backpacking lifestyle which has been really nice and I’m glad I got to see more of the city with a friend than I would have done otherwise. It seems such a shame that so many tourists complain what a terrible and horrible city this is. True if you arrive in the Paharganj as your first taste of India it would be slightly overwhelming. The truth is Delhi has fantastic shopping, a huge array of temples and tombs, interesting architecture, contrasts from the crazy old world feel of Chandi Chowk to gleaming new malls and hotels. There are tourist markets, food markets, diplomat markets, craft markets and a surprising amount of green space for a large city. The rickshaw drivers, although prone to thinking you have ATM on your forehead, can be persuaded to take you on the meter and, compared to Pune and Ahmedabad, make barely any effort to provide near death experiences on the roads. So, in summary, a really interesting city to visit, and as for everyone else’s opinion…well they’re just wrong.

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