Arriving in Delhi Station in a crush of thousands of fellow journeymen both native and foreign, was ideal as I was staying around 400m away in the Paharganj district, home to many backpackers, old hippies that have “lost their way”and cheap accommodation. I was only staying in the capital for 2 nights as I was off down to Sri Lanka for a week to see my cousin and his family. Enough time to fit in a few sights and sounds and to get ready for the south of India. The onslaught on arrival in Delhi was the dust this time. As India gears up for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 so does the construction and with that the levels of dust reach epic and biblical proportions.
Within the 400m walk from the train station to my guesthouse I had been propositioned by three prostitutes, four drug dealers and about 40 shop keepers. As I reached the apparent safety of my hotel room I thought wow what a lovely area. Behind all that the area istelf is actually safe and ok and is more geared up for backpackers than most places visited so far in India – lots of internet shops, restaurants, bars and travel agencies. After a pleasant enough train journey that day packed into a cabin with 20 or so Indians who proceeded to cuddle each other, chew paan, wiggle their heads whilst staring at me for the entire 4 hour journey. Maybe they where waiting for me to give up my space but they were all youngish and fit and I felt comfortable in my narrow and hard seat!.
I was looking forward to get the hotel for a wash and to try and get the dust out of everywhere. The room I had was on first reflection was ok, but scratch the surface and the TV controller didn’t work, no hot water, no towels, a bed as hard as nails and pigeons nesting in the boarded up window. A short discussion with the manager and I was transported into sheer luxury and all of the above transformed into working order bar a pesky porter. Little did i know that this hotel porter was going to become the pain of my stay in Dehli, which I realised after the fourth time in 1 hour he knocked on my door asking if i wanted anything.
Later that evening I headed out of the hotel for some food and drink and in search of a beer, the first time I had tasted larger since Kalkatta! Fed and watered I had a wander around the area and down in Conaught place, the posh end of town where higher caste of Indians spent there money on expensive clothes and drank in glamorous dinners and bars whilst the lower castes sell there wears, shine shoes and lived on and cleaned the streets. Everywhere I went seemed to be teeming with people, it seemed like rush hour every hour of the day. After a lengthy walk and a general familiarization with the surrounding area I headed back to the hotel to be bugged by the porter yet again, at one point late in the evening he even put his foot in the door and held out his hand for Baksheesh for standing on guard outside my door. Cheeky and persistent are two non swear words that I would use to describe his behaviour.
My alarm woke me the next morning, I say my alarm but it was actually the porter once more at 7am asking me if I wanted Chai. I grumbled some expletives and turned my head to try and go back to sleep but another alarm call came half an hour later. I decided that only firm action was needed – that was to be escape from the hotel. I managed to sneek past him and head out for a few tourist attractions early doors but left my camera behind. There was no way I was going back in there risking bumping into him again. Off for some breakfast then onto the Jama Masijd, India’s largest mosque built by Shah Jahan – the of Taj fame. I managed to go to Jama on a Friday and as we all know is one of the busiest days of the week to visit a mosque and it is one very impressive site.
The inner courtyard itself can hold up to 25,000 people and completed in 1658 and slightly later than the Taj. it has three main gateways, four angle towers and two minarets stading around 40m high. A truly impressive mosque and as i entered through the masses of people I could see it was a popular place of worship in Dehli. Sadly it was also a popular destination for goats as many were bought and sold for sacrifice and this was their final destination before meeting Allah, God or Buddha, sorry I don’t know what a goats religion is even if they are sacrificed by a Muslim. These animals were often dressed with tinsle and can often set an buyer back anywhere between £15 to £1,500. The later was made famous (as I read in a local paper) due to its unusual markings of a crescent moon (sacred for muslims) on its haunch.
It was soon enough lunch time and I decided to brave going back to the hotel for a quick nap before heading back to the Red Fort for early evening. Amazed I managed to sneak into the hotel without him seeing me and enjoyed a short hour or two rest. Knock, knock at 4pm and the porter was back. It was time to get up anyway and managed to push past him muttering some indignitaries and headed for the Red Fort.
The Fort is an impressive sight in Dehli especially approaching sunset as it illuminates the red sandstone walls that much better. Much like the fort in Agra this one was built in 1638 and was built in the peak of Moghal power. Inside the grand towering walls are a number of well worth attractions to see. Past the small shops on the way in is the Lahore Gate – named as it faces Lahore which formerly was in India and not Pakistan as it now is. Each year this place is used by the Prime Minister of India to give important political speeches on Independence Day (15 August), behind the Lahore gate stands other attractions such as Diwan-iAm (Hall of Audiences), Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), The Royal Baths and Moti Masjid. Dwan-i-Khas is by far the most impressive structure built out of pure white marble with some fabulous ornate carvings and inlays in the walls.
It was a lovely place to walk around and escape the turmoil outside. Soon it was time to head back out into it and back to the hotel. A short tuk tuk ride back and I decided to grab some food before heading back to the hotel and my impending porter. I found one of the very many food stalls around the Paharganj district and after ordering a mouth watering a fiery Butter Chicken. I decided to retire soon after and face the hotel and the porter but it must have been my lucky night as my pesky man seemed not to be on duty. I managed to escape all night from him and had a decent nights sleep, so much so that I slept the following day till 11am. Later that day I was heading to catch my early evening flight to Dehli. But first it was a quick good bye from my porter who was back on duty and after lifting my bag into the taxi once again asked for Baksheesh! I find the whole baksheesh thing a kind of travelers tax and why should you tip someone for smiling at you or being nice to you is it not in their nature? I appreciate tipping is acceptable in conditions where the service has been great but for everyday things is going too far for a westerner like me. I know that the wages aren’t great but where does tipping end? I was now looking forward to leaving the north of India sad to leaving some amazing history, culture and architecture behind but most looking forward to moving on to getting away from the amazing amount of hawkers and annoyances. The north was beginning to take its toll on me but I was heading for far more calmer surroundings in Sri Lanka.