Hey there! So, onto my first journal entry from the big city!
I spent my last day in Dehradun doing one last class with the kids at the summer camp, and leaving to a chorus of “We’ll miss you!” to go and finish up my packing. I had to repack my bag a couple of times to fit everything in (damn the sarees!) but EVENTUALLY I got it down to the big bag, 2 pieces of hand luggage, and a bag of snacks (which I ended up not needing at all).
Later in the day, I bade farewell to my Indian family at Saheli, and started the journey to New Delhi, the capital of India. Check out my post on travelling to and arriving in Delhi HERE! Delhi really is something else, but I’m beyond grateful that I had a couple of months in Dehradun first to adjust to India; coming straight into Delhi really would be getting thrown in at the deep end!
Waking up on my first morning in Delhi was a little surreal; I could hardly believe that for the next two months, it was just going to be me and my backpack trying to navigate Delhi and then South East Asia.
I headed out as soon as possible to crack on with some sightseeing! Now, I know I said I didn’t want to be much of a tourist, but I’ve since decided that to label myself a “traveller” and not a “tourist” would be incredibly patronising and a bit asshole-ish of me. Aren’t we all both at times? And those are the best holidays; when you’re travelling slowly enough to get to know the ins and outs of a place, but still be excited by all the classic sights it has to offer? To demean other people’s travel experiences for being different to yours really isn’t worth the time. After all, travel at any cost, right?
And as it was my first trip to Delhi, I feel I was more than entitled to be a bit of a tourist here! I securely locked my door with the rather hefty padlock provided, and headed out to see the sights of Old Delhi. I took something of a long way to get there, (read: got lost) but hey, at least I saw a bit more, right? I declined many an offer from cycle and auto-rickshaw drivers to take me wherever, but I always think it’s better to explore a new place on foot for a while to get a feel for it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t take any transport but my own feet that day! And I could feel it the day after…
I took a few minutes to head to the New Delhi Railway Station, to book tickets for a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and other sights. Thankfully, there is a clearly signposted foreign tourist booking office, which makes life much easier! And they don’t take commission, despite the fact that the attendants always assume that as a foreigner, I’m going to want to travel first class in every train I go on. Haha, no. Ain’t nobody got the funds for that? Povvy carriage it is…
I booked my tickets to Agra and altogether, for the journey there and the return, it cost me less than £3. Now that’s budgeting at its best! After that fairly painless experience (despite the fact I’m reasonably sure the guy selling me the tickets probably wanted to slap me out of frustration by the time I was done), I went on my way.
Old Delhi is crazy. Chaotic, bustling and loud, it’s the complete opposite of everything we’re used to in the west. The smell isn’t great either. That may be something to do with a) the hordes of people, b) the random cows dotted around the streets and c) the fact that there are public urinals in basically every alleyway, without much cover. That last one means I’ve accidentally come upon some guy relieving himself one too many times when trying to take a shortcut to somewhere. Ew.
ANYWAY. The Chandni Chowk (Silver Street) area is the main shopping market in Old Delhi, and the busiest street. On the way there, I dropped into St. Stephen’s Church to take a couple of pictures and have a quick drink (fairly sure the security guard who let me in thought I was a particularly devout Christian but nope, just a tired atheist resting the feet), and the Fatehpuri Masjid, a mosque on the corner of Chandni Chowk and Lahore Gate. The gate itself is long gone but the area still bears the name.
It was no joke walking into the mosque, because you have to remove your shoes out of respect, and those courtyard tiles are HOT. Being bored down on by the baking Delhi sun all day is bad enough, but walking on the ground in bare feet is practically like torture. I’ve been told the roads melt here when it’s really bad, as do tires on cars. That’s crazy! Despite that, it hasn’t been as dreadfully hot as I expected in Delhi. Like yeah, it’s hot, probably around 35-40 degrees Celsius, but it’s bearable.
The Khaori Baoli is the main spice market in Old Delhi, and home to many wholesalers of other foods and household goods too. As I’m not really fussed about spices or serving platters, I didn’t linger here long, but headed for the main area of Chandni Chowk, where I stopped quickly for lunch in a busy but cheap restaurant where I had “puri” – a type of street food which is basically crispy batter shells which you fill with a sauce with spices, potato and vegetables. It’s not the most dignified thing to eat. And of course, my signature drink these days, a cold coffee! That’s where my whole budget goes, no joke. It’s like a drug.
At the end of Chandni Chowk stands the very impressive Red Fort of Delhi, built by Shah Jahan, the emperor of Taj Mahal fame. All I’ll say for now is that the Red Fort is huge, and impressive, and AMAZING. I loved it, though not quite as much as the Agra Fort, because the Agra Fort has more potential for solitary exploring and getting away from the crowds. Also, the weather was utterly pants when I visited the Red Fort in Delhi, so that may have had an impact.
Sadly, I couldn’t visit the museums there because a power outage caused by heavy winds and rainfall meant they were all closed. Just my luck! To read more about my visit to the Red Fort, check back here soon for my “Highlights of Delhi” post!
After the Red Fort tour, I walked to the Jama Masjid. This is the largest mosque in India, also built by Shah Jahan (this guy didn’t mess around!) and is really something to see. I had to wait outside for quite a while because it was Muslim prayer time, and so I hung around for about half an hour for it to finish before I could go in. The courtyard is enormous; I’d love to see it on a Friday at prayer time when it’s filled with people!
From there, I decided to walk the boundary of the old city, via the Delhi, Turkman and Ajmeri Gates. Also, just for the record, I was unaware of the existence of the Delhi metro system until approximately halfway through my stay there. #oblivious. By the time I finished the circle of the gates, I had also found my way to the tomb of Sultan Raziya, the only woman to rule Delhi, in a slightly dodgy looking back alley. Instincts screamed NO, historical interest was egging me on. You can guess which won. I also saw a couple of older mosques and a Catholic church tucked away in some back streets.
It was getting dark by this point, and I decided to head back to Paharganj for the night. There was some kind of street celebration being set up, and I couldn’t help but stop for a couple of minutes and marvel at the lights and colours in front of me. I finally managed to get back across the railway track and out of Old Delhi without being hit by a rickshaw or trampled by a cow, and ran into a street food restaurant to get some nice spiced veg (usual dish for me) and water for 75 Rs, before heading back to my room, uploading my pictures, and hitting the sack!
The next day, I got up early to visit Agra – the city of the Taj Mahal! Although you’d be mistaken if you thought that’s all Agra has to offer. Read my post on “One Day in Agra” HERE!
Right, I risk running into the territory of readers falling asleep if I write much more now, so I’ll leave it there, and the next couple of entries will cover my exploits in New Delhi and Jaipur!