Deep in Delhi

After breakfast we left our wonderful Bissau Palace hotel in Jaipur for Delhi.

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The City of Delhi Before the Siege – The Illustrated London News Jan 16, 1858. The Red Fort (far left) and the Masjid-i-Jahan Numa Mosque (centre) are clearly visible.

The Delhi area has been continuously inhabited since at least the 6th century BCE and has served as the a capital of various kingdoms and empires throughout the last three millennia, most prominently for the Afghan and Turkic Sultanates of the medieval period, and the Mughal Empire between the 16th and 18thCenturies. The city was taken by British colonial forces in 1858 and made the capital in 1911, a status which remained until India gained its independence in1947. (Dragoman notes).

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Started well with best road yet, but 60km out of Delhi we started to hit jams- the first lasted 30 plus minutes, caused by sudden disappearance of road.

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Delhi coming soon…

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Getting closer…

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Still closer.

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And we’re there! When we got to the edge of Delhi another hour of jam largely caused by nonfunctional stop lights . Even where they were functioning in some retarded manner, local drivers avoided the long wait by turning against the light, right or left, onto the crossroad then turning again to continue their trip. We did not try it.

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Crazy traffic for a Saturday afternoon. This is a block from our destination, in front of the restaurant where we ate first night. Typical of the places where we ate as a group, full of foreigners, looking more like expatriate workers than tourists. Good food. I had an excellent chicken Jafreeza, tomato sauce with diced tomato, onion, peppers and excellent spicing.

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Karol Bagh market, adjacent to Metro station of that name and our hotel

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Near our hotel on the edge of the local market

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Our comfy hotel, The Florence Inn, in a busy market area adjacent to the Karol Bagh Metro station, quite close to the centre of the massive Metro network.

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Maybe reminiscing about Florence, our hotel featured a lot of fine marble and detailed décor.

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First night a bunch of the boys- the Booze Brothers and a couple of the less-committed- set off for Connaught Place, two concentric circles of buildings around a central park in the middle of Delhi.

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This is the inner circle, ringed with upscale shops, restaurants and bars. We- Doug, Archie,Mike, Steve and me- stopped in one fancy bar, a flight of stairs up. Eschewing yet another Kingfisher, Doug and I tried a local wheat beer that was quite good, though pricey

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For some reason Mike the Cabbie fixated on having a fish dinner, not something that would leap to mind a thousand km inland in extreme heat. Nonetheless we followed him through a string of random bits of street advice and unsuitable restaurants, to an another upstairs place on the outer circle, looking more Chinese than Indian, that promised fish but probably would have promised anything for the business. Pete the Australian and I, as we were increasingly prone to do, forsook the groupthink and chose to walk around some more before heading back to Karol Bagh, where we had a really delightful Thali dinner, south India style, in a greasy spoon on the street next to our hotel. About $2.50. Turned out the ‘fish restaurant’ did not deliver, so those guys settled for MacDonalds…

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Next day we set off by Metro with our guide. One of his most important services was buying the Metro tickets (20-40 cents), a serious challenge even with fancy vending machines…

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The extensive Delhi metro network

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Morning cool and empty but soon massive crowds, so one hardly had to walk- the crowd carried one along like a leaf.. In the metro it took 20 min in a queue to get tickets (20 cents-40 cents). That’s our guide in the red shirt, white cap.

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The trains, Bombardier of course.

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Next, a frantic push to get in with the masses, jaw to jaw no breathing allowed. Locals enjoyed our light- hearted approach to this nightmare that they must face daily. And this was Sunday afternoon

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Mike and Pete in a catatonic state

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In the Chandri Chowk area we enjoyed a casual if crowded stroll through the markets

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eventually stopping for lunch at a paratha place. (paratha: a pita-like roti stuffed with your choice- potato, other veg, etc). Typically our guides would lead us to a place where they no doubt received some fee for delivering the ‘punters’. This place, notable for its barely 6-foot ceilings in the upstairs ‘dining room’ turned out pretty decent.

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The comprehensive paratha menu. They are about $1.20-30 Cdn each.

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We await our parathas from the great variety available from the list on the wall: Mike just off camera on the left, Ali, James, Archie on the wall…

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Austrian Mom, and daughter Ariana, guide in background, Doug, English girl Paula, second English girl Polly?, Greg, me, Steve. I had the modli (daikon)  and tamatar (dried tomato) stuffings in my parathas. Quite tasty.

Delhi was the end of the road, literally, for four of the eight people who joined the truck in Chitwan game park: the two English girls and the two Austrians. I must admit it took the nearly two weeks we had spent with this new group to slowly warm to them.

Except for the Austrians, where the warmth was instantaneous. Ariana, recently graduated in environmental sciences in Vienna, had invited her mom (I forgot her name) to join her on this celebratory trip. Afterwards the mom was flying home, but Ariana was flying to Mumbai, then South Africa to begin some sort of work-related internship. Both were delightful travel companions, intelligent conversationalists, much attached to one another, stopping for joint selfies every few feet.

Steve the Canadian from Vancouver, seated across from the Austrians, was repeating a trip he made across India some ten years earlier. He seemed to be retired from something, I thought maybe the military because he had a sort of good-old-boy demeanor. Early on he committed the unforgivable sin of shutting down a Pink Floyd recording to insert his own choices. It turned out he had an in-exhaustible knowledge of pop music. Eventually his charter membership in the Booze Brothers put him under the weather for a long period.

Greg, next to me in his unremovable hat, was from the first moment identified as a tech-nut, lugging a huge back-pack of gear everywhere: selfie sticks, 360 cameras, laptop, cables, converters, etc. He spent most of the travel time napping or on the laptop, apparently running some part of a Democratic election campaign in Seattle. He had trouble with the food, maybe partly for budget reasons, so pretty well every group meal he had birani, usually plain, and relished it like a grand feast. Greg related well to the English girls but alienated male roommates by making what were perceived as fussy demands. As a result in the roommate rotation I spent more time with him because I was not bothered. In fact I grew to quite like him by the time we both left the trip in Mumbai. It turned out he was not enjoying the early stages on the road because he did not like busy cities nor crowds. Why India then? one might ask.

Paula, one of the two English girls,  was taking a break from Greenpeace U.K., of which we heard much. The other English girl, seated across the table (forgot her name too, I will call her Polly. It seemed to me she should be called Polly),  cut from same cloth as Paula, from suburban London was taking a two week break from an internship situation in the social services I think. Very English, somewhat stuffy middle class accent and vocabulary, very civil service. I did not warm immediately to the girls probably due to their very aggressive speaking style, self-assertive rather than conversational. I had forgotten this is typical London, a challenge for us laid-back Canucks.

Young Archie sits at the back left of the previous photo, from the Midlands I think, also celebrating the completion of his undergraduate degree, destined for an investment job in London as I recall. We wondered if he would survive that, as our rather green ‘kid’ member. He had a lot of trouble with the food, ordering eggs and bacon or such whenever he could. Sometimes this meant long waits as a miniscule eatery searched for the ingredients. However, great adventure awaited him further on in the trip, where he bought a guitar to exercise his considerable musical skill, and linked up seriously with our lady driver!

Just out to the left of that photo is Mike, the London Cabbie, a lively, outspoken character, scheduled to be on the trip all the way back to the starting point in Kathmandu, months thence. Apparently well off, maybe on an R & R break or maybe on parole as it turned out later. He had rather extreme political views, so far left as to have come full circle to the extreme right, such that any discussion quickly turned into a rant: “kill the rich!” He immediately became the leader of the Booze Brothers, sometimes with Archie, Doug and Pete, but chiefly with Steve to whom he firmly bonded and always roomed. For the Booze Brothers the first order of business on arrival was locating a source of Kingfisher. As we shall see this eventually spun out of control.

Incidentally, buying drink outside restaurants or bars was becoming more difficult. On one of my scouting trips near our hotel I spotted a very small sign, ‘Cold beer’, on a nondescript warehouse-like building. Inside were some coolers and random guys dispensing a wider range of product than usual (Kingfisher seems to have a near-total beer monopoly in hotels and restaurants).

Pete the Australian must have taken the two above photos, because he is not in them. Pete is in the renovation business, apparently taking an unscheduled break instead of finishing a project, so he spent a lot of time on the phone quelling a riot at home. He is very knowledgeable, knows a few languages, including Japanese. His great grandfather, a German, went to China to escape some sort of imbroglio. There, even more irrationally, he enlisted to help a German expeditionary force fight the Japanese in WWI. Captured, he married a Japanese (why not?), and after the family made various backs and forths to Germany in the early half of the 20th century, Pete was born in Japan, and lived there until he left at 5. We heard many versions of this story, with some variation, especially as the Kingfisher flowed.

At the outset, two things struck me about these new companions. First, they are professional travelers. They spent many ours relating their adventures in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, floating down rivers, scuba diving, shopping. It seemed that work and the rest of life was but a brief imposition between trips. Actually, that is probably a characteristic of Dragoman travelers. The other thing, ironically, was that they did not pay a lot of attention to the trip, ignoring the passing scene, not attuned to local history, as if the point of traveling was to cross an item off a bucket list rather than really immersing in something new. Perhaps I am too cruel.

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Back on the street …

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For more markets

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some Ready to Wear

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the fascinating spice market…

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a busy fabric sector.

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Then a long climb up a narrow, dingy staircase to view, on one side, the re-purposed British army barracks from the late 19th century, now a makeshift residence for migrant labourers, some enjoying a very modest day off.

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On the other side, a view past the the Masjid-i-Jahan Numa mosque towards the Delhi Red Fort on the far horizon, captured in 1858 by the British at the end of the Great Uprising and used for its garrison thereafter.

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Later we visited the Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as Jama Masjid, the principal mosque of Old Delhi. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in the year 1656, it is one of the largest and best known mosques in India, accommodating around 25,000 people. Fortunately they were not all there at this time.

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A shrine of some kind adjacent to the metro track. Or maybe a UFC arena.

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Whaazis?? Appears to be some sort of sacrificial shrine about to devour a whole human. I failed to warn him…

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A mosque in old Delhi

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And another, neither featured in tourist guides

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and a Sikh shrine, one of the most interesting stops on our whole tour

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The devout. A colourful scene, a large, lively crowd, throbbing background music:

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The musicians…

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chanting the same 10 word prayer, repeatedly, probably all day.

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A list of the ten most prominent Sikh gurus and outline of Sikh practice.

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And in the back, the Sikh kitchen, massive pots of dal and other thali dishes for the masses, 30,000 meals served every day for all comers.

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The gates open, we step back to avoid the rush for the next serving.

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Then a few hundred meals in perfect discipline and quietude. We did not partake here, but we did much later in a Jain temple on the route to Mumbai.

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Then more strolling through the busy markets. Pete and Ali in foreground. We could have spent days here…

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English girl Paula, Mike in purple shirt, James

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Ali, ‘Polly’, Greg, Archie, Ariana and Steve in front left

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Ariana spying something tasty

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Next day my good friend Pete the Australian ( next in age at 58) and I headed for handicraft markets, walked miles through some attractive areas, with directions from local boy who was waiting for a high-school cricket tournament to start. I was tempted to join him. However, we eventually found a government handicraft emporium, full of rugs, jewelry, prints, fabrics, clothing, what have you. We were entertained by a very knowledgeable sales guy, perhaps a nuclear scientist moonlighting. Here I got the delightful little costumes for my grand-girls, and a large bunch of tea. Pete, in the early stages of a behavioural pattern, OCD even, spent a long time looking at rugs and fabrics, eventually buying a few as I recall, as a peace offering for the partner managing the renovation crisis at home.

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After wandering a bit further through a rather upscale area we hit a string of other shops outside this high rise. The high-rise housed an upscale handicraft shop with fantastic jewelry, ceramics, wooden furniture, gigantic animal sculptures. Enormous prices. We opted for some street vendors in tents. Here I got the very attractive (to me) smock-like shirts for the guys, with some good bargaining. The vendor wanted me to buy some white ones like local guys (and Archie) sported. I preferred the very handsome coloured ones. Turns out that seems to have created a problem, as we shall see much later…

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On our last night we had a farewell dinner for the four people leaving the truck for home in a decent restaurant in the market near the hotel.

I enjoyed our time in Delhi, though it was a change from the heavier historical focus of earlier stops. We did not visit many of the typical sites, like Humayun’s tomb, the Red Fort, the Jantar Mantar observatory, Parliament, the many museums, the outlying historical sites marking Delhi’s previous locations. In fact we had already seen much of the Mughal legacy previously. We would have to spend a week or more to really take in other parts of the city’s story. Instead we largely lived for the moment, among the crowds, on the subway, in the markets and in the restaurants, large and small.

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This lady’s relaxed posture reminded me of my dog and the one petrified at Pompei, proving that dog culture is universal. We left her making the best of a hot afternoon.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

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