OR AWAKENING AN OLD BIRD TO EXTREME OPULENCE AND EXTREME POVERTY.
My home base hotel in New Delhi was wonderful. Arriving in theafternoon I sat by the pool with a beer waiting for my room I had walked through the dining room and seen wonderful trays of beautifully designed dishes, wafting up their spicy yet flowery aromas. Although there were conventional European lunches there were some more exotic meats and vegetables, fragrant with spices. The staff were really hospitable in the very gracious way that somehow only Indians can be. Smooth and elegant, all matters were arranged seamlessly in The Park Hotel. From this place I would travel to Jaipur, Varnasi and Agra, it would be my home away from home in India.
That night I braved the street and walked up to a restaurant I had seen earlier on Connaught Place. Now this was literally five minutes away, but oh my god the ghastly harassment that ensued. Obviously there are beggars (couldn’t help with that as I couldn’t get money out at any of the ATM’s there which was already a thing of concern) and there are lepers and some with amputated limbs, blind and terribly broken souls and bodies. Then there are the scammers who adore mature women travelling alone. They act like some kind of gigolos (Really? Have they even looked in a mirror?) I would never trust one of these unctuous oily guys who, as soon as you have rejected their advances, get nasty and you see on their faces the truly ugly underbelly of India, the misogynists and rapists, who deeply resent Western women and indeed treat any women with contempt. Then there are people selling the shit. Dreadful crap but they insist you do need a charger that fits no modern phone or some grubby cosmetics or some socks. So I finally arrived at the restaurant after swerving the rabble and sat down for a tandoori.
Alert: you must be very wary in India, as you might have read in the news, there is a high incidence of rape. Don’t get cabs except from your hotel or with a reputable service. These safe cars will alarmingly say something like ‘woman safe’ in their windows but they are the ones to trust. There has been a string of cabs, or pretend cabs picking up women and raping them and or murdering them. Stay super safe there and if you find in the day you’re at a place away from the hotel just walk. I did that in Delhi and ended up seeing loads more things and staying out of some lunatics car.
Now what happens in this situation is that you can no longer enjoy your food. You’re already sweating the walk back. Each time I tried to have a little check on my map about sites I would see the following day, my eyes would stray back to the dwindling light outside. Of course I would be attacked on the way back or, god forbid, someone would touch me. I wolfed down my dips and chicken and paid the bill and I jogged back to the hotel like a fucking insane fool.
Top Tip: Despite the saying ‘Delhi Belly’ I never had a problem there with my stomach, but then again I was warned of any of their delicious looking fruit ices that many street vendors sell. Avoid them and indeed any ice outside of the hotel. Be a little coy with fruit too, peel it if you have it and only food which is freshly cooked not some dodgy stuff that’s been hanging around. They are quite happy to let you be fussy and make fresh.
In the morning, undeterred, I hit the ground running by showering and going straight out to their National Museum, Red Fort, Humayuns Tomb and Gandhis Memorial. I have this thing when I arrive somewhere, that I must get a few bits under my belt to get the feel of a place and how busy it’s likely to be. I hate crowds and I hate other tourists I only like travellers like me and ones who don’t bloody touch the artefacts. Boom baby I was in it to win it, skates on for a day of blistering heat and main attractions in Delhi!
To be honest the Red Fort was all rather a blur. I was new with the architecture and features of Mughal palaces and forts so was a bit goggle eyed and confused. It was large and imposing and this was the first place I had visited there after arriving the previous day. Extremely hot and over-awed by the selection of rooms and buildings inside. As usual I wanted to read all the information signs but I went into panic when I realized the size of the task. I returned to my waiting car a little over-awed and hot but I already had the measure of the system there and it stood me in good stead. Most of the tourists had been from all over India and in general they were lovely, excitable but not loud, more the giggly and a little shy, all wearing beautiful brightly coloured saris and bangles flashing in the sun. True at some other places I visited, there were rougher more determined women who scrabbled and pushed to get tickets etc. However I had no problems at the Delhi sites it was a sort of old fashioned tourism. Polite but enthusiastic, which meant the foreign tourists also behaved better or were just maybe nicer people.
So, having learnt that all was going to be fine thus far my journals tell me that I enjoyed the main events there but absorbed only a little so here’s some info either from Wiki or their site. All in blue is history!!!
Red Fort, Delhi. Some History Shah Jahan (A.D.1628-58), the Mughal Emperor shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi in A.D.1638 and established Shahjahanabad, the seventh city of Delhi. He commenced the construction of his citadel, ‘Lal Qila’ or the Red Fort on 12th May 1639 and took 9 years and 3 months to complete it under the supervision of master builders Hamid and Ahmed.
The fort is built using red sandstone and is octagonal on plan with the rampart surrounded by a moat originally connected with river Yamuna. This highly fortified citadel has two main gateways, the Lahori Gate on the west and the Delhi Gate or ‘Hathi Gate on the south.
Nadir Shah the Persian invader plundered the city of Delhi in A.D.1739 and took away the prized booty including the Takht-i-Taus (Peacock Throne) with the Kohinoor (worlds largest diamond). In A.D.1857 Bahadur Shah II was proclaimed Emperor by the freedom fighters.
Humayuns Tomb Complex.
By now I was really in the swing of it and loved this site. Now this complex is really magnificent and spacious enough to not feel too stressed by the tourists however nice they may be. You enter via a huge portal then courtyards, grass lawns, waterways and fountains (sadly most of the water was off which is a shame atmospherically) so you don’t really expect the more sedate interior where the tombs of the family lie. The arches and lattice work are reminiscent of the sultans tombs in Istanbul, not surprisingly considering the North of India is of course the land of the Mughals and Islam.
Inside the complex was also Isa Khan’s Garden tomb, pretty as a wedding cake. Predating Humayun’s by two decades from the Sayyid and Lodi Dynasty (15th to 16th century) it is octagonal so unique.The conservation on this world Heritage site has been a huge undertaking. “This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.Humayun’s garden-tomb is an example of the charbagh (a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented), with pools joined by channels. The garden is entered from lofty gateways on the south and from the west with pavilions located in the centre of the eastern and northern walls.
“Flowing water was an essential element of the Mughal char-bagh and at Humayun’s Tomb, underground terracotta pipes, aqueducts, fountains, water channels were some of the elements of the gardens. Since the time of inscription, major conservation works have been based on exhaustive archaeological investigation, archival research and documentation, were undertaken on the garden by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) – Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) multi-disciplinary team culminating in restoring flowing water into the garden.
Humayun’s garden-tomb is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’ as in the cells are buried over 150 Mughal family members.
The tomb stands in an extremely significant archaeological setting, centred at the Shrine of the 14th century Sufi Saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Since it is considered auspicious to be buried near a saint’s grave, seven centuries of tomb building has led to the area becoming the densest ensemble of medieval Islamic buildings in India.”
‘ The craftsmen, newly trained to use the original techniques and materials of their forefathers, are recreating large sections in the authentic manner and with authentic materials and removing some terrible past restorations that used modern materials such as concrete.
As if this wasn’t enough I carried on to…..
Gandhis Memorial and House.
Obviously this very emotive memorial and house where he lived in a simple fashion at the end of his life, is something to experience first hand. It’s humbling but at the same time gives you hope and strength for future difficulties. (which now are sure to follow.)
Cried? No just had something in my eye.
In an otherwise opulent house Gandhi required only very simple furnishings and had meetings with people from all walks of life in this plain room. Statesmen and paupers alike. The only possessions he had are shown in a cabinet in a frugal heartbreaking collection.
Gandhis House. (LINK TO OFFICIAL SITE)
All in all it was a fabulous if frenetic day. Reading up on Gandhi was eye opening as I’d never really known that much about him and more modern Indian history. This is the wonder of travelling, and especially alone. You learn and fill in those, oh so many gaps, in your perception of this wonderful world and the historical developments of nations. The rise and falls, the kindnesses and the cruelties, the art and destruction of a species that inevitably will fail. Sorry to be a little negative at this point….
I’ll do a post separately for the National Museum as I’ve just seen how long this post is! Night night!