Friday 26th June – day 83
The flight from Istanbul to New Delhi was pretty uneventful, Gary watched lots of movies, ate his dinner and slept, whilst I finished my book ‘Kashmir Shawl’ (very good) ate my dinner, watched a movie and then got frustrated as I was hemmed in by Gary on one side and a lady next to me who had sprawled out both blissfully fast asleep, I needed the toilet and was cold so no sleep for me (come on a bigger argh than that is needed).
We landed at 4.20am and a taxi was waiting for us, it was very hot in excess of 35c. The drive to the hotel was interesting, in-between the two stretches of road leading too and from the airport there was a strip of grass and this was used by the locals to sleep on, exercise, prayer and walk to work on, there was a surprising amount of people up and about at that time of the morning but as the heat rose during the day you could see why people made use of the early morning.
As we approached the town where our hotel was located the volume of traffic increased and the beeping of horns became more incessant, I was getting really annoyed with our driver as I didn’t think it was necessary but as the week went on I realised that was the way people in New Delhi drove their cars, tuk, tuks, and bikes. We also saw more and more people sleeping rough, people of all ages and sexes laid out on the pavement along side feral dogs.
The hotel was located in a horrible, dirty, dusty street, with lots of passing traffic (which meant lots of horn blowing) and more feral dogs. I couldn’t believe we’d booked a hotel in such a horrible place, fortunately the inside of the hotel was clean and the staff were very friendly and welcoming and unlike some people in India we would have an air conditioned room with a bed to sleep in.
After we checked in we agreed to catch an hours sleep or two before breakfast, this was a mistake, although Gary slept well and woke refreshed I woke tearful and tired. Gary went to breakfast on his own whilst I tried to sleep a little more. On his return we ventured into town but I was still very tearful, I even found myself in tears in front of a tour rep, I just couldn’t turn the water works off. I found the day very difficult so I went back to the room. I hadn’t expected the anniversary of my mums death to be so hard but no matter what I did, I just kept on crying, grief is a strange thing. Although I think about my mum a lot, I naively didn’t think I would be affected so badly, I was naturally aware of the date unfortunately it falls just a couple of days after my sisters birthday but I had thought I would simply raise a glass in her memory but maybe because I was tired the grieving process just got a grip on me and would not let me go, no matter what I tried to do. Gary bless him was left bewildered and simply got on with the jobs that needed to be done.
I took several trips into the local shopping area (Connaught Place), I walked the first time with Net and jumped in a tuk tuk, the second time (the price of these varied from £2.00 to 50p for the same journey, it took me a while to realise I needed to negotiate the fare, apparently the locals are only charged 10p for the same journey. Walking anywhere in Delhi is really difficult as you are approached by the locals who try to engage you in conversation, the questions were always the same, ‘which country are you from,’ ‘is this your first time’, ‘do you like India’, ‘what are you looking for’ followed by ‘I can help you…’, my nearly found friend would then follow me to wherever I was going. This happened three times on the first day, amusing, slightly helpful, but as the week wore on slightly annoying.
Ginette – especially as you didn’t always end up where you intended to go, and inevitably we were taken to the ‘official’ tourist information office (which of course it wasn’t)
I did manage during the course of the day to get an Indian Sim card for my phone, to do this, I had to have photos taken and a copy of my passport taken (£5.50). I also managed to book a trip to the Taj Mahal as it turns out it is close to Delhi.
In the evening we went out for an Indian meal, it was nice food but the bill was £36 which is very expensive for New Delhi.
Gary’s first impressions of India
– Hot but not the sunbathing kind of hot (Ginette – it is a very oppressive heat, you can feel the monsoon is coming)
– Dirty, but not as bad as we had been led to believe (Ginette – it is really dirty, but you can see people are trying to keep themselves clean, even the homeless wash in the street and it’s not as smelly a I thought it would be)
– very crowded, there are people everywhere, there are lots of homeless people sleeping by the side of the road, in parks, on the paths on the back of bicycles, in fact anywhere they can lie down, it is very depressing to see especially when you see homeless children and severely disabled people
– Traffic, although there are signs up telling drivers how they should drive i.e. indicate to change lanes these are completely ignored. It is every man for himself, there are no lanes, lots of horn blowing and lots of cutting each other up – complete chaos
– Horn tooting can mean anything from get out of my way, to I’m behind you, hello, hurry up at a red traffic light, do you want a lift, I’m overtaking you (this can be from the inside or outside lane), I haven’t used my horn for 5 seconds and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.
Re the driving in Delhi
Gary had described his earlier experience on the road as riding in a bumper car crossed with being in a character in a Xbox game, I couldn’t agree more, it is a real assault on your senses, it is really noisy from the horn blowing, scary to watch, there doesn’t appear to be any lanes, drivers use their phones whilst driving and even eat their dinners whilst driving, you don’t know where to put your hands as there are vehicles everywhere and they often touch/bump each other – it is not as if we’ve not experienced travelling abroad we’ve been to China and South America so know how bad it can be on the roads but this is the most extreme driving conditions I’ve experienced.
– more feral dogs that love to bark at night
– most things appear to be cheaper than the Uk
– the majority of people we have met can speak some English (this may be because we’re in a big city)
– although everyone is really helpful and polite it is hard to accept they’re being genuine as so many of them seem to have a hidden agenda, i.e. let me help you find the shop you’re looking for but instead of going to the shop you end up in a tourist information place under the auspices of looking for a map
– really colourful people, the women wear some amazing sara’s and the men also have an assortment of colourful clothes. A lot of the women have henna tattoos and a number of men have henna in their hair
– it feels safer than we thought it would, we had not expected to see women travelling on their own but we met travellers who said they’d felt safe and many indian women travelled on their own. We even sore one or two riding mopeds on their own (Ginette – braver than me)
Day 84 – Taj Mahal
Very early start, up at 5.30am for a 6am pick up, we had a driver and a car for the day and he arrived promptly but clearly was not a morning person as he didn’t appear to speak very much English.
The Taj Mahal is in a place called Agra and it took 2 1/2 hours to get there, our driver was very courteous and made two toilet stops on the way. Fortunately he became a little more talkative as the morning wore on but he would not win any awards for his personality.
The roads in Agra were not that dissimilar to Delhi, complete chaos! again lots of horn blowing and no rules. However we did see more cyclists and Ox driven carts in this area than in Delhi.
As we crossed a river we could see water buffalo wading in the water and women washing their clothes. The other interesting sight were the gods of the roads ‘cows’ these are sacred in India and can walk and play wherever they like, which includes causing complete mayhem on the roads, they just wander up and down roads/highways or simply lay down in the road and other than beeping at them drivers just go round them.
Ginette – I am seriously on the look out for a cow costume I can wear on my bike because it’s the only way I’m going to feel safe cycling in the city or failing that I will need to find a very big horn and join the mayhem.
Once at the Taj Mahal our driver passed us onto a local guide with a stern warning that we were to be very careful of people pickpocketing and selling you junk. Our guide reiterated how unsafe the area was and proceeded to walk us up to the entrance. No cars are allowed near the Taj Mahal so other than walking you can take an electric tuk, tuk, camel rides or ox pulled carts.
My battery was low in my camera so we agreed to have a camera man follow us and take some photos.
Ginette – see photos on the blog page (we have a further 100 most are cheesy, but we have some we like, I don’t normally like my photo being taken but it was over and done with fairly quickly it felt a little bit like having your photos taken on your wedding day)
The guide was useful as the entrance to the Taj was confusing, he led us past all the queuing Indians to another queue, Net had to go in a different entrance to the men. I think without the guide this part of our trip would have taken much longer than the 5 minutes it took for us to go through the entrance.
The locals pay 20 rupees to enter the Taj whereas we had to pay 750 rupees (£7.50) each but we were treated as speedy boarders at Alton Towers our guide pushed us in front of the queues, which felt a little uncomfortable, especially as we seemed to attract a lot of attention especially Ginette (we think it is because of her white hair) but there are very few westerners in Agra so it may be just because we’re a bit of a novelty.
The Taj Mahal is a beautiful sight, well kept gardens and although there were queues (thousands of people around) you never found yourself in a stationery queue.
Taj Mahal – Gary’s history summary
The Taj was built by a king as a tomb for his 3rd wife, note not for his 1st or 2nd wives as they didn’t give him any sprogs whereas wife 3 churned them out, she died whilst delivering child 14 aged 38. Of the 14 children only 8 survived child birth, 2 were only girls so they don’t count, son number 3 killed his 2 other brothers and put his dad (the king) in prison for 8 years until he died. We naturally asked why this was this happened and it turned out the king wanted to build a 2nd Taj Mahal but the naughty son didn’t want his daddy to spend his inheritance hence he stuck him in prison.
Ginette – this is not a bad account of the family history but I recall son number 3 stopping daddy spending the Crown’s money so that he could feed the poor and look after the people…
The Taj is a symmetrical building, it has two buildings on either side, one is a mosque and the other is like a hotel for people to sleep in, between prayers. The Taj has four towers these have been built leaning outwards so in the event of an earthquake they will not land on the Taj. There are hooks on the top of the Taj so that ropes can be attached to allow the building to be cleaned. The Taj apparently changes colours with the rising and setting of the sun. It is a truly magnificent building.
Visiting the Taj Mahal has been on my wish list since I was a little girl, it was so much better than I thought it would be. Over the years I have heard so many negative stories about queues and beggars that it had dropped to the bottom of my list. But I am so glad we went not only were there no queues but we did not see many beggars and those that we did see we trying to sell you something. The Taj Mahal is definitely worth a visit, it is a beautiful building and has a really spiritual feel about it.
After the tour we were taken to a marble works for a tour (selling attempt) of a warehouse selling marble (amongst other things) we should have know this was coming as our guide spent most of his time showing us how the marble in the Taj looked and describing the craftsmen skills and jewels. We were given a demonstration which was interesting and the finished articles did look very impressive but with no way to transport the goods or a house to send them to it was never going to end in a sale. I did try to explain this but the vendors were very persistent in the end we just walked out.
After lunch (in a restaurant especially selected by our guide/driver) we went to the Agra Fort, we chose our own guide who was much better than our earlier guide. 70% of the fort is used to house the Indian Army so only 30% was open to the public. But it was an impressive 30% and again worth a visit.
The fort has a double mort, the 1st mort contained alligators and the 2nd wild tigers and lions. The entrance to the fort is up a steep slope, this was so boulders could be rolled down to knock down any enemies that had managed to negotiate the two moats. If this was not gruesome enough there were holes in the walls so that burning hot oil could be poured on the enemy – lovely.
The fort is where the King and his family lived along with 320 concubines. This is also where the king was jailed by his 3rd son. In one of the court yards there was a big bath which had 36 seats this is where the king bathed along with his concubines, I want one but Net was not keen.
The fort was impressive and contained lots of history, the architecture was really clever and well thought out, there was even a meeting area for the king and his prime minister to meet the people. This was an outdoor space which had lots of columns but wherever you sat you could still see the king’s seat.
Along with the buildings we enjoyed watching the monkeys playing on the walls and the chipmunks running around in the grounds.
Our next stop was to Mathura, Krishna’s birth place. The drive up to this was on an off road track with cows, water buffalo, dogs and street vendors vying for space. Again we were encouraged to have a guide but his English was not very good so we didn’t understand a lot of what he said
Ginette – I understood even less as he only spoke to Gary, seems to be a running theme outside of Europe.
There were lots of military armed guards around but other than checking for bombs, knives etc didn’t seem to do a lot, it did however give you the feeling that you needed to be alert. At the Taj Mahal there had been minimal security compared to this temple.
Ginette – I had expected the temple to feel really serene, relaxed and welcoming instead, people pushed each other, rarely smiled or talked to each other and the atmosphere was cold and unwelcoming.
It was a very long day and we did not return to the hotel until 8.30pm we were tired and had sensory over load. We had a beer in the restaurant and briefly met 4 nearly qualified doctors that had trained in Bristol.
Day 85 – Sunday 28th June – Delhi
Day to buy inner tubes
After lots of research including internet searches, email exchanges, weather checks we have decided we are going to go to Leh. We have received conflicting information about the weather, some say it will not be possible to complete the trek because of the monsoons and others suggest it should be fine. The weather forecast looks dubious but we are going to chance our luck, as there are other cycle tours that are taking place during the time we will be on the road. We will explore a plan B and C once we’re in Leh i.e. who to call if we get stuck, where to stay if the weather comes in fast etc.
I mentioned to the hotel tour operator that I needed new inner tubes, he took this to mean he had to help me source them. He made some enquiries on my behalf and then arranged for a member of his staff to accompany me and Ginette to the bike store/market. This turned out to be a long trip.
We took an auto rickshaw to a cycle market (there are markets for everything in Delhi including one especially for lorry seat covers) although there were lots of shops with european type displays including ‘firefox’ and ‘trek’ no-one appeared to sell the inner tubes I needed. Fortunately a local took up our cause and he eventually found 1, we purchased this and enquired where else we could purchase more. We called the shop to ensure they had the right stock as they were 18km away, fortunately they did and our guide (the member of staff from the hotel) agreed to take us there. This time we went by the metro service. This was an experience, if you think London underground is crowded you really need to experience the Delhi Metro. People are jammed into the carriages like sardines, when the doors open people literally fall out as there pushed from behind at the same time people on the platform push there way onto the train, the doors are only open for a matter of seconds so theres a real sense of urgency. There were women with babies in their arms that were jostled and pushed it was not a pleasant experience but interesting.
If I had, had a baby with me I would have used the women only carriages which are at situated at the front of the trains.
Security was really high at the metro’s, men and women were separated and searched and bags had to be placed in a security scanner. There were regular tannoy messages informing passengers of the correct way to use the metro and to ensure there bags were not left unattended as these would be treated as bombs.
After securing a further 2 inner tubes (I have used these to replace the inner tubes with the patches) we went back to the hotel room as we were both hot and we needed to done some admin jobs and call Julie (my sister) to wish her a happy 50th birthday.
We went out for another Indian meal in the evening although the food is nice it is not anything special. As you would expect the menu is different from the menu in the UK, it contains more vegetable based meals, lots more dry dishes and dishes with a sauce are often described as being a gravy. The ‘gravy’ in our limited experience has either been creamy or a very rich sauce not sweet like our madras dishes (not made with tomatoes). The dips that accompany the meals have been yogurt based but with pineapple or mint (raita), whole small onions (a little like shallots but not as tasty) no mango chutney or salad dips. After both indian meals we were given a selection of aniseed bits and betel nut to help cleanse the palate and aid digestion both tasted better than a chocolate or a mint after dinner.
Day 87 Monday 29th June – Delhi
Planned to visit Old Delhi to do some more sight seeing and to do some outstanding tasks on our to do list.
We took an auto rickshaw from our hotel to the Raj Ghat (place Ghandi was cremated), the ashes are in a lovely, tranquil park, so we spent some time walking and enjoying the peace and quiet.
After exiting the park we had intended to walk to a local mosque but a bike rickshaw pulled up to ask us if we wanted a lift, we initially refused but when his rickshaw toppled over in a ditch we suppressed a laugh and took pity on him and jumped in.
Before taking us to the mosque our very slight and wiry driver decided we should see the sights of Old Delhi and proceeded to cycle us through a very busy market. The streets were very narrow and there was traffic coming in all directions. We’re not sure how he managed to cycle through the smallest of gaps without hitting or crashing into anything but he did. The shops and stalls sold everything you could possibly need so much so we managed to complete a couple of tasks including buying duct tape for the cycle boxes.
We wouldn’t have chosen to go to the market but it was a really good experience, lots to see and smell and more memories to put in the memory bank. We did take some photos but it is impossible to capture the hustle and bustle of an Indian market, there’s just so much happening, that a photo doesn’t do it justice.
Eventually our driver did take us to the mosque, we were charged a small fee to enter (this was the first time we had, had to pay to visit a mosque) and Net was given a no frills complimentary gown to wear. We had to take our shoes off, which is customary but as it was in excess of 37c the marble floor was very hot. We sought shelter in the alcoves along with the locals, who were dozing in the sheltered areas. We are becoming a little more comfortable with being the ‘new guys in town’ but it is still amazing to watch the Iocals faces as we walk on by, especially the children.
In the afternoon we did our final bit of sightseeing we took an auto rickshaw to the Indian Gate (war memorial) and walked along the parks to take in Parliament House and another mosque.
In the park there were groups trying to get some sort of fruit/nut our of the trees, it was obviously a delicacy they enjoyed and took great pleasure at throwing sticks up to knock the fruit out of the tree and then raced to eat it. There was also a large group of men taking part in a prayer session.
On our way out of the park a man stopped Ginette so he could take a picture of her with his daughter.
Gary; demon white haired lady.
Ginette- that’s not fair, they don’t look at me as if I’m evil but I do think the white hair throws them a little
We stopped for dinner on our way back to the hotel, we stopped in a cafe and had a lovely meal of stuffed peppers, mushroom bhajis and vegetable tempura with chilli sauce. The food was well presented and really tasty.
Once back in the room we re-wrapped the bike boxes and packed and settled down for an early night as our flight to Leh was scheduled for 06.20am.
We enjoyed our stay in Delhi, it was a real insight into India but it is not somewhere I would like to return and although our hotel was clean and the staff were friendly it is not somewhere I’d recommend, the staff constantly interrupted us (sometimes not at very convenient moments), we had phone calls asking if we would like dinner, if we would like anything from room service, to inform us about ticket bookings, we even had people knock on our door to provide us with towels, toilet paper and laundry (at 9.30pm).
We are now looking forward to the next stage of our journey a flight to Leh followed by a cycle trek over the Himalayas to Manali.