A couple of weeks ago now we took a trip to India, mainly to visit family, and along the way we had to see some of the highlights of Northern India. We spent about 10 days in India and it was an adventure, and one that I would repeat in many ways.
So enjoy the next few posts as I describe our trip and India through all my senses.
We arrived late Friday/early Saturday morning into Delhi after a direct 5 hour flight from Singapore. It was 2 in the morning and we had a driver waiting for us to whisk us away to our hotel in the south part of Delhi. Ironically the south part is now more commonly known as New Delhi because it was a newer part of the city. This is confusing because the British and most of the western world actually called and at times still do call the entire city New Delhi.
Anyways we woke up about 4 hours later and trudged our way to breakfast before a full day of sightseeing in Delhi.
Breakfast was wonderful with a full buffet including Idlis (steamed rice cakes) with lentil soup, dosas (this became a mainstay of Carrie’s breakfast for the rest of the week), Parathas stuffed with curried potatoes, pickled veggies, wonderful chutneys of mint, tomato, and coconut…and some western favorites that we did not try. We did not try the Masala Chai (Indian Flavored Tea) yet but this soon also became a mainstay of our breakfast routine.
The routine of breakfast was also the beginning of our staring and laughing contest with the Indian people. They were always staring wide eyed when we tried local food, wanted local tea. Actually they just stared at us and at times laughed at us and other times laughed with us when we spoke (terrible) Hindi, ate with our hands, or otherwise tried to blend in. (Note: We always try to blend in, but a white guy and girl, especially with Carrie’s blue eyes will just never blend in around Asia.)
So after filling our tummies we met our tour guide Ratna for a day of touring that started near our hotel at Qutub Minar. This is a complex of buildings known as the Qutub complex and the primary landmark is the Minar, or tower, known as the Qutub Minar. It was fascinating to see the Sanskrit writing and carvings as well as the color of the stone. Also, while the place had numerous ruins and was not put together or restored it was interesting to see the architecture from that era of around 1100AD and this was a precursor of the stunning sights of the day and the week really.
After going to Qutub Minar we traveled towards Old Delhi with a stop at the newer capital and government buildings as well as seeing India Gate. It was amazing to see how expansive the government buildings are and when you looked out from the presidential building you could barely see India Gate in the distance. The buildings were huge and all colored with red and white sandstone in impressive style.
Then we were off to the old city area which included some amazing colors, chaos, and a visit to the largest Mosque in India known as Jama Masjid which was built in the 1600s and was the first place we had been to that was full of tourists and people selling useless goods to tourists. The size and construction of the mosque was impressive and I am glad we took some time to stroll around and take it in. We also had a decent view of the old city and the red fort as the mosque was built a few levels about the city.
Following the mosque we took a suffocatingly fun ride on a rickshaw (a manual pedal rickshaw not to be confused with the auto rickshaw type). The ride took us through the small, claustrophic, but yet colorful alleys of Chandi CHowk (the old market area of Delhi). The streets, or alleys as I call them, were the perfect width of 1.5 people and our rickshaw somehow managed to make his way through the people coming from all directions. Carrie and I really enjoyed this ride. We saw fabrics of brightly colored saris for sale, as well as flowers for offerings, and decorations for the home. It was everything from jewelery to wedding clothing and accessories to kitchen pots and pans….it was amazing. I was personally overcome with love with the colors because it contrasted so wonderfully with the dirt, grime, and smoke of so much of Delhi. <>We also had our senses enticed by the scent of jasmine and sandalwood as well as food from street side stalls. We even got lucky enough to stop a few times and wave and smile at the people in shops and on the street. It was slightly touristy, but also wonderful to see the commerce of the city going on despite us. We had our first glimpse into the fact that despite our ability to stand out in some ways, no one cared because there are way more Indians in India than tourists, so most people go happily on their way without us.
After having our senses overwhelmed we made a quick stop by the outside of red fort of Delhi for pictures (only the outside really remains well presevered) and then off to the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi that marks where he was cremated.
Following the memorial stop, we had our final stop of the day (besides a rug/handicraft shop or three and of course some lunch) at Humayun’s tomb and related complex. It was built in 1572 and is considered a great example of early Mughal architecture and thought to be a prototype or at least inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
This was a good last stop for the day before our brief second morning in Delhi and then off to another city.
The second day in Delhi was nothing more than another breakfast with our staring waiters who served us (yes they served us at the buffet) because they were still shocked that Caucasians wanted lentil soup and rice cakes for breakfast and then a quick drive through Delhi on our way to the freeway in order to start the 4 hour drive to Agra the city of the Taj Mahal.
The drive was everything you expect on a road in India. It was full of colorful trucks painted with good luck deities and decorated with tassles among other things. There were also motorbikes with women in colorful saris riding side saddle as well as auto rickshaws with 15 people in them when they were made for five people and of course there were other things as well such as camels, cows. And you cannot forget about the people who looked they were ready for a party, a bbq, a lunch, perhaps even people just stopping in or near the road for a friendly conversation. Keep in mind this is not an alley, a street or even a road…it was the National Highway, and while if I was driving and not on vacation I would find it frustrating, I simply found it fascinating and just another “TII” or ‘This Is India’ moment for Carrie and I to enjoy. Please also note that we got stared at through the car windows even when we were going 40-60 miles per hour. What a fun ride.