In order to drive on the roads in Delhi you must take everything you know about the rules of the road and wipe them from your mind, they will get you killed here. Anywhere there is a gap you fill it and whoever is the first of the ten other drivers rushing to fill that spot is the winner. I couldn’t look most of the time it was truly terrifying. We arrive at the park and make our way to the ticket office. There are three ticket booths, men, women and foreigners. Locals pay 40 rupees to enter and foreigners pay 400. Personally, I think its a brilliant system, local taxes maintain these places so why shouldn’t the locals pay a token amount and we as tourists pay more? Anyhow, we were meeting julie's friend and her husband but received a message to say they were running a little late so I left their tickets at the gate and headed in to find the cafe with the great coffee. We had not had coffee since leaving Jordan and my nerves were in desperate need of caffeine. We marched our way as quickly as possible through the park in search of the café. The café was beautiful and did indeed serve great coffee and had a nice menu from which we ordered. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m ordering and usually hope for the best. Food in India seems to have two levels either spicy if a savoury or sweet to the level of dissolving your teeth. I had managed to order some kind of dumpling which I couldn’t eat, the texture bore no relation to anything I knew and so I could not consume it. Róisín, being so much more adventurous that she ordered a dish that she really enjoyed and then enjoyed some of mine rather than offend the chef. The clientele seem from appearance to be the very well heeled of Delhi so the problem was not the food the problem was me, but perhaps you already knew that. We finished up and went to meet our new friends.
We walked the park with them. They took us to Humayun’s Tomb and we walked the grounds for an hour or so. The tomb is made of red sandstone but very much in the style of the Taj Mahal. I really cannot get over how generous these two people were to relative strangers. Thanks to them I was feeling less scared of Delhi and little more inclined to explore. They dropped us to Connaught Place which is a main shopping area in Delhi. Our new friends wanted to know if we had heard of "fire paan", which we had not. She described what it was and told us we would be able to find a stall selling it in the shopping area. We promised to give it a try, not me of course I’m not that adventurous, just Róisín, after all it is her gap year!
There is an underground market, no not the black market but an actual market under the ground called Palika Bazar which is adjacent to Connaught Place. There we were dropped with advice not to pay more than 500 rupees for anything as they were all knock offs. We went into the park and down two levels of stairs to a hive of busy stalls all vying for our business. You couldn’t delay or even stroll through this place. Any delay is interpreted as an opportunity to sell and you will be approached by every stall holder within view, considering every stall/shop is no more than 2 meters wide that’s a lot of competition for your business. Like the old bull ring in Dublin there was a lot of knock off products but there was also some hidden gems too. There was some beautiful hand crafted leather goods which I couldn’t buy as we had so much travel ahead of us. I did come upon a shop selling silks which caught my eye. I thought as I was not going to be home with my girls for Christmas this was an opportunity to buy some gifts to send them. So I got down to haggling. The silk that had caught my eye was in fact a roll of silk fabric being sold by the meter. I was then shown pashminas (cashmere shawls) in every shade, colour and material. At the back of the shop the owner pulled back a curtain and started to present us with his limitless collection of pashminas. As I rejected what was being presented on the grounds of fabric he would then bring out higher quality and higher priced goods. When I found the quality that appealed but not the colour he presented more, dropping one at a time in front of me. I eventually decided on four beautiful pashminas and all for the equivalent of €40, a far cry from what I would pay for these things at home. Delighted with my purchases we left the market to go in search of food.
Connaught place is a semi circle of Georgian style buildings harking back to India’s colonial days. Beautiful architecture with shaded verandas which were once the administrative centre of British control but now house all the familiar global brands such as Zara, VanHeusen, Benetton, H&M, etc. All the designers are here including the high street eateries and its one of these I choose to have our evening meal. All I really want is something familiar and although I loathe eating in Nando's at home at least a chicken leg is just that and I need to eat something I can recognise. The menu is adjusted for a more spicy tolerant taste but it is possible to get a plain chicken burger, no beef here, beef would not be on the menu until Goa, but I haven’t realised that yet. After our Nando's meal, we went in search of "Fire Paan" and found a street stall not too far from the eatery. What was fire paan? We discovered that it is crushed ice with syrup wrapped in a beetle leaf. They then light the leaf on fire and shove it into your mouth. You would think this would be dangerous, however, the fire is immediately extinguished once in your mouth. The smell of your breath afterward is delightful, akin to any well cleaned and sterilized toilet, honestly it was the closest thing to Jeyes fluid I have every smelt. After this we found a tuk tuk and made our way back to the hotel for our last night in Delhi.
Fire Paan in Connaught Place, Delhi
We had organised a tour which would take us around the Golden Triangle. Our car arrived at 8am. We packed our bags into the car and headed off with our guide to explore those yet to be revealed parts of Delhi. Our guide was a very knowledgeable man and took great personal pride in his work and his home place. Our first stop was Agrasen Ki Baoli, which is an old well and where you might think this a small circular structure with a bucket suspended over it on a string you would be very much mistaken. This was a vast structure about half the size of a football pitch and with steps leading down 30 meters. It was truly impressive and not something we would have found on our own, as it was off the beaten track and down a side alley. Next stop was the Lotus temple. Not sure what’s going on here. Its a beautiful park with a temple in the shape of a lotus at the centre of very manicured gardens. Apparently this is a new religion called Baha`i. The temple has no idols of any God but a belief system which recognises that people can accept or reject God and have free will to do so. Not so different from any other religion I think! Any and all religions are welcome to worship at this temple and read from what ever doctrine they believe in, not like any other religion I am aware of. I don’t fully understand how this works but sounds good. We were approached by a young man who offered to explain the religion to us. He told us about his religion and also pointed us towards the interactive centre just behind us which we could check out when we were leaving. The building was very impressive and there were queues of people visiting. I was very impressed with the numbers of visitors for a religious movement I had never heard of but the guide assured me that most people visiting this place were not members just sightseers like ourselves.
Golden Triangle Tour: https://www.viator.com/tours/New-Delhi/5-Day-Golden-Triangle-Tour/d804-15811P1
Next stop was the spice market and this was really exciting. We were brought to a park where we had to leave the comfort of the car and get into a rickshaw. I have always hated the idea of rickshaws especially in affluent Dublin where I wonder what type of person needs to be peddled around by another human being in order to feel good about themselves? But this is different, people here do what they can to put bread on the table. The guide had told us the fare would be 200 rupees which was around €2.50. Off we went in our rickshaw, the man pedaling the bike was pure sinew and he maneuvered in and out of the traffic demonstrating his years of experience. His english was excellent and he chatted and laughed as he sped along. Cars were recently banned from Khari Baoli in Delhi giving tuk tuks and rickshaws a fighting chance to make a living. As we speed along the central street a quick look down the side alleys showed a medley of shops with a chaos of wiring strung above, across and around buildings. It was clear that these building had been here for centuries and with every new invention a new wire was added to the outside. Along these wires ran families of monkeys, it is a wonder the entire place hadn’t gone up in smoke as there was clearly no health and safety regulation here or perhaps Europe is breeding more risk adverse individuals! Any how we get to the entrance of spice street and it is something to behold. This is where the restaurant owners come to buy their spices on a whole sale scale. The buzz, the smells the tussle of people is an assault to the senses. The narrow streets with wheelbarrow loads of spices being moved around is totally new to arguably most Europeans. Clearly, nothing has changed here in centuries. I imagine this is what markets were like across Europe circa 15 CE and before the advent of health and safety and government controls. Real estate is at a premium here and the guide indicates towards two shops one on top of the other to demonstrate this point. On the ground floor (which is the ground) is a shoe repair guy working away diligently, in a seated position and on a shelf above him is a guy, also in a seated position selling tea. Every square millimeter of this landscape is busy with people scratching a living any way they can. In another section of the market sitting in a semicircle on a corner of the street we see trade men for hire. Each man has tools of his trade in a bucket placed in front of him. A plumber has a few pipes and washers. A painter displays a buck with paint brushes. Here these men will sit until someone hires them. Another venture as explained by the guide was the exchange of money. Here if you had a damaged or torn note you could sell it at a stall on the street. The stall owner would give you perhaps 90% of the value but it meant you did not have to queue at the bank to get the damaged note changed. You just have to admire the ingenuity of these people and their work ethic. We are brought to a particular shop and introduced to the owner who takes us to a back room where he explains about the many and varied spices and herbs he sells. I bought a number of different spices to send home to my daughters. We were also brought to the best sweet shop in Delhi, Chaina Ram. This shop was, we were told, established during the time of the British administration and still is renowned throughout India even today. Its also very expensive even by European standards. This stall was a buzz with people and although I looked around I had difficulty seeing any sweets until I realised that sweet is the British word for dessert. Our guide asked us what we wanted and we were able to try some of these treats.
The next stop on our tour was lunch which I would happily have skipped as I hadn’t quite accepted that every thing on a menu is some form of curry in various levels of spiciness and so every menu is a disappointment for me. Adventurous Róisín had no problem with menus and whatever she ordered she was happy to eat. Me on the other hand ordered a not too spicy BBQ chicken dish which had some familiarity with home. This time the food that arrived was undercooked and there was no chance of me risking food poising this early in the Delhi adventure. Róisín’s food was perfect. I began to wonder if she was sneakily translating the menus in her spare time as she always seemed to land on her feet, that might be verging on the paranoid!
Rickshaw through the market streets of Delhi
Finished lunch and off to the Mosque. A large dark red building where on arrival we removed our shoes and gave them to a care taker for a small fee. We wandered around and admired the view out over the city. I have to say I did not really feel comfortable in this place and felt like we were intruding and barely tolerated. I can imagine I would be just as resentful if people came into my local church taking pictures while services were going on so I didn't take offense. Next on this whistle stop tour of Delhi was Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial a really peaceful and serene place and the first place, according to our guide, where every visiting dignitary has to attend. The awe and respect with which people in India still hold Gandhi is displayed on every face that passes through this location. The gardens are beautifully kept and many of Gandhi’s most inspirational sayings are inscribed on plaques around the site. “Be the change you wish to see”, easier said than done but definitely worth striving towards.
We move from Gandhi’s memorial to the Sikh temple in Delhi. All are welcome here and anyone who wants or needs food can eat here at no cost. This place is not about income or your monetary worth. Anyone can volunteer to help here either cleaning, cooking or serving the many diners. We had the privilege of taking a look behind the scenes at the kitchens which produce thousands of meals for all visitors to the temple. All are welcome to visit and eat here regardless of race or religion and there is a real atmosphere of openness about the place. Visiting this temple was one of the high points and there is an atmosphere of welcome and friendship without the stifling piety which appears a feature of most religions. We left the temple at sundown and having been delivered safely back to our driver we said goodbye to our wonderful guide and left Delhi in the dark heading for Agra.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.