19 May 2012

Delhi, Old and New

8-9 April

This morning Sean and I flew into Delhi from KL, where we had been visiting my long-lost best buddy Natalia. We are pretty excited but somewhat nervous of what India will inflict on us. We're taking part in photography tour with Paul Parin from http://studioreddust.com.au/ , a photographer I have admired for a long time. Although it's an expensive way to travel, being part of a tour is the only way I was prepared to go to India. I think it's the only country I'd say that for! The tour includes regional guides at each location, accommodation each night and a cool little 8 seater bus with an experienced Indian driver between places that greets us at the airport. Sean and I happen to be on the same flight as Paul and his friend Mike, so we all share some surprise to see heavily armed guards hanging out at the airport, firearms casually slung over their shoulders.

The scooby bus takes us to our first hotel, past an alarming number of army personnel manning the streets. Not knowing what to expect from the tour accommodation, I am pleasantly surprised when it is a flashy 4 star place close to the centre of the city. We drop our stuff and wander out onto the streets to Connaught Place park, just nearby. We have been preparing ourselves for plenty of beggars and faeces but it's not bad at all in this part of the city. April is within the dry season heats up over a period of months until the monsoons break. So it's hot and sunny - much like the long summer we left behind in Perth. Like many busy Asian cities you have to be trusting when crossing the road - just step out into the constant stream of traffic and walk at a constant speed so that everyone weaves around you. I am not good at this - I remember being stranded on the side of the road for ages in Phnom Penh trying to look like I wanted to be casually strolling along the gutter!! At the park we get put through a metal detector (first time for everything) and check out the hideous display of painted bear statues, one for each country of the world. The Australian one was done by Ken Done. Gross.

This is the point where I realise in hindsight that I was not suitably aware of my surroundings and guarding myself as a naieve white tourist. Sean and I are set upon by some "ear cleaners" in the park, one of whom manages to distract me long enough to put some kind of gunk in my ear. The other is attempting to climb up Sean's shoulders to do the same to him, so I swear and say Let's Go! I am not completely sure why they felt it was a good idea to do this to another person, but I assume it's similar to the "throw shit on a tourist's shoes and get them to pay to have it cleaned off" scam. After a day of discomfort and finally losing my hearing in that ear, I call the hotel doctor who refers me to an ENT doctor and he vacuums the gooey substance out. Both of them tell me "you shouldn't let people put things in your ears"... thanks, I know!

Onto more pleasant things. Back at the hotel there is a stream of men in flash open top audis depositing scantily clad women who dash off to the sounds of dance music eminating from the Pool area. We chat to the security guards who tel us there's a "summer pool party for Delhi A-listers" happening at the hotel today. We catch up with Paul and Mike and apparently we can go to the party, if we want. Imagine our surprise to find hordes of ex-pats and rich offspring of India's elite swanning around in bathers, with hotel staff scurrying around to serve them free drinks and delicious platters of food. Well. This is not exactly the poverty stricken surrounds I had been preparing myself for.

Mingling with the Delhi locals.

We meet Mark and Tracey, the other couple in our tour group. I'm quite pleased it's such a small group! And what a way to start, with free food and beers in a flashy hotel pool party. How surreal.

"Welcome to India!" Sean, Mike, Paul, Mark and Tracey.

The next day, with slightly sore heads after all the free beer, we head out with our first guide to see Delhi's Jama Masjid, the so called "Friday Mosque" and then explore the streets of Old Delhi. The mosque, built in the 17th century, is the largest and most well known in India. It is closed to tourists on Fridays as this is the day for Muslim congregational prayer. There are thousands of pigeons in the centre square, attracted by the corn and wheat that is thrown out for them each day. Two guys spend their day sweeping up all the pigeon crap. This puzzles me.

 Out onto the streets of Old Delhi, occupied by every form of transport that will fit through the small streets. These are occasionally punctuated by wider streets that cars and carts can fit through. Our guide walks us through alleyways and across a manic main street for some excellent 20c samosas. It is definitely the most hectic traffic I have ever experienced, there are hundreds of vehicles of all kinds going in all directions, all beeping at one another. There must be some form of order in this apparent chaos because nobody has a bingle and (surprisingly) we don't get run down.

ready, set, cross....

In the afternoon we visit Humayan's Tomb and Qutab Minar, both UNESCO world heritage listed sites. When things are built out of sandstone, they are built to last - these are both more than 500 years old. Qutab Minar is a patchwork construction made of the bricks and pillars of 27 Hindu and Jain temples that were destroyed by the Turkic king. Ornamental pillars have had all the faces broken off because the king was of a different religion. In a strange twist of justice, he apparently died by being impaled on the pommel of his saddle whilst playing a game of Polo.

Qutab Minar
Humayan's Tomb

Sean and I opt out of the $40 a head hotel buffet and decide to find some cheap local dinner. Here is the fortuitous and delicious result :)

$3 Thalis, a little taste of everything with rice and bread. A fantastic option when you can't read the menu ;)

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