Hit the Ground Running


Breakfast is at 9 am up on the roof and we’re treated to some delicious Parati, which is fried bread with onion and green chili. There’s also egg and Butter Roti which are equally nice, coffee is the instant variety however and not so nice. We get a few tips on what to do and Maria has arranged a tour of the the most watch-worthy spots in town. Everyone but me, Petra and Ricard seems to be interested in this trip so I guess we’re on our own!

We start off walking in a random direction and soon run into some cows. Not the kind I’m used to though, but the Indian kind that’s just shy of 2 m at the withers! Carefully sidestepping them (they’re holy after all), we press on in the morning heat. After a while we feel it’s time to turn so we walk on into a side street that looks promising. It’s much cooler there in the shade and there’s also lots to look at in the form of tiny shops, shrines and the (not so) occasional weirdass electrical installation.

I get crowded by a bunch of friendly kids who want me to take their picture so I take the opportunity to ask directions to the bazaar (Petra didn’t bring any small size bag and wants to get one). Turns out we’re more or less in the middle of it, so we scamper on, fascinated by our little adventure and having no idea of where we are. Going down yet another alley we’re told by a man that we shouldn’t go any further in that direction because there because there’s slum there.

When we finally find ourselves in a somewhat larger street we decide to fetch an auto rickshaw to get us to a metro station. We haggle for a fair price, which seems to be about 50 rupees (8 sek) and off we go! …or not really, since Delhi is stuck in perpetual gridlock. Eventually we get there, even though we could probably had walked there faster (if we’d only known which way to go).

Across the road we spot a sign for Kamala Market, so we decide to give that a try before going to Old Delhi. Froggering across the road the police men chuckle at my FiveFingers. Key to staying alive in India is to remember to look right instead of left when crossing the road! Kamala Market doesn’t really seem to be for us though since all they’re selling is water heaters, spare parts and sheet rock. Oh well, we frogger back and descend into the metro.

The metro is very nice with marble everywhere and lots of armed guards. You buy a token and proceed through a metal detector which noone is paying any attention to and the get your bag x-rayed, all this is probably because of the Commonwealth Games which just ended and was hosted by New Delhi. The token is then registered as you walk through the gate and you return it at the end of the journey. You pay according to how far you want to go and if the distance is farther than you paid for you get a 50 rupee fine, a rather smart system that doesn’t require that much manpower. Most rides are around 15 rupees (2.5 sek) so getting around is dirt cheap!

Turns out we’re only one stop from Jama Mashid, one of the sights on our list. Jama Mashid is the largest mosque in Delhi and you can go up into one of the minarets if you want for a nice view of the city. But before going to the mosque we find another alley to walk down and just look at people. It’s not long before we’re lost again but eventually we arrive at a larger street and get another rickshaw to get to our destination..

At the mosque there are seven police officers “guarding” the entrance (i.e. idly sitting in chairs on the side while the metal detector screams bloody murder for each passing person). To get in to the actual mosque you need to remove your shoes and have legs and shoulders covered. So Ricard and I each get a cloth wrapped around our waists while Petra gets something that looks like a nun uniform. Apparently having a guide is mandatory and we get one with lousy English who takes us on a grand six minute tour of the place and then expects payment. More or less a sham but what are you supposed to do?

Being rid of the guide we get tickets to the minaret and head up on the roof to enter it. Going up the minaret is as cramped as you’d expect and it’s not pleasant when you need to pass people going down (unless you’re into rubbing up against strangers that is). But once you get up it’s all worth it, the view is fabulous!

I was looking forward to eating at the Karim Hotel restaurant that is near Jama Mashid, that came highly recommended in the guide book. But none of us where hungry yet so we decided to go see the Red Fort first, one of the fifteen world heritage sites in India. Here Petra finally finds a rather pretty bag for a measly 200 rupees (32 sek). That turns out to be the high point of the Red Fort though, the whole thing is rather boring with uninspiring little museums. One of the best things are a little kid (~4 years old) wearing a t-shirt with the print “I hate Sundays”. =D

Looking a the throne that was used when greeting foreign emissaries Petra shows me a photo of two guys intimately holding hands. She’s been insisting on seeing guys holding hands all day even though me nor Ricard have seen any. Considering it’s supposed to be against the law to be a homosexual in India this seems rather surprising. But now that my gaydar has been properly calibrated I start seeing them as well, they’re all over the place!

Ditching the Red Fort we get a bike rickshaw to take us to the nearest metro so that we can go to the Lotus Temple. The Lotus Temple is a rather spectacular piece of architecture reminiscent of the Sydney opera house, but in the shape of a lotus flower. The place is built by the Bahá’í Faith, a religion that strictly prohibits any lectures or rituals within the temple. Sound like a step in the right direction to me!

The poor bike rickshaw guy is having a hard time with all three of us in the back and Ricard is on the receiving end of a lot of laughter from people as he’s sitting in the back, where you normally place the children… At the metro we find a nice guy helping us on the right train and giving us general directions. So far our interaction with the Indians have been extremely pleasant, if you discount the most aggressive sales people, everyone has been super helpful and nice!

We get off at the Lotus Temple and walk the 500 m or so to the park. We get accompanied by a curious bunch of kids that are very happy when we take their pictures. It’s kindof fun to be at a place where white people are still considered somewhat of a curiosity. Coming up on the entrance to the park we see a long line of people. This is a bit strange since Indians aren’t normally the most disciplined when it comes to queuing up. We get in line though and the progress is rapid, after yet another mock security check we’re inside and head towards the temple.

All around us are tiny supercute asian girls in uniform and all of them are wielding some manner of camera taking pictures all over the place. All white people seem to be prime targets and it’s not long before we’re shyly asked if they can take a picture with us. They giggle a lot and even more so when I hand them my camera so that I too can get a picture. We ask them where they’re from and get only a cryptic “Nadalan” as answer (a bit of searching reveals this as the city they were from).

Closing in on the temple is another queue, brusquely enforce by a portly Indian guard. Remarkably everyone complies, at least until he’s out of sight. Before walking up the stairs leading to the temple you have to remove your shoes and once we’ve done that we can bask in the glory of the Lotus Temple. And it truly is magnificent! Surrounding it is a number of pools that serve as a cooling system for the temple. We walk down to one of the pools as we see a couple of kids bathing their feet in there. We follow suite as it has been a lot of walking already and our feet are really sore.

This seems to trigger a trend and soon the edges of the pool are filled with people getting their feet wet! It isn’t long before there’s a guard gesticulating wildly and chasing people away though and we take the hint and gigglingly depart. Now it’s time to enter the actual temple where there isn’t much going on, just an array of benches where you can sit and quietly contemplate your religion of choice. I send a thought to the Old Ones and Cthulhu in particular before exiting.

Leaving the park we are once more mobbed by the uniformed girls and several pictures later we’re back on the metro again. Now it’s time to finish Petra’s quest for the place where Ghandi was shot. We ask a girl on the subway who seems to know what she’s talking about and get the name of a place written down. As we get to the station said to be nearest the spot we ask around once more, but no one seems to know of the place. Finally we find someone who points us in the right direction, we just need to walk a block to the next roundabout.

After a lot of walking we find a taxi driver who knows about the place but says it’s behind closed gates since it’s after 6 pm. All this for nothing..! We get a fairly good deal on a ride home (we’re almost on the other side of Delhi at this point) and also cram in a couple of sights on the way. All in all it’s not a total waste.

Ricard and Petra are tired and decide to eat dinner at the hotel, I want something more of a restaurant though and decide to try my luck on my own. I get a rickshaw to take me to Connaught Circle which is the heart of New Delhi where there’s supposed to be a good number of nice restaurants to choose from. I ask a few people and finally find myself at the Marshid restaurant in K-sector. The place is nice and the service excellent, not very pricy either (my entire meal runs me about 500 rupees (~85 sek). I get some mutton Rogan Josh and it’s served with the meat still on the bone. After a while the place is invaded by a throng of aussies and one of them, unaccustomed to wearing a backpack, tips over my Lassi into my lap! He’s of course dreadfully sorry and proceeds to buy me a beer and asking me to join them.

It turns out that they’re the technical crew for some Australian broadcasting company wrapping up the final bits of covering the Commonwealth Games here in Delhi . So I spend the rest of the evening discussing cricket, the commonwealth, North Korea and what have you and having an excellent time! One of them has a funny story about when he went to Agra earlier that week and encountered policemen using a radar gun to check for speeding. Pretty useless when there are rickshaws, donkey carts and generally cars that don’t go faster than 60 km/h!

Wrapping up the evening, Mickey, the bloke who spilled my Lassi, insists that I tag along for some “Pan” to “clean my palate”. Of course I agree and off we go! On the way I ask him if they have had any trouble with malaria (they’d been there for a month) and he says that no he hasn’t since he’s been taking homeopathic malaria meds… Anyhow, we eventually arrive at what more or less looks like a fancy candy shop, but with spices instead of candy. They ask if we want regular or sweet Pan and I’m advised to take the sweet version. We’re served a little parcel wrapped with some sort of leaf and very thin tin foil. Supposedly you should eat all of it and down the hatch it goes! It’s actually very good and leave a nice freshness in the mouth afterward. A great way to end my first day in India!

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