Saturday, December 27, 2008

Arriving in India and impressions from our first day in Delhi. Mahatma Gandhi and “time is not a problem Mam”.

The omnipresent "toto" vehicle in Delhi

We arrived yesterday late at night and went through the very exhausting custom’s controls. The baggage was finally found, on the floor, rather than on the carousel and we got through to the airport lounge to find a smiling Kuldeep from the travel agency, Incredible Real Indian Tours. Outside complete chaos reigned. It looked like fog but turned out to be constant smog because of the absolute pollution of Delhi. The airport looked worse than what I would imagine one to be in somewhere like Ethiopia if that is possible. Our hearts sank as we took in the smells of human urine, the fumes from the vehicles; if some of them could be called that, the infernal traffic jams around the airport, as well as the dirt and awful surroundings. Kuldeep introduced us to Rajendra Sharma who was to be our chauffeur for most of our trip and in we got into his car which turned out to be quite a common Indian model, Indigo. It was nice and clean and the seats covered in white towels!
Eladio and our driver Rajendra
We made our way to Delhi, some 18km away and everywhere there were road works for the new Delhi metro. I think our driver got a bit lost as he is from Jaipur and not Delhi. We must have arrived at our hotel, The Hotel Palace Heights at past 2 in the morning. It is in Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi and is nothing like a Palace nor is it high up. However it is clean and modern and the room, although small, is very comfortable and has everything we need.

This morning we were picked up by Rajendra and he took us on a tour of Delhi. We were in a bit of a shock as to the state of Delhi. It is the dirtiest and most dilapidated and rundown city I have ever been in. You expect the poverty but perhaps not the total dilapidation. For instance we are staying in one of India’s landmarks, Connaught Place and it is in a disastrous state. It is obvious the buildings were once palatial and beautiful but haven’t been renovated for more than a hundred years. I kept feeling all buildings should be completely demolished and the whole town built from scratch but that is not possible. Everything is covered in dust, including the trees.

The bustle and mixture of people and vehicles is more what I expected. First we went to see the old town of Delhi. I was very conscious of my white skin and blonde hair and probably stuck out like a sore thumb. We felt safe in our car driving through the hectic and dirty streets of downtown Delhi where human and animal life mixes on the streets and there are stalls of goats’ heads next to second hand spare parts for vehicles. The most frequent vehicle you see is the “Toto”, a sort of roofed motorbike, most of which are taxis. They are everywhere in Delhi.

At traffic lights, children appear from nowhere, knocking on the car window and offering all sorts of goods, from geography magazines, piles of novels in English, local newspapers, fruit, toffee, blankets to red heart shaped balloons!

Our driver took us on a standard tour and funnily enough for a Hindu capital, we saw at least 3 Muslim mosques in just one day. There were not many foreign tourists, owing, according to Rajendra, to the recent gun attacks in Bombay. Every monument we visited had 2 prices; 10 rupees (0,20 euro cents) for Indian nationals and 250 rupees (5 euros) for foreigners. The difference was blatantly published on all entrance signs.
Indian and non Indian prices!
The tour started with the Jama Masjid mosque in old Delhi and is apparently India’s biggest mosque. This was our first experience in removing our shoes, putting on socks and walking on carpets and squares frequently covered in bird excrement! After a while we got used to it.
Eladio taking off his shoes
At one of the stops on our tour I asked Rajendra when we had to be back or how much time we had. His answer was a tonic for me: “time is not a problem Mam”. What a difference from my time conscious life back home where every hour of the day is measured to fit in all the things I have to do. Perhaps, in India, for the first time in a long while I will truly be able to stop worrying about time!

We skipped the Red Fort as our driver told us the one in Agra was more worthwhile and were then dropped off outside the Raj Ghat which is a park in memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India. In a way, it is thanks to Gandhi that Eladio and I are in India now. We have always been impressed by this little man who was responsible for the eventual fall of the British Empire once he met his objective of achieving Indian independence through his policy of non violence in 1949. He was quite a remarkable man and here I quote Albert Einstein who said: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh blood walked upon this earth”.

It is here that Gandhi was cremated and it is here in this park that Indians and non Indians never cease to come and venerate him, as we did today.
The Mathama Gandhi memorial at Raj Ghat
Then we were driven to India Gate which is a landmark of Delhi and commemorates the Indian soldiers who have lost their lives in battles and wars for their country.

I was more fascinated with the people selling their wares on the pavements around India Gate rather than with the monument itself. In fact this feeling was with me everywhere we went and I took more photos, trying to capture Delhi and how the people live and work, than of the monuments themselves.
Street vendors at India Gate
From India Gate we went to Humayun’s tomb, now a World Heritage Site. Here there is a building that inspired the Taj Mahal.
India Gate
We were then driven to lunch. A table had been booked at the Essex restaurant and here was where we found a lot of other foreigners, as well as some Indians. The cuisine was ok but I think I am more used to curry in London or Madrid and this was not the same.

After lunch we were just able to take in one more mosque, or rather the QUTB group of monuments, another World Heritage sight. This was crowded with local tourists and as it was a Saturday afternoon, if was quite obvious people had dressed for the occasion and the array of colourful sarees was a sight.

The driver dropped us off at our hotel and before returning to our hotel for a well earned rest, we decided to take a walk around Connaught Place which is actually a huge circle with many roads leading off it. The circular structure held up by many columns is full of global branded shops on one side and by street vendors on the other and the contrast of poor and rich is in full evidence.
Eladio with the incense vendors at Connaught Place
Here we were duped into buying incense as it smelt so lovely. But soon we were so tired we went back to our hotel. In fact we are skipping dinner so’s to sleep and be up early tomorrow for our 6 hour drive to Mandawa which is our next call of port. But more about that in my next post.

Cheers till then


1 comment:

Jill said...

Masha!! I hope you enjoy Agra and your other destinations! Delhi is a tough one to start with!! Such a difference! Another world! I will be heading there in two weeks. Keep updating us in your blog! Be careful and have fun!!