I was expecting a culture shock, to be flown into a place that I had preconceived ideas about but had not yet witnessed for myself. When I got out of the airport and into a taxi cab that’s when I realised exactly what I was in for, and this was only the start. As we sped along – what I can only assume is their version of a freeway or autobahn – we were met by a soundtrack of automobile horns coming from taxis, trucks, cars, motorbikes, and other transport vehicles! We stopped at irregular intervals held up by traffic congestion or a precious cow in the middle of the road. Swerving in and around I remember wondering how the driver could see with the clutter of religious icons and flowers on the dashboard and windscreen.
We were dropped at our hotel, the same one we were to meet our tour at the following day. After a speedy 24 hours in Bangkok the night before it was a relief to get some rest in a quiet, all be it stickily hot room. The people were friendly, well but over dressed for the heat outside the cool confines of the hotel. It also struck me why you would need so many men working at a small hotel lobby. Having read the tour itinerary wrong we ended up with the day to ourselves to explore New Delhi, meeting the tour later in the evening to set off in the morning. This actually worked out perfectly as we weren’t to actually tour Delhi, just using it as a take of point.
After a short walk around the dusty, hot and quite uncomfortable surroundings of our hotel we returned. With the help of the multiple men working at reception we managed to secure a driver for the day who was to show us all the top sites! He was great, but one of many. This made it slightly difficult for us to spot him after we were done with each location, due to the sea of drivers standing around waiting for their clients. It really is a community, you see them at every stop standing socialising in their little clusters, clearly all regulars working the same ‘tourist circuit’. You nearly feel guilty prying them away from their gaggle to continue sight seeing. The air conditioner was a welcome relief of cool air, but took a while to kick in! Meaning for the first 5 or so minutes we were left hot and bothered, pulling at the fabric wrapped twisted around us or sticking to our skin. The seats grew sticky and the air was hot to breathe but it was still more comfortable than the dehydrating direct heat of the unprotected sun outdoors. It continued like this all day, relief in the car and marvelling at the absurd traffic conditions and constant sound of horns. Then we would leave the car to go explore, enduring the heat for the duration of the monument before making an immediate beeline for the car once ready to move on. Then the initial discomfort on the way to the next attraction. This is perhaps unfair but our desire to escape the sunlight and sweltering heat outdoors meant that we grew irritated if it was overly difficult to find our driver. Interestingly too Sprite and Coca Cola were sold every metre or so, where water was few and far between! It was not easy, but well worth the sights.
Our first stop was the Birla Temple. We had to leave our bags, cameras, phones and shoes strictly in lockers before we entered. It was vast and beautifully coloured with interior decorations of wall paintings, statues, incense, flowers and tokens of prayer dispersed around the wide open space of the temple.
Next up we visited Qutb Group of Monuments where we had a personal guide tell us the history, stories and ins and outs of the place. The wall carvings were nothing short of amazing! So much detail, on such an enormous scale. The place was peppered with squirrels that ran in and out of the ruins of the buildings. Amongst the monuments was a tomb, tower and rotund building. Our guide pointed out the Karma Sutra carvings on the walls, and indicated the age old tradition of trying to fit your arms around a tall pole.
Third was my favourite the Lotus Temple. Literally shaped like a lotus flower, whose shape can be seen everywhere in India, this temple was starkly unique! The enormous white building somewhat reminded me of the Opera House in Sydney, although situations in amongst large gardens as opposed to sitting on the harbour. From the car park there was a long pathway leading up to the temple. It was here that Chloe, with her blonde hair, stuck out like a lightbulb and we noticed all of the attention we were attracting. We were just there to see the temple, and instead we walked close together remarking at the people who pointed and stared, then at the ones who directed pulled out their cameras to take photos of us rather than the monument. It was bizarre! The temple was beautiful and simple inside. It wasn’t decorated with the overwhelming character of other Indian temples I have seen. Instead it was plain and simply white, letting attention be directed at the shape of the roof and building situated above pools making the lotus seem as though it was sitting in water. The short que we had to stand in before being able to enter was pleasantly endurable by the shade provided by the shadow of the flowers petals. Once leaving the temple we were standing by one of the pools trying to take a photo with the temple in the background when the first ques started…first it was two little girls, then their mothers traded places with them, then there was a group of friends who quickly rushed over before we had time to extricate ourselves from the situation. We managed to wriggle away as more and more people turned and saw what was going on. I spied a man with his son about to beckon him towards us and a bunch of others clearly with similar intuitions. We ran for it! Well not ran, but walked very swiftly, apologising that we had to keep moving.
Fourth we stopped at Humayun’s Tomb. Another monument, another long pathway leading up to it. This one however not only had a pathway but it had an entrance gate grand enough that we took photos in front of it before realising that this in fact was not the monument, simply the entrance way. The tomb was beautiful, resembling – well I thought so at the time – the Taj Mahal, I would discover in only a few days time that the Taj was so much more! At the base of the tomb was a staircase so steep I used my hands and knees as well as my feet to climb to the top. It opened up onto the second layer of the tomb, providing an incredible view of the gardens below. One of the beautiful parts about here was that it was so enormous and grand and yet their were so few people around that we were able to fully enjoy it ourselves without the tides of tourists or more correctly the tides of locals that had been present at the Lotus Temple, and are usually present at ay attraction.
We drove by India Gate on our way to the Red Fort. An impressive complex of buildings once home to the emperor and his companions. The were multiple buildings scattered around the site, all with different purposes. Mum with her bad knee and taking a slight rest bite from the heat sat in the shade of one of the first building whilst Chloe and I wandered around exploring the grounds. It was here that Chloe’s favourite photo was taken when an Indian couple with their two children approached us at a rather quiet building and without asking simply held out the child and dropped it into Chloe’s arms. They stepped back pushing the elder child towards me and pulled out a camera. Glancing at one another and appreciating that their were not hoards of people around to see and attempt to follow suit I bent down next to their son and we both smiled back at the parents. We quickly decided that if they were bold enough to ask – or not ask – for a photo, we then wanted a copy as well, and had them take the photo on our camera as well.
That night back at the hotel we met up with our tour group and ran through the itinerary and any final details and questions. The three of us were to travel with three couples, and our guide Amid until we reached the Nepalese border. We finished off our day in New Delhi with dinner at a restaurant where we all got to know one another and have our first proper meal in India. Amid soon learnt that I was only just starting to eat spicy food and would need to know the coolest thing on the menu, at least until my tolerance and tastes changed. He also learnt that both Chloe and Jess were lactose intolerant and therefore we were in for an adventure trying to find food without cheese or paneer! IMPORTANT NOTE! India is a fantastic place to go if you are vegetarian. With the cow as their sacred animal they don’t eat beef and there are a lot of meat free options. However they love their cheese and yogurt and you will be very hard pressed to find a meal that is not challengingly spicy without either of those ingredients in it. Jess and Chloe soon grew very tired of Biryani [fried rice] and Amid did a fantastic job of helping them as best he could.