Day 2 in Delhi, and off to explore with the group. We take the Metro, which is an interesting experience. The first train is completely packed, but we manage to fit in. On trains, there is a car for women only but we choose to use the regular cars. The second train is empty, and air conditioned. Yay! We arrive into Old Delhi, the walled city. Most of the walls are gone, but the gates still exist. It is very crowded and is considered the heart of Delhi, with glimpses into its rich history around every corner. The streets are narrow and winding, and of course, full of tuk tuks, people, cars, bikes.
The group is following Chandra’s lead and it’s difficult to take in or see the sites when you don’t want to get run over, or lose the group, or bump into someone. Being that I have bright red hair, I garner alot of stares. And since I am a friendly person, I try to smile back or say hi. The odd person is brave enough to tell they like my hair.
Our first tourist stop is Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. It can hold 25,000 worshippers. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who was on a roll back in the day, having built the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. To reach the mosque, you must walk up around 30 steps and before entering there is some business to take care of:
- Remove shoes
- Pay camera fee
- Put on loudly patterned gown, to hide any inappropriate clothing and exposed skin
First thing as I step into the sprawling courtyard—I realize how ridiculously hot the tiles are on my feet. Should have brought socks! Then I am wandering around the courtyard, admiring the gates, towers and 40m high minarets.
I pop into the prayer hall, to escape the scorching heat and to see the pretty designs on the walls and carpets and chandeliers.
Then a stroll in the area of Chandni Chowk, the main road and market This would not be complete without a stop at a local spice shop. I cannot resist investing in some chai tea, and a mango green tea that has the most amazing scent. By the way, I am now officially addicted to chai tea. I drink it occasionally at home, but it just feels different here!
Then it is over to Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, a Sikh place of worship. It commemorates the ninth Sikh guru, who was beheaded because he would not convert to Islam. Fun Fact: the word Sis means severed head in Hindi. We take off our shoes and cover our heads and make our way into the prayer hall.
We sit on the soft pattered carpet and listen to some of the prayers and observe the worshippers.
The temple offers free lunch to all, and I feel a little weird about eating their food for free. First we have a mini tour of the kitchen, watching them prepare for the meal. Then we are shuffled into a massive dining hall, with long rugs on the floor and we sit and wait to be fed.
There are men with large buckets of food and they go down the line, ladling food into our metal dishes. A simple meal of rice, chapatti, some kind of aloo(potato) and some lentil mush.
The final stop of the day is the historical Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This is where I get my first taste of local and foreigner pricing. Indians-30 rupees. Foreigners- 500 rupees!! The complex was built as the palace fort of Shahjahanabad – the new capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor of India(Shah Jahan) and was a ceremonial and political centre of Mughal government. The walls are made of red sandstone, which makes it a stunning sight. We walk through the main gate called Lahori, and there is a large garden courtyard that leads us to Diwan-i-Aam.
It is a public audience hall, with massive columns that support the beautiful arches above our heads.
And then continuing to wander the complex, admiring the many beautiful mahals (palaces) within the walls. As we are leaving, a man approaches me and wants to take a picture of me with him and his daughter. I couldn’t help but think he was going to pickpocket me, so I say no. Nothing wrong with being cautious, but maybe I can be a bit less cautious?…hahaha poor guy .
Next it is time to barter for a ride in a tuk tuk back to the hotel. As soon as the drivers know we need a ride, we are swarmed by them, all offering the best price. We choose the least annoying driver, and then we spend an hour in traffic.
It’s definitely different being in a tuk tuk in traffic rather than a car. It can manoeuver around obstacles much better, but it can also feel very exposed. And so many staring eyes, as usual.
This afternoon, we head to the train station to catch our overnight train. I’m glad this is pre-arranged…it would have been stressful to figure this out on my own! Stepping onto the train, they look clean and comfortable, and have air con. There are 6 beds in one berth; I get unlucky and have to sleep on the top bunk, which is a challenge to climb up to. The 6 of us share stories for a couple of hours, and then it’s time to make the beds. We are provided with sheets, tiny pathetic pillows (spoiled girl is used to big fluffy feather pillows!) and a warm blanket which is rough and questionably clean. But as I find out, the air con vent is up at the top where I’m sleeping, and this makes it cold. So I have to take a chance on this blanket. And in 13 hours, we arrive at the next destination……