We're in India! (Part 1)
Sunday 22nd October 2017
Well India is over but with it came some of our top experiences and it truly is a place you have to see to believe.
Granted it's not for everyone and I think you either know if you're someone who wants to go to India or not. I was always someone who wanted to go to India. Largely for the Taj Mahal, I have the best relationship with Indian food (haha!) and I also just wanted to say I've been as it isn't your usual destination.
We arrived in Delhi and after waiting at the e-visa counter to get through (this seems totally hit and miss as to whether you have no wait time or hours) we headed out to meet our driver.
India comes with a lot of warnings. Everyone who's been has a tale of how drivers took them off to this shop or that bazaar instead of their actual destination, how people will lie and say roads are closed, the hotel has shut down and "I'll just take you to this place I know" (usually a relative's shop/hotel/restaurant).
Fortunately our hotel had pre warned us and we arranged a transfer through them so it was a pleasant surprise to see our name on a board and someone waiting for us. It wasn't such a pleasant experience being squished into the equivalent of a fiat 500 with all our bags for the 40 minute drive to our hotel but at least we ended up where we planned to be.
We watched with a mixture of shock and horror and awe as we drove through the streets to our hotel. Lanes don't apply in India, nor do roundabouts - the only thing that stops traffic is officers or traffic lights and they aren't found in abundance.
Lane and lane of rickshaws and auto rickshaws, children cartwheeling between cars as they beg, cars, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes all vying for their place on the road and carefully avoiding the odd random cow taking a stroll down the main road or having a lie down. You pretty much fee as if you're taking your life in your hands traveling here.
We had chosen a hotel on the main bazar road, pretty central with shops and restaurants down it along with other budget hotels. As we made our way down this tiny street crowded with cars and rickshaws and people, stalls spilling into the road and the constant sound of horns I saw Nikki's face register that this was where our hotel was and his apprehension at getting out the car.
Fortunately despite the inauspicious alleyway we walked down to get to our hotel (past a public urinal so you can imagine the smell) we were pleasantly surprised by the room, clean and tidy and spacious enough for a few days with a good bathroom.
We had a pretty quiet day just checking out the strip where our hotel was, having traveled overnight to reach India. We visited the hotel restaurant and had to laugh when it was basically four plastic chairs and a coffee table. They hastily explained it was being refurbished but I think most people here tended to eat in their rooms. We were also invited to the "roof terrace" - in reality just the roof but we watched the sunset and the birds, noticing the hawks and flocks of pigeons and enjoyed some really good food before heading off to bed.
The following day we had booked onto a walking tour of Old Delhi. We met up in a random part of the town waiting for our host Dhruv wondering what we were in for.
Well we weren't disappointed, after meeting the other participants we headed off, Dhruv pointing out sights and buildings that we would never have noticed. As we stood across from a busy junction Dhruv showed how all around us the buildings had once been huge mansions. You could see the detailing and where they had been split up and in some cases looked after and in others left to ruin.
We walked through the alleyways dodging motorcycles and dogs and entered a small stairway which we climbed to the roof. We found at the top the owner of some pigeons and his assistant and learnt all about this weird game played in India as a hobby amongst pigeon keepers. We'd seen the flocks the night before but hadn't realised what was going on. You have your flock and your neighbour some way over has his flock, you send them up to fly and try to get the flocks to merge. Then you call back your flock and hope that one of your neighbours' pigeons has got confused and ended up in YOUR flock. You then capture it and hold it for ransom. All the time you and your assistant guy are screeching and howling and yelling.
I was more confused as to how anyone could possibly tell whether they had someone else's pigeon given that they all look the same - when the owner indignantly explained that if you had 20 family members lined up and a stranger amongst them, you would know the stranger - correct? And we watched as he called his pigeons back in excitedly realising he had someone else's (yes he could tell this as they flew about). He then scattered seed as the pigeons pecked about and before we could blink swiped his net catching the imposter. A ransom is paid - nothing sinister just a bag of potatoes or something - to get the bird back. Our host decided however that he rather liked the look of this pigeon and may well decide to keep it and turn it into one of his own!!
Darcy wasn't feeling well but we did our best to keep up on the tour and it was only in the Hindu temple where we were learning about the different gods that we had to make a quick dash outside for Darcy to be ill. If we were anywhere else I'd have been anxious about my child being sick in the street but in India all manner of things are chucked in the street so I didn't need to worry. I also got a lovely kind notion of rubbing her back mined to me by a man making flower garlands and when I filled our water bottle up to wash our feet (we were barefoot from the temple) a young guy stopped his moped to tell us not to drink it. The kindness of strangers!
We think it was a side effect of the malaria tablets we were still on and she soon picked up enough to enjoy a traditional Indian brekfats- no egg and bacon here but it was really tasty. A small piece of stuffed bread, I think called a parantha, some curried lentils and potato - delicious.
Onwards walking and we took various rickshaws to find some good lassi - a youghurty drink a bit like yop flavoured with things like mango or pineapple or rose or just plain. I liked it more than I expected to and was surprised that the girls weren't fans.
We moved onto a flower market where sacks of flowers were being auctioned by wholesalers to trader. So many garlands are made and sold so the trade in roses and marigolds is strong. A kind man gave us each an Indian rose, the smell sweeter than anything I'd inhaled in India so far.
We moved onto a spice shop where we learnt about the different spices. Having missed out on the spice tour in Zanzibar I was pleased to learn about this and it was interesting to learn where things like nutmeg come from.
We moved along through a spice alley and up a little set of stairs in the corner. We pressed our roses to our nostrils as we went as the smell of spices was so strong it invoked a strong reaction of sneezing, wheezing and coughing in all of us, including our Indian host!
When we reached the top Dhruv showed us we were standing on a side of a former palace. It had been reclaimed over the years and now belonged to "everyone and no one". You could see the telltale signs of its former majesty in small details here and there but it was strange to imagine something like Buckingham palace becoming sectioned off into tiny feelings losing its heritage.
We walked on and eventually arrived at Dhruv's house. He welcomed us into his "haveli" a true oasis of luxury amongst the hustle of the streets. Beautifully restored and with a treasure trove of antiquities and articles Dhruv was one of the most interesting people we have met during our travels. I'd highly recommend his tour if you are ever in Delhi.
We then sat down to a wonderful lunch prepared by his wife and enjoyed the most delicious food. Indians eat off silver as it has health benefits and you can't help but feel a bit special as you eat off a silver platter and raise your silver tumbler.
Then it was time to leave. So off we went. Bidding farewell to our fellow walkers and our wonderful host.
We headed back to the hotel for some rest time before deciding we would visit the Akshardham temple later that afternoon to have a look around ahead of the water and light show.
We set off from our hotel - we used uber wherever possible as it's easier to stay on your route when you know uber is watching. We arrived and although it's free to get in we had to queue for ages to leave our phones as you aren't allloeed to take them in. We wished we'd known as we would happily have left them at the hotel as we didn't need them. Nothing electrical at all is allowed inside so we have no photos of the trip. It did mean no one taking selfies or crowding around for pictures which actually was a nice change.
We queued up and got tickets for the show and decided to take the boat ride while we were there. We headed off and took our seats in a boat set aside for English speaking visitors. It was like a log flume ride but without the drops as it meandered it's way through Indian history. It was interesting to learn some of their history although according to this show Indians had discovered gravity, space travel and Pythagoras theory long before the westerners who laid claim to their discoveries. We decided we needed to do a bit more reading one the subjects.
We went and took our seats for the light show. A massive amphitheatre type setbup with one side given over to a huge statue of Swaminarayan and a huge wall behind it.
The show started and although it was in Hindi we vaguely understood that it was about a young boy discovering his godly powers and the gods each visiting with a demonstration of their own powers.
It was amazing with fountains better than those I've seen at the bellagio in Las Vegas and a laser light show that made the water seems to dance and move. Really stunning.
We got stuck coming home as the roads around our hotel really were all closed with an upcoming festival and the traffic was insane. People driving down pavements, blocking each other, honking constantly. Utter madness.
The following day we set off to discover the Lotus temple. Something I'd read about but wanted to see due to its architecture and beauty. There's something about lotus flowers that are just so lovely but I didn't know anything about this temple.
We arrived and discovered that it was for the Baha'i faith, a faith I'd never heard of. We took our shoes off and sat quietly inside reflecting at the temple and frowning at the visitors who chattered away or took pictures despite the requests to do neither.
We went to the information centre and learnt more about the faith. It was so interesting and I love the principles of this faith - that all faiths are true and we should all believe what we want to believe. We are ultimately branches of the same tree and humanity has to live in kindness.
It has temples all over the world although not in the uk interestingly and I was very happy to learn more.
The afternoon saw us head to Humayan's tomb. We risked a taxi and we're relieved to be taken to the place exactly as we'd asked! This is the tomb of the second murghal emperor and similar to the Taj Mahal.
We got distracted by the smaller garden tomb as we arrived but soon made our way to the main event. It was again a masterpiece in architecture and very interesting to wander around. Kitty was stopped many times and asked for photos by locals and she happily posed away while Darcy doesn't like it and doesn't want to be in them.
That night the girls as I went out to get mehndi done on our hands. We watched as the artists quickly draw the most beautiful designs, its mesmerising and something that I love because it's just so beautiful.
The next morning we headed out to another temple and another faith. This time the Gurudwala Bangla Sahib of the Sikh faith.
We weren't sure what to do or how to find our way in when a Sikh man came over to us and kindly took us to the international tourist office. We found headscarfs and left our shoes and headed off with a lovely Sikh lady whose name I am embarrassed to admit we forgot to ask. She told us so much about the religion and the book which is revered inside the temple. We listened to the people singing parts from the book and loved that you can arrive at the temple, but food at one window then take it to the next window and give it back for it to be distributed amongst those who need it.
Everyone can eat here and everyone sits together. No status or race or religion matters. You all sit and eat the same. Beggar next to king. We loved that. We watched the preparations being made in the vast kitchens and even joined in. Rolling out chapatis and piling them up to be cooked. The girls absolutely loved it and would have stayed all day.
We left as more visitors came wishing to join in and again felt uplifted learning more about another religion. Although our girls go to a Christian school and we like Christian values we don't follow any particular religion and I like that the girls will find out all about other religions and make their own choices about what or whether to follow a religion.
In the afternoon we headed to India Gate mainly because we'd seen a big children's park nearby and it seemed like a good opportunity to give the girls the chance to do something normal and kid friendly after so many temples! We enjoyed seeing the monument and it was very touristy with plenty of street sellers and snake charmers.
The girls enjoyed swinging and sliding and hanging out on the monkey bars. Some of the park attractions had fallen into disrepair. There seems to be a fountain park that was empty and a very sad aquarium housing a few fish in barren tanks. Funnily enough the children's little library on site was well stocked and air conditioned so the girls liked looking through the books for a short while.
We headed back to the hotel as our time in Delhi had come to an end and we were off to wildlife sos to volunteer!
More to follow!!