Northern India – Exploring New Delhi

We’re on the 6 a.m. express train from Delhi to Agra after having every Indian who knew that we were going warn us that we should be very careful at the train station and not believe anything anyone tells us about the train being late or having broken down. Even our taxi driver gave us specific instructions on where we needed to enter the station and where we would find our train. “Do not let anyone confuse you. You go through the entry. The train is there. It’s a very good train,” he tells us, “for foreigners and good people.”

So we did as we were told, avoided all porters and made a beeline straight for the train. The only hiccup was that it is a very long train, and finding the right car was not obvious. E1 comes before all the C numbered cars, not after as one might expect. Safely settled in our second class seats, which by the way have plenty of leg room, we’re past the den of thieves and speeding our way to Agra.

Our visit to India started two days ago after arriving at the Delhi airport at 8am. The airport nearly completely empty, it’s a pleasant time of day to arrive. Passport control lines were short and only passengers from our flight were gathering luggage at baggage claim. The promised driver from our hotel was waiting for us at the exit.

Driving into New Delhi was not the chaotic tangle of vehicles, people and animals I was expecting after a past visit to Mumbai. Sure traffic was heavy and more disorganized than western cities, but really rather calm by Indian standards.

Checked into the hotel at 9:30AM and met our traveling companions for the next few days, Hali and Terry. After a quick catching up over a cup of coffee we wasted no time starting our exploration of Delhi.

For our short two day visit to the capital city we hired a driver through Perfect Holiday Travels, 1200INR/day. The owner is a charming and entertaining sort. In good English he pries us with questions looking for opportunities for more business, but at every question Hali rattles off details of the bookings she has already made. He laughs and complains that he will starve with clients such as us. Using Hali’s list of places to visit the driver makes a plan for our next two days starting with

Akshardham Temple

The highest level of security I have seen anywhere. Not only are pictures not allowed, no electronics, bags or anything else are allowed on the premises. An amusing sign is posted next to the entrance that prohibits everything from paper to snuff. Women and men have separate entrances. I brought in only a small wallet of which the attendant searched every compartment. Finally after going through the metal detector and the mandatory pat down I was allowed through.

Newly finished in 2005 the Hindu complex is comprised of a large, intricately carved temple of pink marble, surrounded by equally worked walkways and other buildings. Elephants carved of pink stone cover the base of the central temple while the inner sanctum is a study in bling that you’ll either love or hate. A combination of sparkling metals and stone carved like lace.

 Humayun’s Tomb

A mid-16th century Mughal structure that demonstrates some of the early architectural elements that were to be used a century later in the design of the Taj Mahal.

Lodi Gardens

The ruins at these tranquil gardens, just beginning to glow in the late afternoon light, date from the Lodi dynasty (1451-1526).

An eager guard draws Don into a corner to explain the history of the building, but the friendly offering of information comes at a price. A tip would be appreciated.

The park is also bird sanctuary with flocks of parakeets squawking in the trees.

Before returning to our hotel our driver takes us to a “mall” where Hali could buy a salwar kameez (Indian tunic and loose fitting trousers). He explains that in preparation for the upcoming holiday the stores are offering large discounts. In reality it’s one of those places that guide books warn you about with a slick salesman and overpriced goods. Not the kind of “mall” we were looking for where Terry could buy the cap he wanted.

Written October 19, 2012

For links to all the posts in this series see the Northern India page.

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