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Knowing nothing about the country and reading information like rape cases, “eve-teasing”, sanitation issues, scam and danger makes me wary. I knew from the very beginning of our trip that India would be one of the challenging places to visit – the early impressions I had was an utter chaos.
At the Airport
The flight duration is approximately 4 hours from Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi. We arrived at the airport at the crack of dawn – relatively on time. After exiting the aircraft we walked over the jet bridge and noticed couple of beautiful ladies greeted their privileged clients with a warm smile. The airport was far from what I had expected it to be. I was told that the airport was dirty, smelly and crowded, but it wasn’t. In fact, it’s clean and modern, which was a pleasant surprise. As we walked past, a series of travellators welcomed us on the maroon-carpeted floor. We descended to the lower floor by escalator, the Buddhist design in copper above the immigration desks caught my attention. I didn’t have any idea what the symbol means, but it is very eye-catching. The hassle-free immigration hardly took ten minutes before we reached the conveyor belt for the luggage. We followed the green channel to exit and walked to the waiting area.
Buddhist design in copper above the immigration desks (Photo courtesy of wikipediacommon)
We didn’t avail of a pre-arranged airport pick up transfer mainly because we wanted to try the airport metro express line. It is cheaper and safer. We hopped on the express line – a beautifully modern rail system that is comparable to that in Singapore and South Korea. It’s clean, air-conditioned, and modern. After arriving at the metro station in the city, we hail a cab to the hotel. The taxi by the way is metered. Cost us about USD 3.00 from the station, to the hotel. The driver is friendly. I was happy and feeling lucky we didn’t encounter any scam.
Airport Metro Express Line (Photo courtesy of wikipediacommon)
In front of Metropolitan Hotel (Photo courtesy of workshopdestination.com)
The Metropolitan Hotel is built to offer luxurious accommodation facility and best-in-class amenities to guests. Resting on Bangla Sahib Road, it is easily accessible from famous tourist spots and shopping hubs of the city that include India Gate, Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. The hotel rooms are complete with a range of amenities like Wi-Fi, electronic safe, mini bar and high-speed internet.
Metropolitan Hotel Room
But what I really love about this hotel is that the staff doesn’t want you to lift a finger doing anything for yourself, so you won’t carry your own bag ever, open a door or even pour your own tea. The chef even cooked a free special menu for me, just because I said I love the dish. It was a unique experience for me, and while I couldn’t do luxury travel all the time, it was great to be able to indulge in a bit of lavishness.
After breakfast at the hotel and a few hours of sleep – it’s time to see what India has to offer. We had a short walk around the hotel before going to the nearby tourist attraction. Outside the hotel one could see the smog filled streets. We hire an auto rickshaw to get into our first destination. We snaked between air-conditioned buses, taxi, and on motorcycles. I slid back and forth on the seat, I thought I will be having a heart attack. I have quickly realized that the traffic in India is extremely unsafe.
Motorbikes and tuk tuks rule the road. They weave dangerously among larger vehicle, and pedestrians risk life as they dodge cars while crossing the streets. There is a constant tension around with everyone honking, yelling, beeping, talking on the mobile and fiddling with the radio while driving seemingly oblivious to the danger.
Traffic jam at Connaught place (Photo courtesy of livemint.com)
The Indian road traffic chaos is probably the greatest in the world, but on top of that there are frequent encounters with livestock. Cows are aimlessly wandering the busy streets, unchallenged. They are regarded as sacred and considered as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. However, ironically, they have become a major factor in the traffic and road accidents. These creatures have the complete liberty to do what they want on the roads, which have now become their home. Apparently you can only blow your horn at the wandering cows, but you cannot touch them. Considering how congested the roads are in Indian cities, outsiders have a hard time comprehending the rationale behind this attitude.
Cow wandering on the street
“Holy Cow!” – I’ve once exclaimed lurching forward as the driver suddenly slammed at the breaks….”Holy Cow?” – I repeated quietly, holding my breath and looking into the big dopey eyes of a strangely relaxed Indian cow, less than a meter away from my face, standing there, in the middle of the street, among all the cars. The cool cow just nodded her head to me and walked away, swaying lazily her bonny backside as if trying to dispense a parting wisdom: “Take it easy. Relax. You are already here. There’s nowhere else to go”. The cow left the road, the traffic resumed and I finally exhale and began to ponder over my close encounter with the four-legged local divinity.
On one occasion, we stopped at a traffic light, and a girl who couldn’t be more than eight years old runs up to our auto rickshaw. She holds out her hand, pleading, we gave her a few rupees. She took the money, and continues to plead, begging for more. She even said “me, no mama, no papa”. But we don’t have any smaller denomination notes left. I felt terrible for not giving more, but I’ve also heard that there are rampant syndicates running this begging “enterprises”, using small children who never benefit from the money they collect. For the street children, it’s a no-win situation, whatever the traveller does. People usually give to make them feel better. It’s really heartbreaking.
Finally we made it to our first destination – India gate, a significant memorial site. This is nothing less than the pride of India. The two massive columns have been carved with the names of Indian soldiers of the British Army who were killed during the First World War and Afghan War. Recently, it has been converted into a war memorial. After wandering around India Gate for about 30 minutes, we decided to proceed to our next destination. The driver suggested we go to Lodi Garden because it is close to the area. And so we did.
Lodi Gardens provides a serene retreat from city life, and is the place to come if you’re feeling exhausted and worn out. The Garden were built-in 1936 by the British around the tombs of the rulers of 15th and 16th centuries which echoes many of the dynasties and cultural influences that have shaped this great city. The scenery is simply magnificent, there are walking trails, jogging tracks, open spaces, trees, flowers and a lot of shade from sunshine. Visiting Lodi Garden can be an exceptional way of experiencing history and nature. We entered through one of the gates from the Lodi road. When we reached the area with the small lake, I have noticed that there were so many students, and young couples around. I felt like I was transported inside a school campus, because they are just so many of them. Saw a group of young girls in the midst of their studies and asked them – “why are there so many students here?” One of the girls responded – “the garden serves as a playing ground for these kids”. They spent time with friends; talking, eating, and relaxing”. They normally come to play before heading home. We spent a quiet day walking through the garden and hang along with a group of architecture students who were busy making sketches of the surroundings.
Group of students at Lodi Gardens
Group of architecture students at Lodi Gardens
Another remarkable thing about this place is the restaurant located at the end of the garden. The elegant & earthy interiors complementing the natural landscape create a modest vibe, setting the tone for an unhurried meal with family or a day out with friends. I can sit there all day long, have a sip of my favorite apricot gingerini and let the time stood still.
After recuperating, we headed back on the road. I was excited to visit Gandhi Smriti, mainly because it reminded me of my history class back in college. Being on the exact spot where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 made me quiver. I was quite literally moved by the solemn air that hangs over the house, a palpable sadness that brought me to tears. He lived in the house for 144 days up until the time of his death. The room that he slept in, kept exactly how he left it, and the prayer ground where he held a mass congregation every evening are both open to the public. There are around 6,000 original photos of Gandhi preserved here, sculptures, paintings, and inscriptions are also on display.
The way to the martyr’s column
On our way out, we saw a woman selling fruits on the street and we wanted to take a picture of her. As we are about to do it a guy – I guess her husband hurriedly came our way and stopped us from taking photographs. He was asking us to pay for the photo. What a way to extract money from the tourist.
We decided to just leave, the auto rickshaw drives around forever until we finally stop at some expensive looking shop. I thought he would lead us away to rob us. We followed him anyway, inside the shop we are their only customer and we saw the pashminas, carpet and artifact.
“Hello, welcome, please come in.”
“Let me show you around.”
“First customer of the day brings good luck.”
“You like pashminas?”
“Look here, look at this, beautiful, best products, best prices, ma’am, what you like?”
Out of courtesy we look around the shop for a while acting interested. In the basement an employee literally rolls out the carpet for us, along with about 10 other carpets of “best quality”. We asked about the price of one of the smaller carpets and the guy tells us 500 USD including delivery via DHL to anywhere in the world. In order to prove his extraordinary capability of shipping goods overseas he shows us a bill that proves he has sent something overseas before.
I said NO, but he unrolls some more carpets and all the while says things like “discount, special quality, only quality in Delhi, can´t find anywhere else, best price, only for you, you like?” It so hard to leave without making them feel offended, but who wants to buy carpet on a tour? We leave their shop and get in the rickshaw again. The driver asks us if we want to go to another shop. But said no, and tell him to just take us somewhere where we could eat. He said “okay we go to Connaught Place.”
We returned to the road, while driving around in the darkness forever seeming lost and asking me questions like:
“Are you married?”
“Why not married?”
We requested the driver to pull over, because we feel that it’s better for us to just walk and scout for a good place to eat (aside from the fact that we just wanted to get rid of the rickshaw driver). While looking around, one guy eagerly nudged alongside me, asking:
“What’s your name ma’am?”
“Where are you from?”
“Do you want directions?”
“Here let me show you. Let me show you.” He followed us, rapidly repeating.
“Let me show you where to go. Here, come this way, I’ll show you. Connaught Place? You’re going wrong way. Let me show you.”
“Let me show you where to go. Connaught Place? You’re going wrong way ma’am.” Oh dear this guy was so persistent.
In order to just get things over, we ended up eating in one of the Chinese restaurants in Connaught Place. The ambiance is very quiet, comfortable, and not crowded. We ordered Chicken Noodles Soup, Fried Rice, Tofu, Vegetable and some dumplings. The quantity of food is decent. Worth a casual dining experience! Anyway, the hotel offers a wide range of Indian cuisine so I guess it is okay for tonight to eat something that I am familiar with.
We went back to the hotel after that sumptuous dinner. I’m exhausted. I drift off to sleep to rejuvenate and be ready for next day’s adventure.