Fuck yeah, Delhi Metro! I think I might love it a little bit. Not only can you get a one day Tourist Card for ₹150 (₹50 of which I got back when I returned it), it’s like some manner of safe haven. No one wants to sell you anything or show you a tourist office or take you to his friend’s shop. In fact, no one gives a flying fuck about you. It’s amazing! You have to clear a kind of airport style security then you’re through to the platforms where you wait for a train to try and cram yourself onto whether you’re gonna fit or not. It’s like London except everyone is even less polite. The front carriage is just for chicks which means you get to wait under a pretty pink and flowery sign at the end of the platform proclaiming, “Women Only.” Nice.
Anyway. I was going to make my way around the city by Metro and on foot and look at things that warranted photography so I headed to Chandni Chowk Metro station on account of that being in the proximity of Red Fort. Then I caved and got a cycle-rickshaw driver (who proceeded to cycle up the wrong side of the road) to take me there from the Metro station but hey. I’d taken one look at the road jam packed with honking auto rickshaws and cars and cow-drawn carts and instantly thought, “Fuuuuck that shiiiit!”
Red Fort: It’s big, it’s fortified and it’s motherfucking red. This will set you back a whole ₹250 and an extra ₹113 if you want the audio guide. It happened in 1648 when the Mughal emperor, Shan Jahan, decided to move his capital from Agra, where he’d already built the Taj Mahal, to Delhi and it’s another testament to what leaders will spend money on whether they can afford it or not.
So, you enter through the Barbican Wall then on through the enormous Lahori Gate with gates made from solid wood and gold that are so heavy they had to be opened by elephants. You stroll though Meena Bazaar which, back in ol’ Shan’s time would also have been shops but on two levels and catering to the higher classes selling velvet, gold and gems as opposed to throngs of mainly Indian tourists and the odd Westerner. Then it’s on to the Drum House, or, Naubat Khana, which is basically another gate where visitors would have have to have left their carriages and elephants and where drummers played five times a day to call to prayer.
This place is immense. A lot of it was destroyed and it was all totally looted but what remains is impressive and you can imagine it in its day. The Diwan-i-Am, for example, still holds the places where the emperor would have sat along with a table of inlaid marble. It’s the “hall of public audience” and he would have sat, looking over everyone else who would have remained standing, in this hall which would have been carpeted and decorated with gold and silver and tapestries. It would have been lit with candles and the chandeliers which used to hang from the ceiling but again, everything has been looted. All that remains is what the British took and subsequently returned.
There was a lot of water involved. The old moats and the network of canals running through the garden used to be fed by the Yamuna River and there are two pavilions, Sawan (pictured above left) and Bhadon, where people would just chill during the rainy season as the monsoons poured water on to the structure which channeled it into waterfalls that cascaded over the floor then into the little canals. This whole place is pure fucking decadence. Apparently there used to be a ridiculously big throne which was the epitome of bad taste, covered in diamonds, emeralds and rubies. It was known as the Peacock Throne but Persian invaders took that. There used to be a silver ceiling in the Diwan-i-Khas but that’s been melted down and there used to some manner of sod off great big diamond that these days is part of the British Crown Jewels and is only worn by Queens on account of it being bad luck for men to wear it. He didn’t wear it. He just used what used to be the biggest uncut diamond in the world to magnify light so he could read. Flash bastard.
Anyway, after a quick look at the bird hospital at the nearby Jain Temple and deciding that these poor gammy eyed, broken winged avaians might be better off being left to die than being nursed back to “health” in tiny cages, and a wander through the spice market where I declined to buy bags of spice for cooking on account of my utter inability to actually produce anything edible that isn’t scrambled egg, I headed back to the Metro and to Rajiv Chowk in Connaught Place which is a big round thingy, kind of like a roundabout on steroids. Not far from here was my next stop…
Bangla Sahib Gurdwara: It’s a Sikh temple which means you have to leave your shoes and cover your head but don’t worry because there’s a tourist office with friendly, smiling people who will provide you with somewhere safe to leave your footwear and a rather fetching orange bandanna. Now this place is swanky. It’s got huge, golden domes and the complex itself is large and includes a huge, rectangle lake. Thankfully they have carpets cris-crossing the whole place so you don’t have to walk on the hot floor much. It may be white but it still gets roasting and my poor, foreign feet just couldn’t handle it. You know that crippled penguin walk that people do on beaches in hot places when they don’t want everyone to know they just accidentally fried their tootsies but still want to get to the water really quickly. Yeah. That. Every time I strayed off the carpet to get a photo.
Inside the actual temple where you’re not allowed to take photographs, that’s where it gets lavish. You walk into a huge room where the Sikhs kneel and touch the threshold then their heads. It’s carpeted which feels lovely on your toasted feet and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ceiling fans in one place, I’m not even shitting you! Needless to say it’s nice and cool. Straight ahead as you walk in is what I guess is the alter. It’s huge and gold and the ceiling is made from mirrors or something, but a lot of work and money has gone into this Gurdwara and I’m gonna guess that a lot of them are similar. Now, I’m usually pretty against religions that lord it up over their often penniless subjects from their big churches as they wallow amongst their riches and priceless artworks. *coughs*CatholicChurch*coughs* But the Sikh temples give back all day, every day. Food. I love food. Food is amazing and free food is better and they provide it for free to pilgrims, devotees and even scruffy looking visitors like me.
I shuffled into the food hall, not entirely sure what to do because all of the signs are in Hindi. It was full of people sat in rows on carpets, tucking in as people walked round handing out chapatis or some manner of food products from a bucket. Then a man lead me to a carpet and invited me to sit down. He brought me a silver tray and I was handed a spoon before another bloke dolloped something which appeared to be made from beans onto my tray and a girl handed me a chapati. Someone else asked me if I wanted something else, I have no idea what, but I looked up and smiled through a gob full of bread and beans and nodded. It was a bit spicier and all of it was fucking delicious. I was offered more but I declined on account of not exactly being needy. I currently have enough fat hanging off my bones to insulate Siberia. I stuffed what I had into my facehole, resisting the urge to shovel it in as if I was raised by fucking wolves then dropped my “soiled tray” off at the appropriate point.
But I think I would have gotten way more out of this with a guide or something. A lot of people were joining queues and receiving things but I didn’t want to join in case it was a Sikh-only thing and I would have been disrespecting them and it would have been awesome to at least know what was going on.
Buuuuut anyway. Next point of call was walking distance and thanks to the amazing City Maps 2Go on my phone I was able to get there without having to break out the Lonely Planet in the middle of the street. I ooze tourist at the moment at the best of times without publicly brandishing a guide book so thick you could probably derail a train with it.
Jantar Mantar: I had no fucking idea what this bad boy was when I first rocked up. I’d seen a mention of it in the Lonely Planet and it happened to be between the Sikh temple and a stepwell I wanted to gawp at so I thought I’d have a butchers for the reasonable sum of ₹125. So it’s an observatory. I really fucking huge observatory. I was approached by a guy who wanted to be my guide but I just wanted to photograph it and bolt for the shade for 10 minutes and anyway, there are information boards.
Jantar Mantar was built by a Maharaja, Jah Singh II, because he loved astronomy and he thought that the instruments in existence at the time weren’t big enough so hey, why not built a huge set of instruments out of stone or some shit. This was back in 1724 or there abouts and this isn’t the only one he built. Nope. Apparently a country clearly needed several giant astronomy sets for the ruling classes to play with. This is the oldest. The instruments can be used to tell local time, time in other cities and something about the declination of the sun aaaand my brain had sizzled to a practically useless mush. It was hot, dude. Really fucking hot. But I had one more stop.
Ugrasen ki Baoli: A baoli is a stepwell which is something that used to be used to store water and they also happen to be pretty fucking awesome to look at too. I didn’t hang around long though, there’s another stepwell I want to wrap my eyeballs around in Rajasthan at some point so I might see if I can get a guide or something for that. This one though, if you walk all the way down to the bottom and look up you’ll see this…
Anyway, by this point I was shattered. I had blisters big enough to flood a country the size of Sri Lanka once I popped them and the kind of chaffing that comes with being permanently damp and not in a good way. It was time to go home. Yeah, I know it doesn’t seem like I got much done but from leaving the hotel to getting back I was out a good seven and a half hours and when you’re trawling around dirty streets in temperatures that would rival the surface of Venus, everywhere seems like a long way.
In other news, I’ve developed a new technique for crossing roads which basically involves adopting an Indian (or group thereof) without their knowledge, someone who’s trying to cross, and just following them really really closely whilst not looking left or right. Thus far I’ve managed not to squeal when some manner of vehicle gets too close. I’ll be a different women by the time I get back to Brighton, guys. You’ll not recognise me. I’ll be all like, bitch please, I ain’t waiting for no green man! It’s not like he ever waited for me! I’m like a jaywalking renegade, me. A lean, mean, road crossing machine. Oh god, I hope I don’t have to cross unescorted any time soon…
Oh, and I’ve caved and bought bog roll. I’m way too socially conditioned to actually use my hand to wipe my arse. It’s all well and good trying to be uber-traveller and adopting the ways of the locals but some things were invented for a reason and bog roll, I believe, is one of those things.
Stayed at: Hotel Namaskar