New Delhi, Delhi, India
Although this would be my third time in the city of New Delhi, I hadn’t really experienced it yet because the other two times I was there was as a gateway to Kathmandu and Bengaluru.
New Delhi is a bizarre mixture of the very new and very old. The new is from mega projects built or renovated for the Commonwealth games. They include the Airport (which is now one of my favourite airports in the world) and a gleaming new metro that includes a run to said airport.
I wanted to see some of the Old Delhi, so I booked a hotel on Main Bazaar which is close to the Old Delhi and New Delhi railway stations and Connaught Circus.
My last Train trip was on train # 19106, The Haridwar Ahmedabad mail which I caught at Haridwar Juction station at 3 in the afternoon to arrive at Old Delhi station at 10pm.
The one thing I noticed on the ride in to New Delhi was the amount of (what the locals call) “fog”. What they call fog in Northern India is what we call smog, and on this day, Dec 18th, the “fog” was really thick.
I arrived at Old Delhi station amidst the touts, vendors, beggars and large crowds that I had been warned about at the station. I thought about how far I had come since the first time I arrived on this trip. If I had walked off this train 2 months ago, the scene would have scared me to death. Now, it’s just another day in India.
I knew that the hotel was close, so I refused the incessant calls from taxi drivers who would have over charged me and went right to the auto-rickshaw, and asked “how much to Main Bazaar?”
And for the first time, I walked away from the driver, knowing that he was charging me the “white skin tax”. I went to a driver farther down the street and asked the same. He quoted me 50 rupee, and off we went.
The Hotel Hari-Piorko is one of the highest rated mid range hotels in Old Delhi and with good reason. Run by a group of young energetic guys, the service was awesome. Checked in with free chai, and then off to the room with marble floors a very comfortable bed, lcd Samsung TV, big bathroom with 24 hour hot water and an aquarium inset in the wall.
The next morning it was a breakfast of masala dosa and sambar with coffee and chai in an idyllic setting on the roof of the hotel
which overlooks Main Bazaar.
This section of Old Delhi really reminds me of the streets of the Thamel district in Kathmandu which is a fitting end to the trip, bringing me full circle. Walking down its streets looks like this.
My first stop in New Delhi was going to be Connaught circus which is a large shopping district in Old Delhi. It’s also pretty famous for being a bad place for touts and scams, but there is an underground bazaar that I really wanted to see so I braved the walk.
It wasn’t so bad. I was approached several times from touts and some auto-rickshaw drivers who offer to take you on a tour of the area for 10 rupee (What a deal!). Then they take you to their uncle’s shop where you are pressured into buying something. I was also approached by the ear cleaning guys and the shoe shiners and once by a jewelry guy asking if I could help him get some diamonds into the U.S. to a client of his. I just told him, “You guessed wrong, I’m from Canada. Better luck next time”
As I was walking around Connaught and Old Delhi, it occurred to me that it was what I thought Mumbai was going to be like. Crowded. With the acceptation of parts of Chennai, this was the most crowded area I had been in India.
But it wasn’t suffocating or pushy like I was expecting it and there was no feeling of claustrophobia (it may help that even at five foot eight, I tower over a lot of Indians).
I went into the underground Bazaar called the Palika Bazar…
It is kind of like Winnipeg Square, or the underground malls in downtown Toronto, only much bigger and with about a billion shops and a squidrillion people. (A squidrillion is a number invented by a renowned Winnipeg electrician named Dennis Crymble who said it’s a number so big that even the calamari think it’s kind of fishy).
I haggled with a few shops, mingled with the crowds, and had a wonderful curry with rice and chai from a food stand for a whopping 15 rupee (30¢). I even got a chance to use some Hindi to ask about the way out and by the response of the smiling gentleman with the very nice AK47, I didn’t screw it up.
I had planned to go to central park which is above the bazar at the center of Connaught Circus, but it was closed. So I wandered about the streets, looking at shops and various street vendors.
From the distance, I heard drums and Indian flutes (nadaswaram) so I walked towards the sound. It turned out to be a wedding procession with dancing and music and brightly coloured dress and in the middle was a white horse all decked out in red and gold
I stayed and watched for a bit as various people in the procession danced by saying “Namaste”.
By this time the “fog” was starting to make my eyes sting so I went back to Main Bazaar to a different rooftop restaurant called Club India. They had four tandoor ovens with huge fires under them in full view of the patrons so you could watch them cook. The tandoor ovens get so hot, that most food cooks in under a minute.
I ordered some tandoori paneer with some butter naan, and watched them cook. The paneer was coated in a sauce and put on skewers and held in the tandoor for about 45 seconds which seared the sauce to the cubes of cheese. The ball of dough for the naan was then punched down and separated into 4 pieces and flung onto the sides on the inside of the tandoor for all of 15 seconds.
DAMN was it tasty.
I sat at the edge of the rooftop and watched the flurry of activity beneath me as the people of New Delhi shopped and haggled in Main Bazaar.