I arrived at 1am, and after an hour of waiting in the e-visa line, I was off to the taxi line and on my way into the city. Just stepping out of the airport reminded me of being in Beijing, the air feels different, kind of musty and heavy. You feel like something is kind of tickling your throat. Then you remember you’re in one of the most polluted cities in the world, and perhaps that is what that feeling is!
There were a surprising amount of cars on the road for three in morning and even a few streetside food carts lit up by a single lightbulb to serve the late-night clientele. Fortunately my guesthouse was easy enough to find (most things are these days with google maps) although it was quite a bit dingier than it had appeared in the online photos. No matter, I’d have fallen asleep in a cockroach den at that point. Well, maybe.
After a few hours of sleep I was wide awake in a completely new city and anxious to explore. Of course as soon as I walked out the door I already had offers for a sightseeing guide, taxis, and rickshaws. It’s a pretty crazy city. The streets are just bursting with people all vying for space on the narrow streets. The traffic gets stopped every few minutes while two cars have to figure out how to squeeze past each other. The honking is incessant. I was in the main tourist part of town and every 10 seconds you have someone coming up to you, “Hey! Where you from? Ahh, Chicago, the windy city right?” Working their way into polite conversation before pitching their jewellery store or tour agency or what have you, mostly trying to just scam you entirely. The best way is to just ignore them completely from the get-go.
I was trying to get out of conversation with this one teenager without being too rude, so I told him I’m hopping on the metro now. He told me I’d save money by buying a day pass, which coincidentally I could buy at the travel agency I was just passing. I’m very skeptical at this point, but I went in there to see what they said. They could get me a metro pass to go anywhere in the city for 2,700 rupees, which is like $40, hahaha. I laughed in his face and walked out. At the station my fare was 25 cents. Gotta love India. Still, people manage to fall for this stuff all the time.
Like usual I didn’t have any hard set plans for the day. I had noted a few tourist attractions and what stations they were near, but the main idea was just to wander around and get a feel for the city. That morning I managed to find my way to the Gandi museum, his tomb, some gardens, and a smallish Hindu temple before it got too hot, then I went back to take a nap. That evening I met up with some other travellers and went out to eat together. My favorite dish is still the very cliché, chicken tikka masala. It’s hard to get tired of that creamy yet spicy goodness and only a fraction of the cost of back home.
The crowd I was with wasn’t really a party crowd, which is pretty standard for people traveling in India (as opposed to SE Asia), so we wandered the streets a bit and called it an early night. All good with me. After feeling like I was drinking too much in Chicago (and back when I was in Phnom Penh) I decided that in India it was time to take a break from the booze. Plus I wanted to wake up early the next morning so I could cram as much as I could into my last day to see Delhi.
The following day I found my way over to the Gurudwara temple, which a Sikh temple. In case you don’t know, the Sikhs are the guys with the turbans, and they’ve got their own religion and cultural identity, originally hailing from the Punjab state in India. And all the Sikhs I’ve met in real life have been very nice people! And I found it very India-esque that you can randomly walk down one street that has a Sikh temple, a church, a mosque, and Hindu temple. It is a very diverse country.
I ended up hopping on a random bus just to ride around for a bit. One of the things that I kind of enjoy about the Indian buses is that a lot time they don’t even come to a complete stop to let people on and off. I mean it’s only a steady crawl, but it keeps people on their toes. You gotta be paying attention getting on and off. People seem a lot happier on public transportation too. You notice people talking with each other and laughing, joking about hitting a pothole. This one girl almost faceplanted when the bus came to a screeching halt and she got up and was cracking up with her friends. If that happened on a bus at home, that would not be the typical reaction! People seem to embrace the inconveniences that inevitably come along with life in a big Indian city.
That afternoon I met up with one of the girls from the night before and it was off to the iconic Red Fort, which was home to the Mughal emperors for 200 years, built by Shah Jahan, the same guy who built the Taj Mahal in the 1600’s. The Islamic reign was a particularly bad time for Indians. Fortunately the Mughals influence started to decline in the 1700’s and most of that empire was fully taken over by the British Raj in the 1800’s. Some excellent Mughal architecture still remains though.
Down the street from the Red Fort was the Jama Masjid (mosque), the most famous mosque in the city and also built by Shah Jahan. One of the more fascinating parts was on the way up to the mosque, there was a market for large industrial parts that I walked through. I’ve never seen anything like it before, it felt almost otherworldly. It reminded me of the of the scrapyards in Tatooine. Really interesting place.
As for the mosque it was beautiful and of course full of people praying. You can really feel the devotion and spirituality in places like this, and really India on the whole. You can also pay to climb up one of the minarets that has a spiral staircase embedded in it, which gives you a great 360 degree view of the entire city. We stayed there until they kicked us out for the 5:00 prayers. After that I had just enough time to get back, have some streetside chicken biryani and naan, and make way to the airport for my evening flight to Goa.