Slight hangovers this morning but bright and early again, we are all ready to make the most of our last day in Delhi. The Oberoi breakfast is very much needed today; a full fry up always eases a sore head. After breakfast we meet up with Ranjit who will take us on some more tours of Delhi, we will try and cram in a little shopping today.
There are a few sights in Delhi that I didn’t manage to visit on my last trip, so we have decided today to see some popular landmarks however this will only touch on a few places. If you were to visit Delhi you would see a lot more around old and New Delhi, two nights is a good amount of time to spend here, I am just skimming the surface of the city.
The first stop we make today is Raj Ghat, this is a memorial park for Mahatma Gandhi. It is located in a beautiful park which has been very well kept; lucky for us we have fantastic weather today. You need to walk through the park for a few minutes before you reach another section where you are required to remove your shoes. Once you have entered this section you will see a black marble monument with an eternal flame burning at the centre, this marks the area of Gandhi’s cremation. The walls surrounding the monument are adorned with Gandhi’s famous speeches and quotes used during his fight for a free India. The Raj Ghat can be a short stop in your tour but it is definitely worth a visit to pay respects to a magnificent man. There is an opportunity to learn more about Gandhi’s fight as there is a National Gandhi museum in Delhi.
After about twenty minutes walking around the park we join Ranjit again to take us to another area of Delhi. After a few minutes’ drive we are stopping outside a huge mosque which is a very famous mosque known as the Jama Masjid. This is the largest mosque in India; it is located near an area of old Delhi called Chandni Chowk. In fact, it is the main reason why we are here as this is an area that you have to see, old Delhi gives you a real insight into some of the real India. As we are stopped next to the Jama Masjid we all get out and take a closer look, this is another great historical masterpiece that was built during the reign of Shah Jahan. You can go inside the mosque and have a closer look at the grand architecture; we approach the steps and take some pictures outside.
The next part of our tour is to explore Chandni Chowk, this is a very busy marketplace that has just about every shop and stall you can think of. The roads in the main marketplace are very narrow so cars cannot get through, you would either tour the area on foot which is a great place to walk around or you can choose the fun option which is what we have opted for, this is a bicycle rickshaw. Just near the Jama Masjid the bicycle rickshaws are lined up and waiting to pounce on tourists. The rickshaws are amazing value and a lot of fun to experience on the narrow roads of Chandni Chowk. A small guy approached us to join him on his rickshaw which I thought seemed very ambitious of him as there are three of us which adds some bodyweight to his rickshaw, he is a small and very petite young guy. The other difficulty for young Mr. Muscle is the heat, it is still quite early in the day but the heat is in full force. We accept his offer and climb aboard for our tour.
The rickshaws are literally a bicycle attached to a passenger cart which must already add weight on for the cyclist but when you add two or three passengers to the mix then you definitely need some strength. The passenger cart, although basic has cushioned seats which I initially thought “oh that’s a very nice touch” I soon find out later in the journey that the cushions are essential.
We start out on the main roads skillfully maneuvering in and out of the traffic. There are a lot of shopping areas on the main road and food stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. The journey for us is really pleasant, because as we move there is a nice cooling breeze, the cart also offers the passengers shade from the heat. The first ten minutes we are still on the main road and just outside the thick of the narrow shopping lanes, we start to notice our poor driver, “Mr. Muscle”, is melting in the heat so we ask him to stop for a moment. He looks like me after a bit of light training in the gym, except the difference is I want to stop and collapse after ten minutes and it doesn’t feel like I am piggy backing three adults while I train, whereas Mr. Muscle has us three and the heat working against him, he still has a lot more energy than I would have in this situation. Even though we have asked him to stop he is offering to cycle us through the lanes for a better view, where does he get his strength? We accept the offer but Ishveen gives him some money to go across the street and buy us and him a soft drink so that we can cool him down. After our refreshment and brief break, Mr. Muscle continues to the narrow lanes and starts maneuvering past crowds of people walking, motorbikes, a cow or two and the pot holes!
Every little space has a shop or stall; each small lane we turn into specialises in a different product. One lane is a clothes section with lots of different colours and styles of saris and indian designs, we turn another corner which is the spice section with lots of stalls and carts selling every kind of ground fresh spices, we turn into another lane which is the wedding section with everything from wedding cards to decorations. The list of merchandise goes on for miles, each different alley way or lane has anything you want, or don’t want. It is advisable to do this tour with a guide so that the shop keepers cannot take advantage of the tourists. The other top thing to try here is the street food, I would suggest a strong stomach for this as the hygiene may be compromised, but Delhi street food is known to be famously delicious. We don’t get out to try any of the food but it does look and smell fantastic.
The first part of the journey on the main road is a pain free and enjoyable trip, even though the traffic in Delhi is completely bonkers. You can expect this to change as soon as you turn into the little lanes, this is due to the fact that you are no longer on a proper road, we are basically on a footpath that has a lot of pot holes, the cushioned seats have become a savior to my bottom cheeks. Even though we have the cushions the rest of our rickshaw ride is starting to feel like someone is smacking your bum every five minutes with a small wooden paddle. Bum whipping aside, Chandni Chowk is fascinating. It reminds me of an area I stayed in on my past trip to Delhi. I spent a night in an area of Delhi called Karol Bagh, I remember from that time, seeing lots of electrical wires running above my head towards an electric pole so that they can receive free electricity in their homes, Chandni Chowk has the same thing.
We start to make our way back towards the Jama Masjid which is where we started our rickshaw adventure. Once we are back near our car we step out and thank our driver who is now sweating bucket loads! The trip is such a cheap excursion as he charges us 250 Rupees (GBP £3 or USD $4 approximately) which is an hour’s tour, even if you give a generous tip, this is ridiculously cheap.
A young boy sees us giving cash to the driver and approaches Dipali who has some notes still in her hand, the young boy asks for money so Dipali passes the notes to him. On seeing this a woman has now approached me and tells me she needs food for her baby, although she is standing in front of me childless. I pass her whatever few notes I have in my hand which is only about fifty or sixty rupees. You can sometimes be scammed by people begging who may not be genuine cases but as this is our last day I decide not to over analyse the situation and pass the notes to the lady, it may be a small amount to me but this is still a generous amount for others. You must be careful when donating your money because if others see this you can build a small crowd with their hand out, pass it and quickly move on.
We walk to our meeting point and wait for Ranjit to bring the car around. Whilst we are standing and waiting, Dipali notices a lady trying to attract my attention. I look up to see why someone is calling me and recognise the lady who I gave the money to with her baby now in her arms, the baby is enjoying a banana, the lady then holds up a bunch of bananas with a big smile on her face, she wanted to come back and show me that she went to get food for her baby and she is thanking me for my help. I find this to be a major highlight to my trip, I gave it to her without thinking too much about it, I couldn’t be sure if the lady was genuine. The fact that she came back to show me that my money really has fed her baby gave me the best feeling. My money made her day and she came over to me and has now made my day! Her face and her smile will always stay with me. I step into the car and wave goodbye to my new friend and her baby as we leave for the rest of our afternoon.
Because we didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Akshardham temple, Manan suggested that today we visit one of Delhi’s large Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). I have been to one of the most beautiful Gurdwara’s in India called the Golden Temple which is in Punjab, if you have time to visit Amritsar then the Golden Temple is an absolute must see, it is breath taking and was a great experience. I have not visited any Gurdwara in Delhi and wasn’t aware that Delhi has also got a beautiful temple called the Bangla Sahib. We arrive at Bangla Sahib which is centrally located in an area called Connaught Place. From the outside, you can already see the beautiful architecture, the temple is huge and not what I was expecting. Once you enter the Gurdwara there is an area just outside for you to remove and leave your shoes. There are no strict dress codes as such, but you wouldn’t wear anything revealing or showing too much flesh out of respect. The most important requirement for a Gurdwara is to cover your hair, this rule applies to both men and women. Just outside the entrance of the temple there are scarves for women known as a “Chunni” and a small cloth for men to tie on their head which is known as a “Remal”. With your shoes removed and head covered you are ready to enter, you will step into a small pool of water to wash your feet which is directly outside the main area of worship. The grounds of the Gurdwara is beautiful so we take a moment to walk around before entering the main building. The temple has steps on one side leading down to a huge pond with huge fish swimming in it. The pond adds to the peacefulness, there is something very calming about watching fish swimming. After seeing the outer area, we head up the steps, opposite the temples main entrance there is a section where you can make a donation, you are then given a small bowl with Prasad (a sweet offering). Let me tell you about the Prasad at a Gurdwara, this will be the tastiest sweet dish you will ever try and has always been a favorite of mine. It is made from sugar, ghee and semolina which are the basic ingredients, I am sure there is more to it than that but I don’t cook it, I just eat it! On our way to the Gurdwara, I told my pals in the car that I cannot wait to have some Prasad. You must try it; this completes your experience.
With my little bowlful in my hand, I cover it up to enjoy in the car later. We then enter the temple. The Bangla Sahib can be very busy at certain times of the day when the main prayer times are happening, we have picked a quiet time, although there is still a large crowd inside. On entering the temple, you will see an eye catching, gold centerpiece which houses the holy book known as the Guru Granth Sahib. Sat in front of the book and reading from the book is a priest called a Giani. You will see Giani’s all around the temple, they are dressed in white with a purple turban and an orange scarf draped around their shoulders. The Guru Granth Sahib holds a lot of religious significance for Sikhs who all approach the book and will bow before it.
Inside the Gurdwara it is just as beautiful as the outside, as we walk around the book I say out allowed “Wow it is beautiful in here”. We spend about ten minutes inside before we head back outside and back towards the pond. After a few minutes we walk to our car and offer some of our Prasad to our friend Ranjit.
Bangla Sahib is a must see in Delhi, you can time it during the prayer time so that you get a full experience. Sit inside and listen to the Giani reading from the book, even if you don’t understand it there is something very peaceful when listening to it. Once the prayers are over you can head downstairs where there is an underground kitchen, you would be shocked to see the size of the kitchen. They cook for thousands of worshippers all day long. You can then sit down and enjoy a meal known as Langar which will complete your experience in a Gurdwara.
Touring complete we are spending the remainder of the afternoon grabbing the last few souvenirs. Delhi has my new favorite store, Anokhi, so we are making another trip here for some more bargains to take. The next couple of hours are spent shopping, we make another stop to Hauz Khas for lunch at one of the many choices of restaurant before we head back to the Oberoi to pack our new purchases. Ishveen also needs to check out today which sadly means we won’t be spending the last night together at the hotel. We have kept her away from her home for the last ten days so it is only fair that we let her return home.
At 6 in the evening, Ranjit has returned to collect us to take us to the Imperial Hotel New Delhi. We are having an evening tour of the hotel which is one of Delhi’s best luxury hotels located right in the centre. We are finishing this with a goodbye dinner with Ishveen and Manan.
The Imperial is a very historical building with a lot of the British Raj influences. On our arrival we are greeted by the hotel sales manager who is joined by our friend Manan. Manan as always is looking incredibly dapper, as I greet him I get a whiff of his cologne and he smells amazing. In fact, each time I have met him he always smells incredible (He probably finds me a little odd as I hug him for so long I turn the situation awkward, I am a sucker for men’s cologne).
The hotel has kept a lot of the original history and as you tour around it tells a great story of how the property was used during the British rule. Downstairs in the main area of the hotel are a selection of restaurants, one of these restaurants has a very big reputation for being one of the top places to dine in Delhi. This is where we are having dinner this evening, it is called Spice Route which offers Asian foods from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand. The décor of the restaurant represents all the regions of Asia that they offer on their menu. The next restaurant we see is Nostalgia which looks like a 50’s black and white movie, they have a piano in the corner playing jazz music in the background which completes the setting. Both of the restaurants at the hotel is definitely a great option for a top dining experience but I strongly recommend that you pre book your table. There is also a top bar at the hotel called Patiala Peg serving generous shots of premium brand spirits, this is a great place to hang out for a pre-dinner drink. What catches my eye is an enticing patisserie with every delicious looking fresh cake or biscuit in the display. The smell is like something you would imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to smell like. I am tempted to suggest that they continue the tour without me and leave me to guard the cakes. Unfortunately, we leave the cakes behind and move on to see the rooms. We start with a heritage room which is the third category of room within the hotel, this is the best category to offer first, whilst the base category rooms are lovely I feel that once you see the hotel surroundings and then check into a deco room or imperial room you would expect it to have more of a “wow factor”. With this in mind, all the rooms are not basic at all, I personally felt the heritage room reflects the hotel and its history. Moving up from the heritage room is the grand heritage room, this has similar décor to the heritage but offers a larger bedroom with a spacious seating area. The first suite we see is the heritage suite, this is a one-bedroom suite that offers a heritage room with a separated lounge attached. The very best suite we get to see is the royal suite, this will blow your mind because it is practically an apartment with a master bedroom, a living room and a spacious dining room, they can connect this suite to a heritage room to make it up as a two-bedroom suite.
The Imperial is a stunning luxury hotel, surrounded by a lot of history with very modern facilities and comforts. The hotel is positioned in a very central part of Delhi and close to all the major sights. With the tour complete we have worked up an appetite for Spice Route. Knowing of the restaurant reputation, I am very excited to try the food. The head chef greets us and gives us a little insight into the design of the restaurant, he then leads us all to our table which has individual menus that have been especially prepared for us to try the signature dishes. The food comes out one by one and I understand what all the hype is about. The spicy prawns are my favorite and wish I could take a doggy bag.
During dinner we are all talking and catching up on my time in India. The discussion turns to if and when we may return to India. There will definitely be another trip to India as there is so much more I want to experience. The North has been incredible but I know the South will be another area to add on my list of top destinations to see.
This time around in India has been very eye opening and full of unexpected surprises. I knew that Manan will meet us at the beginning of our trip and I expected it to be quite a formal meeting however it wasn’t what I expected and I now know that Manan will always be a very dear friend of mine. The other big surprise is Ishveen because I didn’t really know her too well although we have worked with one another for about a year. I felt a little nervous to meet her and hoped we will get on well; this has again been a great an unexpected friendship that developed within the first day of meeting. In Udaipur and getting to know Ishveen didn’t feel like it was the first time we have met, it was as if Dipali, Ishveen and I have been friends for years. Ishveen was only meant to stay with us in Udaipur but we made her stay for the remainder of our trip, thank god that we did, Dipali and I strongly believe that this trip has been the best we have ever had thanks to Ishveen being by our side.
It has now reached that horrible time for us to say goodbye, we thank Manan and Ishveen for both looking after us. Ishveen’s mother and sister have arrived to collect her, we apologies to them both for kidnapping their child. Once we say bye to both Manan and Ishveen, Dipali and I feel extremely sad to say bye.
On reflection, my adventure in India has included “Religion”, I visited Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu sights and learnt about Zoroastrians. “History”, we learnt all about the Mogul Empire and the British Raj while visiting Rajasthan. “Spirituality”, Varanasi is a spiritual and holy city which allows you to learn the deeper meaning behind the religion. “Friendships” I came here planning to meet my oversea colleagues but I have come away with lifelong friends, I will be back to India but would always want to re connect with my new friends. There have not been any negatives on the trip other than the monsoons restricting some of the touring in Mumbai however this still showed me that with a little rain, we still had the time of our lives. I would like to return to Mumbai and have a full experience of the Slum tour and perhaps a few more sights that I missed. Out of the major cities we managed to visit in India, Mumbai (monsoon aside) is my favorite city and I will return. The highlight of my journey is Varanasi, I am so glad that I finally have seen it in real life and would recommend it to all visiting the North of India, the only tip would be to keep it to one night.
One trip to India will keep you wanting more, wherever you visit, India will captivate you! Till my next journey and next blog…