PAHARGANJ BY DAY LOOKS SAFER. But it is hard to believe that this was once a bustling bazaar with too much tourists on its streets. Children poop at the side of the roads while curious glances were exchanged with fellow passersby; men getting their baths by the water hole, with soap and shampoo. This is a place where the ultra modern clashes with the rural traditions and live harmoniously together, with street beggars zig zagging between them.
I took the tuk-tuk to the Connaught Place, which serves as a traffic circle at the heart of Delhi. I wanted to find the tourist agency but was approached by 2 touts who led me to their respective offices, both offering trips to Rajasthan. For future travelers, these touts can be very convincing. I met one who promised to be a journalist (he dressed like one), and ensured that he is bringing me to the ‘government’ tourist agency while giving me tips on how to avoid touts. Equipped with my common sense, I later noticed that the agency was closed on Sunday, thus ending my search.
I AM ON MY ON AGAIN, but sight-seeing had to go on. I first start acclimatizing with a late brunch at McDonald’s, a welcoming familiarity, even for India. Vegetarian surprise and vegetarian pizza McPuff tasted OK but was spicy enough to be Indian. Then, I had to receive the sad news that the Red Fort will be closed for two weeks, but no reasons stated. Fortunately, nearby Digambar Jain Temple has an interesting Birds’ Hospital which nurses wounded and ill birds back to health. I met one of its vets and even got the chance to sit-in on one of his surgeries. Founded by animal-lovers, this hospital is now filled with pigeons, peacocks, eagles and even rabbits. Once well enough, the birds are freed in a weekly ritual.
My McD’s splurge in India, not as pricey as I thought it would be
The Digambara Jain temple with its elaborate architecture
The birds’ hospital built from charity and still runs on charity
The vet and his assistant helped stitch up a bird with me watching
Standing tall as the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid is one spectacular architecture. Constructed by Shah Jahan, the mosque consists of a huge courtyard with a central pool of water and four angle towers made out of charming red sandstones. After removing my shoes at the entrance, several kids come up offering a tour of the mosque for a nominal fee. Once inside, you’ll get the chance to walk the sun-scorched corridors bare footed. At the main hall, Muslims pray quietly while tourists take photos of them. I wonder how they manage to concentrate when people are continuously looking and pointing. Adding up to its beauty is the flight of birds above the buildings, a sight to remember.
Jama Masjid with bird flock over it and the visitors flock on its grounds
Magnificent Mughal architecture seen at the Jama Masjid
Moslems wash their hands and faces before they enter Jama Masjid for prayers
BEFORE HEADING ON TO Raj Ghat, my tuk-tuk insisted on a visit to a souvenir shop, so that he can get a commission coupon from the shop while he gives me a Rs 20 discount. Such suggestions are quite common, and if you have time to spare, spending 10 minutes at the shop may just be a win-win agreement between you and the driver. I ended up buying tea masala for Rs 400. Not a bargain I would say, but the driver said that this is high quality stuff and so let’s hope he is right.
The beautiful Raj Ghat marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. A flame is lit above him, probably signifying his leadership and honoring his legend. Nearby is an informative National Gandhi Museum, showcasing a replica of his ashram, many memorabilia and friendly English-speaking guides. Its air conditioning won me over because I ended up staying more than an hour.
Rajpath (not to be confused with Raj Ghat) is a long wide path which poses similarities to The Mall in Washington DC. At one end is the high India Gate, paying tribute to the 90,000 Indian army who died in WWI. The other end is Rashtrapati Bhavan, which is the president’s residence. On both sides are public gardens, boasting of symmetrical trees and well kept lawns. Two secretariat buildings then complete Rajpath. This area is a big change from the other parts of Delhi, very clean and modern.
A memorable sculpture of Gandhi in front of the museum
A replica of the same room that Gandhi stayed in during his days
Tiled paths lead to the Rajghat, in memory of the father of Independence, Gandhi
Flame is lit above the burial site of Mahatma Gandhi
The India Gate which commemorates Indian soldiers who sacrificed themselves for the country
One of the Secretariat Buildings on Rajpath
Beautiful large architecture of the Secretariat
Just next to Rajpath is the National Museum. I like museums, but today, I am all for its air conditioning. Foreigners pay Rs 300 but we get a personal audio-guide included. The artefacts are for from being extensive for a national museum but there are beautiful ones to make your visit worthwhile. (and don’t forget you’ll be getting the much-needed AC)
ONE CURIOUS THING IN INDIA is the lack of commercial supermarkets. I didn’t spot one until Big Apple. I guess most locals get their groceries from markets and small stores. Westernized groceries such as the Big Apple only caters to dignified customers, and a guard stands at the entrance with the sign stating ‘Rights of admission reserved’. This means that you’ll have to dress adequately before gaining the chance to enter. Imagine this in Malaysia. No more shorts and sandals while we go to Tesco!
Delhi’s filled with craziness, but only to the narrow-minded. The open-minded visitors learn to stop stereotyping and enjoy India as it is. After hundreds of Rupees less, 5 blisters on my feet and my skin several shades darker, I’d say that I do want to accept India, even if it comes with a price.
Big Apple – a modern looking mini groceries with air-conditioning
My poor skin red with sun tan
One of the blisters on my foot