18 Oct 2013
An early start today as we had to be checked out by 7.30am before heading off for breakfast and our orientation walk around Old Delhi. We felt like we had things under control as we went back to the food court and knew what and how to order. Then it was back to the Metro Station and our familiar line change. This time we got off at Chandri Chawk and headed out into the bustling streets where there are vast numbers of people busy going about their lives whether that be sweeping, selling something, begging (we are advised not to give money as some are just scammers) or sleeping on the side of the street. We threaded through tiny lanes where people were selling everything imaginable. Fireworks were just being stocked in preparation for the Diwali Festival in November.
Our first stop was Jama Masjid Mosque – the largest mosque in India, built in 1644. The highly decorative mosque has three great gates, four towers and two 40 m-high minarets constructed of strips of red sandstone and white marble. There is a huge square in the middle in which up to 25,000 people can worship at one time. It is a peaceful respite from the pandemonium outside in the streets. The flowing floral robes we were required to don caused considerable amusement.
Then it was on to the Sikh Temple – first to a room where we left our shoes and donned fetching yellow bandanas. Before going into the temple we washed our hands and walked through constantly trickling water. Worshippers kneel, clean their feet and put some of the water in their mouths. Sikhs believe that we are born good and our purpose is to express or our goodness in the world. They do a lot of community work. The temple complex included a large ‘ashram’ where people could stay and with a large communal kitchen where anyone could eat for free and people did their community service helping however they could. The kitchens were enormous, with giant cauldrons bubbling with fragrant delights. Women sat around a low table making chapattis (and some of our group help out).
Next we boarded cyclos (cycle rickshaws) for a crazy ride to the spice markets and what a hive of industry that was!! Wonderful stalls of fruits, nuts and spices. Men carried stacks of oil cans and sacks of all shapes and sizes on their heads. Every transportation imaginable filled the streets and the noise of horns was deafening. Some of our group wanted to make their way to more Western Connaught place for a dose of Starbucks, but E&B and I returned with Bhanu and discovered that you could fit 4 of us rather uncomfortably on a cyclo – Bhanu and I perched precariously looking out at the rear. It was hilarious trying to get on because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the step and I tried both forward and backward mounting styles before eventual success – much to the amusement of all around. Sitting with our legs hanging out the back, we were rather closer than was desirable to the various vehicles pulling right up behind or trying to squeeze past. It was a relief to get back to the squeeze in the Metro!
We had time to fill before boarding the overnight train to Varanasi, so we had a delicious lunch of Chicken Khali Mirkh, then walked the streets in search of ATMs and snacks for the train. We all congregated back at the hotel to retrieve our bags from the dayroom and drank cups of Masala tea served by tall elegant men in flowing turbans. We somehow managed to load us and all our bags into 3 taxis in the busy street outside and with a lot of tricky manoeuvring made our way to New Delhi train station, and negotiated x-ray machines and huge flights of stairs with our bags.
On board we were split into 2 groups in different carriages. Six of us shared a 3m x 3m space with triple bunks that folded out. It was challenging to store all our bags so that they couldn’t be tampered with and ourselves into the tiny space – but we managed (and even included Bhanu as well occasionally). We dined on a profusion of diverse snacks and read and chatted until it was time to begin the ballet of choreographed moves required to assemble our bunks and crawl into them without standing on anyone else (very difficult if you are on the 2nd or 3rd tier). It was a long and uncomfortable night with not much sleep and we were all pleased when the call of “chai” arrived at 6am and we could get up – only to be told that the train was running 2 hours late! So we reassembled our seats and resumed the previous evening’s activities fuelled by breakfast of cashew nut shortbread, muesli bars and sweet chai tea.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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