To see all the pics of our time in Delhi, click here:
Ahhh, India. Literally landing there was like stepping into a new world. A really, really dirty one. Upon exiting from the plane at 6am, our throats caught at the stringing sensation of inhaled smog. Our morning taxi ride to our hotel was like driving through a war zone of slowly awaking people along the roadside and a haze that seemed to set an implacable gloom over the whole city. We spent a few hours planning our onward journey, but were puzzled by seemingly fully booked trains and hard to reach bus stations with little information. So we took a brief nap and decided to worry about all that after our first foray into an Indian city.
It started positively with a local restaurant serving delicious Punjab food. We were salivating over our perfectly spiced Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry), Mutter Paneer (green peas, cubes of pressed white cheese, and a creamy tomato curry sauce), and garlic naan. We got ourselves an Indian SIM card and set off on the Delhi Metro (the most crowded we have ever experienced) to Humayun's Tomb, the mausoleum of the son of the great Mughal Emperor Babur who had conquered Northern India from Kabul, Afghanistan in 1526. The tomb is an impressively massive structure built out of red sandstone and white marble – a merging of Persian and Indian influences. But the heavy fog combined with the smog nearly smudged out the sun and left the view slightly less mesmerizing.
With a bit of time to wander in the evening we headed for Connaught Place, which lies in the center of New Delhi. It was the beginning of things going downhill very quickly for us in Delhi. We had read that the Deli Tourism Authority was in the area, but it was over an hour since it was supposed to have closed, so we just wandered around the various rings of streets emanating out from the center where the metro stop was looking for restaurants. At one point we turned and saw a place labeled “Delhi Tourism Authority” with an “Incredible India” symbol on its frosted glass door. I said to Neda, “oh, look there is the Tourist Office – is it still open?”. We pushed on the door and it looked like they were about to close, but one man there gestured for us to sit and said he could stay open a bit longer.
We just wanted information on transportation options out of the city to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and then onward to Jaipur, the Pink City. Known as the “Golden Triangle” this popular tourist route covers many major sites in India. The man proceeded to sweet talk us into listening to him entirely too long, planning out a whole itinerary and offering to book trains for us that we knew were full, before I asked, “Is this the tourist office? Because it seems more like you are a travel agent.” He then lied to my face and said, “Of course, you didn’t know the Delhi Tourist Office offered these services?” Well, those services came to over 400 euros per person for things he couldn’t possibly fulfill. We wisely left without paying a dime, but tired of having spent much of the day trying to plan our escape from Delhi with no success. We resolved to finish the task the next day without any more scams.
We headed off to the train station the next day, where we had read you could book trains directly and find out if any of the trains had seats remaining with a “tourist quota” that couldn’t be purchased online. The tourist office for this was supposed to be on the second floor. When we entered the train station, there was a barrier in front of the steps and a man approached us to tell us that the tourist office was closed for repairs but that we could buy the reserved tickets at the Tourism Office. He kindly pointed to where it was on the map and told us to have a good day. Since he hadn’t asked for anything we took him at his word and headed back to find the real Delhi Tourism Office. We rode the subway the one stop back to Connaught Place and as we were exiting a man walking along side of us started a casual conversation with us, asking what we thought of the Delhi Metro. As we continued to walk with him alongside of us, he found out we were going to the tourist office and said that it could be difficult to find because of all the fake offices. He said he was walking right by it though, and could point it out to us. Well, you may have guessed by now that this man had followed us (I know freaky!) from the train station and was just playing us to get us to yet another fake tourism office! This one was located on the same street as the tourism office (see pic below), making it difficult to know which is real since there are no street numbers anywhere!
After another rigmarole with some similar themes as the previous time (“do you want to go to visit Kashmir and stay with a family there?”), and an inability to give us good information on public transport without planning a trip for us, we wisened up to the fact that this wasn’t a real shop and fled again, feeling foolish and exhausted (though at least not robbed!). Finally, we found the Government of India Tourism office on 88 Janpath road, the only office with a number marked on it! The man there told us that many of the trains and buses would be difficult to procure during this busy time (the popular Diwali Festival starts on Nov. 13th), but suggested we try a real travel agent who was next door or go back to the train station and try our luck again. Exhausted at this point, we went next door and finding a government licensed tourist agency, Destination India, we simply paid the extra money to hire a driver for 5 days to take us to Agra then to Jaipur and back to Delhi before leaving on a train to Armirtsar, home of the Golden Temple. Coming in at just about $45/day including two nights of hotels as well, it seemed just a heck of a lot easier than dealing with the congested and seemingly dysfunctional public transportation around Delhi.
The Red Fort
That night was a difficult one for us as we marveled and mourned at how elaborate the schemes were to trick us and rob us. We felt we couldn’t trust anyone in the city and just wanted to get out. We crossed our fingers that our driver would show up the day after next and vowed to enjoy our last day in Delhi, which we did. We visited the massive Jama Masjid mosque where Neda was forced to don a hilarious moo-moo that steamed her like a dumpling under the mid-day heat. Then we visited the Jain temple Lal Mandir, with its accompanying bird hospital. The Jain religion, originating around the time of Buddhism, holds the tenant of ahimsa (non-violence) as paramount and the bird hospital is seen as an embodiment of that. There, the caretakers rehabilitate everything from pigeons to peacocks that the faithful bring to them when found wounded.
Finally, we visited the Red Fort, a palace built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal), where we saw the scattered remains of the red sandstone and marble structures that once held a small city within a city. The next day we woke up early and our driver was waiting for us outside the hotel. Yay! We weren't a scammed – or were we!? Read about our crazy trip to Agra next…
To see all the pics of our time in Delhi, click here: