17.11.2012 - 18.11.2012
After a rest I set off to explore a bit of Delhi. Hotel staff advised against walking or getting my own taxi (they may not take you where you want to go) and arranged a 'free shuttle' for me to the centre of town. Their taxi took a while to arrive during which time a hotel employee took great interest in my plans for India. I took care to make it clear that I was joining a group of people and wouldn't require any help in arranging trips/onward travel etc. When the car arrived it was unexpectedly new and air conditioned. After a drive that took longer than expected (we stopped at traffic lights at a busy intersection and a small girl did handstands next to the car and knocked on my window) we 'arrived' at a place that didn't seem very central at all. I expressed concern and insisted that I wanted to be taken to the centre but eventually after much insistence got out of the car and un-surprisingly was taken to a tourist office. I managed to escape with just a free map and the staff were amused at my refusal to sit down and drink tea with them. The map proved to be pretty useless as it was of greater Delhi and showed the centre in very little detail but I managed to arrive at Connaught Place - the supposed centre. I'm not really sure what I was expecting but it wasn't anything like the reality. On the map Connaught circle appears as if it would be a grand central circus - in reality it's a different type of circus. Think huge crowds, difficult to cross roads, tons of people, a great deal of beeping, severe looking security guards at the entrance to all shops, a surprising number of men selling very thick looking winter coats and a dense smog hanging over the whole place. I also saw a lot of young men holding hands - assuming initially that perhaps Delhi was the Brighton of India, this link put me on the right track: http://www.stuffindianslike.com/2008/04/170-holding-hands.html. As I walked around the circle I was asked several times by overly friendly, 'helpful' young men what I was looking for and where I was from. As I was not looking for anything in particular, did not want to engage in mundane conversation or be incessantly followed, I ignored them and carried on walking. Connaught place turned out to be rather un-appealing so I wandered back the way I came looking for somewhere to get a drink and study the annoyingly disjointed maps that lonely planet India has to offer. Embarrassingly the first place I came across was a McDonalds on a street corner so I bought a Sprite and sat down to study the map - something that's pretty impossible to do outside if you want to avoid being approached. Whilst I couldn't actually work out where I was on the map, I had a general idea that was confirmed for my by large group of tourists also taking shelter in the western haven that is McD.
I found myself walking towards India Gate (http://delhitourism.nic.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/india_gate.jsp) . The streets en-route were quieter and I was largely ignored with the exception of a few stares when passing bus stops. I got the impression that tourists tend not to walk (I met some people in the morning who'd hired a driver for a half day for under £10 so I can see why). Roads are difficult to cross although probably equally as unsafe as traveling by auto-rickshaw. I made it across the six lanes of traffic to India gate with the help of a friendly Indian man - the fact that he was about 3ft6 probably helped him to seem unthreatening although did mean I didn't feel he offered as much protection from the onslaught of traffic as the larger packs I'd used until now. India gate was impressive and there was a large number of Indian tourists milling around as well as some persistent women selling bracelets for 2rupees and taking great offence in the form of spitting in your direction if you refuse. Everyone in India spits (and noisily too) and I can sort of see see why - after a few hours in the smog I too was feeling phlegmy. I chose to use a tissue.
After leaving India gate I made my way back the way I'd came, feeling pleased with myself for having successfully navigated to somewhere on foot. Upon finding myself back near the McDonalds, I carefully took out my guide book which informed me that I was near the Imperial hotel. My sister had raved about the afternoon tea here. Although I'm not a fan of finger sandwiches and cake, I was sold on the idea of a good cup of coffee and getting to use a nice 5*bathroom. It took me a while of walking in circles to find it but it was certainly worth it. Every staff member put their hands together with a polite Namaste when I passed and the garden terrace was beautiful (although still a little smoggy). I ordered a cappuccino and an orange juice (and munched 4 free biscuits) which although not unreasonable (about £5.50) cost more than my later evening meal. The Imperial was lovely and I had thought about staying there - I'm glad I didn't as a) it's bloody expensive b) it's less of an 'authentic experience' and c) going outside from here would be too much of a culture shock I'd probably never have left!
I did eventually leave and after attempting to haggle with a few auto-rickshaw drivers, walking away from those offering to take me shopping despite me shoving the hotel's business card under their noses and giving up on those who didn't seem to know where it was, I eventually found one. Turned out he also had no idea where it was and we stopped for directions three times along the way. Eventually we got to Pahar Ganj and as the driver beeped his way along the street winding manically around cars, people, mopeds and one of the largest cows I've ever seen (it was so big it might not have been a cow?) I smiled, actually giggled, at the mania of it all.