17.11.2012 - 18.11.2012
After a quiet-ish second day which involved suffering from jet lag, a bit of shopping (two pairs of Aladdin pants for about £3.50), eating some butter chicken (so much for vegetarianism), watching India's got talent and finally a decent 7 hours of sleep, I felt ready for a big day in Delhi. And a relatively successful day it turned out to be too (however since being here I have had to seriously modify my definition of success). Having temporarily given up the auto-rickshaw it was time to try the Delhi metro. I'd heard good things. After being pointed in the direction of the right ticket counter by a friendly Irish man, I bought a day ticket at the highly inflated tourist price of 100 rupees (about £1.10) - still cheaper than several rickshaw rides. It worked like an Oyster card - so far so good. When boarding the Delhi metro you put your bag through an airport style scanner and pass through the ladies side of the metal detector. There's also a ladies carriage at the front of each train - apparently added later after too many complaints of en-route groping of female passengers. I can see why - the regular carriages were sparsely populated with females but rather crammed with men - I didn't fancy squeezing my way in there. The ladies carriage by contrast was a nice place to be.
I took two trains to get to Old Delhi where I emerged into another bustling street, Chandnk Chowk, lined with 'shops', stalls selling padded coats, animals, rickshaws, cars and pedestrians and, after fending off offers of rickshaw tours, I made my way to the Red Fort where there were two queues for tickets - Indian national and foreigner. The foreigner queue was fortunately much smaller (and the price much higher - still only 250R which I suppose isn't bad if you compare it to the £16 you'd pay to visit the Tower of London!). Once inside however, with the exception of a few offers of a 'personal guide', I was left relatively alone to wander with my guide book and learn about what I was looking at - Red Fort is a 17th century fort complex constructed by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan.
After an hour or so inside, I ventured back out into the chaos of Chandnk Chowk, making my way carefully amongst the people, I made my way back to the metro feeling immensely satisfied to have made it to the Red Fort successfully on public transport. Encouraged, I decided to attempt the second destination on my day's agenda, Hauz Khas. I didn't really know much about Hauz Khas ( http://travel.cnn.com/mumbai/play/hauz-khas-village-create-cool-urban-community-322804) but I'd read in my guide book and online that it was a pleasant area with a park and some nice roof top cafes. This was quite a journey to South Delhi and I emerged from the metro station onto a busy, pavement-less highway. After a brief walk it didn't look promising. I re-entered the metro station, taking a different exit in hope of better luck only to arrive on the other side of the highway. The third exit looked more promising and I set off walking down a leafy road. There was a sign to 'Mayfair Garden' which sounded promising but turned out to be a gated residential area. After 10 minutes walk in search of I'm not actually sure what, I gave up and went back to the metro to try the third planned destination of the day, Humayun's Tomb ( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/232).
Getting off at the metro stop indicated by my guide book, I set off in what I hoped was the right direction. It was a quiet-ish tree lined road with few pedestrians but I marched on not to be deterred. After a while I came across a veritable party going on at the 'Methodist church centre' - I briefly debated going in, in search of a good story for my dad to tell his church 'pals' but decided against it and continued in my quest for the tomb. At the next intersection I came across what I can only assume was the source of the Methodist revellers. Parked on all corners on wasteland were several run down busses marked 'tourist' packed to overflow with women in saris, children hanging out of the windows and men on bus roof-tops - utter mayhem. There were fruit sellers, luggage, carts animals and a strong smell of urine but everyone seemed to be having a nice time which I certainly would not be were I sharing one bus seat with my entire extended family. Further along the road did not look promising and, as i still didn't know if i was indeed headed in the right direction and due to exciting evening plans, at this point I decided to turn back - I may have not found the tomb but I'd certainly found something worth seeing. On the way back to the station an old American man stopped and asked me for directions to the tomb - I told him to walk a long way and to persist after the crazy Methodist party and bus-fair. I hope he found it - a later study of my map indicated that another 15 minutes walk would have indeed got me to my destination. I didn't feel too bad however - I'd found one of the three things I was looking for that day and not been groped on the train ... All in all, I'm counting that as a success. Retrospectively I thought that leaving the station would have been the time for a rickshaw to the tomb but I still had another day in Delhi and I needed to get back as I'd booked on a 'food tour' of Delhi for the evening (www.delhifoodtours.com). My sister expressed concern that 4 days in Delhi would be too long but what with jet-lag and so much time spent getting lost I'd beg to differ!
That evening I was met by Prashant who rescued me from aimlessly wandering in the wrong direction from the metro to our meeting point and joined the rest of the group for the food tour, Delhi's answer to the pub crawl. The group consisted of 10 recent Harvard law graduates (German, Belgian, Swiss, American and two locals) in Delhi for one of their weddings, and Prashant's wife Ayesha. First stop on the tour was an out-of-the-way tea shop where we sampled 8 different teas my favourite being Hibiscus (supposedly good for lowering blood pressure (#Stepherz) and quite yummy. The shop owner was great at explaining the process of making all the teas and where they came from. Having not eaten since breakfast (on Prashant's advice) I left the tea shop feeling pretty hungry. First food stop was a south India. Vegetarian restaurant where we shared a gigantic aloo masala dosa - basically a long crispy pancake made for rice and lentil flour filled with a spicy mashed potato served with various dip-y things. It was pretty good but I was wary of eating too much as we still had 4 more stops to make. After the dosa we were served an amazing coffee that we had to pour between a cup and a small dish several times apparently to mix in the sugar and make it frothy. According to Ayesha, coffee in India is only worth drinking in South Indian restaurants. Based on my experiences of it so far, I'd have to agree with her. Second stop was a short walk around the corner to an Indian BBQ. There we were served goat meat with onions, a yoghurt dip and some thin wraps to pick it up with - it was amazing and I ate a bit too much not realising that still to come was some amazing chicken and biryani. I'd never eaten goat before but it was pretty good and Prashant explained to me that goat and chicken are the best meats in India as these are the freshest (with the exception of seafood by the coast) - cows are not eaten and sheep meat is imported from Australia so is expensive and not very fresh. The next stop was a fast-food joint. There we were each given a stodgy wrap - flatbread with an egg cracked onto it wrapped around goats meat and fried. We dipped it in a mint and coriander yogurt. I guess it wasn't that healthy - Prashant described it as heart attack wrap and laughed as he convinced the bride-to-be to eat one - but the Scottish could do much better, it wasn't even battered! We were then given the option of one more stop before desert but the general consensus was to make a final desert stop as it was getting late. En route we got caught up in a rather large traffic jam which turned out to be the funeral for two Indian mafia brothers who had shot each other to death - apparently over, if I understood correctly, their mother trying to make them live together. Most Indian deserts it seems are made with 'milk fat'. I tried most of the selection we were given but wasn't really a fan. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening (surprisingly one that didn't involve a single curry) and, although pretty pricey, the commentary was interesting. One of the Harvard group lived in and had grown up in Delhi and gave an interesting commentary of various sights and areas as we passed through in the minibus so we didn't only learn about food.
The journey home was slightly less enjoyable - whilst I'd already broken my resolution not to eat meat for my month in India, I was very glad to have so far kept to my plan of not drinking alcohol during my time here. After a slightly unnerving nighttime ride on the metro (the men had invaded the ladies carriage!) and a dark walk back to my hotel through Pahar Ganj (Prashant had described the area as 'lawless' but touristy) I made it back to the hotel feeling satisfied with the day's achievements, sleepy and glad to have my wits about me.