Day 34 | Delhi day 1 | 21 Jan 2017
We are in the capital city of India New Delhi. We arrived, finally, to our hotel room just after 3am and after a few phone calls trying to locate exactly where the accommodation was for our Uber drop off. When you arrive in the middle of night into a new and unfamiliar place, especially a sprawling city like New Delhi, finding hotels in the night time can be a little more difficult as well as frightening. Cars can get to most accommodation places located off the main roads, but when we discovered out hotel was located down a narrow alleyway we were a little concerned what we were getting into. I had my Google maps on, and we could see the alleyway we needed to walk down to reach the accommodation, so Steve jumped out of the Uber and checked it out. All clear – we had reached our destination.
The alleyway was dark and dingy in the dark, with thick, black low hanging wires overhead in the night sky. Tall buildings towered either side as we ventured with trepidation and wide eyed down into a labyrinth of alleyways. We were greeted at the hotel door by three men who had just been woken up. They assisted us with all our luggage up the stairs to our two rooms, with three in each. Steve having to venture downstairs again to ask for some toilet paper. It was basic accommodation, but close to the action for $50 a night for 2 rooms. As usual, we would have to get used to the feel, smell and look of another room, a new area, and make friends with the local in our alleyway (maybe).
We slept in after our late arrival, and ventured down the alleyway to get some food. We had not eaten food packages offered on the train for dinner (we have learnt that they’re not the tastiest of dishes), and the hotel manager recommended the Everest Bakery Café just in the alleyway opposite our hotel. So that’s where we went. A lovely little Nepalese family-run café. We ordered a very late breakfast and enjoyed their delicious Nepal inspired food.
It was time to walk out of the little laneway, and start getting our bearings out in the big world of New Delhi. We turned right at the end of the alleyway, holding our breath as we passed as there is a public urinal at the end of our laneway (stinks!) and as we stood on the main dusty road our eyes enlarged at the sight before us: another chaotic and congested world. The main road was organised chaos – cars, tuk tuks, people, even the odd bullock and cart! The road was a complete mess, as the side of the road had been dug up to make way for better drainage, so large piles of light brown dirt dotted the road all the way up to where the eye could see, and stopped at the large roundabout which forked out into all other directions.
We walked with the assistance of Google Maps, following the road suggested to Connaught Place – the heart of the British capital with its magnificent white buildings and tall Corinthian columns. There we found an authorised Mac repair shop and I was told by the door man to take a number. Number 77 – and I looked forward to an hour or so (emphasise the or so) wait to see a technician about getting my Mac screen fixed. I had previously shared that I could live with and use my broken Mac screen, but as time went by and the reality of my writing anywhere inconvenience grew, I decided to bite the bullet while in the capital and look at the repair options again.
Steve not being a fan of Apple or Steve Jobs found the wait excruciating annoying for him (but we are all used to Steve’s rants about Apple that it now a bit of a family joke and he is the only one in the family who uses Android). I looked around the room, long beach seats with people already waiting. I asked what number they were up to – in the 50s. The man at the door recommended we go for a walk for 45 minutes and return, as we already had a number and were in line. So we walked around Connaught Place, and returned to wait another 45 minutes.
Long story short, after some intense debating of the pros and cons of repairing my MacBook Pro, we decided we would get the it fixed. The part required would be ordered today (Sat) and would take 3-4 days to arrive. Tomorrow (Sun) was a holiday, and further down the week (Thu) was a public holiday for Indian Republic Day. So this meant that our stay in New Delhi might be extended somewhat.
Day 35 | Delhi day 2 | 22 Jan 2017
We woke to the loud and obnoxious sounds of banging, drilling, sawing and men yelling. You name it we heard it crystal clear through our room walls. And lucky for us, the renovation work is occurring in rooms on our floor at our accommodation, Hotel The Spot. There’s only so much pretending ‘I’m still sleeping even though it sounds as if the hotel is falling’, until the feeling of your head cracking wide open and throbbing. So we have been waking earlier than we wished to that quite unlovely sound. The manager apologised to Steve saying it won’t be happening until later the next day. Hmmm I’ll wait that one out to confirm the reality of his statement.
Brunch at Everest Bakery Café: a freshly made Spanish breakfast and coffee for me, pancakes with Nutella and banana for the girls and Ash is enjoying pad thai. We’re down to eating just two meals a day still – brunch and dinner which makes life kind of easy.
This afternoon we negotiated a couple of tuk tuks and went on a tour of some of Delhi’s sights. After intense negotiations with a couple of tuk tuk drivers and gaining some local knowledge from by-stander shop owners, we were set with our drivers. The crazy traffic along the main road had come to a complete halt, as we negotiated with the drivers who had just stopped in the middle of the road to try and drum up some business. Horns honked repeatedly. The driver’s English was quite good, and he informed us that the two places we planned to visit that day (India Gate and Red Fort) were closed due to the preparations for the 68th Indian Republic Day on Thursday.
We went out regardless to discover other parts of New Delhi and we were driven to the Hindu Temple, Laxmi Narayan which was a grand and peaceful and spiritual place, then onto Lord Shiva Temple otherwise known as Monkey Temple which was the complete opposite experience. We were blessed so many times there (and we had to pay for the privilege with each blessing) inside the Monkey Temple, that by the fourth pop up temple within the tall Monkey structure, we had finally clicked onto the tourist scam of draining us of our small change rupee. But then they wanted us to pay for the six people that were blessed each and every time. It was harmless, but annoying.
The drivers then wanted to take us to the bazaar (thinking a market) so we happily agreed and were dropped outside a shop with the word ‘emporium’ written across the doorway. Memories were flooding back, and I realised this was the exact same place my taxi driver Ravi had taken me on my first visit to Delhi two years prior. These ‘emporium’ shops showcase and sell and array of Indian delights from statues to carpets to scarves to clothes and jewellery. We were not interested in purchasing anything at all! We explained to our two eager drivers that we were not here in Delhi to buy as we were travelling for the entire year and couldn’t carry it around with us. But they’re determined, and dogged to their commission, “Oh but you can send back to your home ma’am, no need to carry round with you.”
We needed to spend about 20 minutes in the store for our drivers to receive a commission for ‘turning us in’, or if we purchased anything they would receive up to 40% on the sale price. Good numbers, and it gave us more insight into why they’re so damn persistent in taking foreigners to these shops, even when we request them not to. But we could only stomach a total of seven whole minutes in the emporium. We couldn’t fake our visit, nor waste any more time, and left apologising to our tuk tuk drivers outside and wished them well with future tourists and their commissions in the future. The head wobble was confirmation they understood our reason for leaving.
We enjoyed dinner at The Exotic Rooftop restaurant and were all tickled pink by the view and the food. From above we watched the people and the traffic below and heard the loud beating of drums echo up from the grass roots to the exotic: an Indian wedding was approaching and we watched as the groom on horseback with his family cohort meandered down the street.
Day 36 | Delhi day 3 |23 Jan 2017
We are enjoying our daily breakfast stop at the Everest Bakery Café, the café opposite our hotel in the alleyway. The Nepalese food is not only delicious, but what’s more the family-run café has a lovely vibe to it. The family are very nice, and enjoy our presence even though we speak little between us. Ash loves the place, and has become obsessed with eating their Pad Thai. She has ordered it each morning, and once for dinner. That now makes it: Day 1 Brunch & Dinner (2 pad thai), Day 2 Brunch (1 pad thai), and now Day 3 Brunch (1 pad thai) – all up 4 pad thai in 3 days! I think she’s also keen on checking out the young man who serves us each morning.
Today we called the same tuk tuk driver’s and asked if they’d like to take us around to a couple of the sights – Humayun’s Tomb and Lodi Gardens. They arrived in sub-10 minutes and collected us along the crazy and chaotic main road that our alleyway branched off. The public urinal on the corner was smelling more putrid than ever as we walked past it with noses blocked. Seeing men stand and pee in public is kind of weird for us all, but not here. They’re built to try and stop men peeing along the streets. It’s truly another world. When we had missed out train in the Punjab, we witnessed a young boy poo on the train tracks at the station, and when he’d finished his father pulled him back up onto the platform. Just how it rolls here. No wonder the rats on the tracks are so big.
Anyway, Humayun’s Tomb was beautiful. We arrived in the late afternoon close to sunset, and the final golden rays of the day were falling behind the tomb in a calming and genteel way. A photographers dream! This tomb was built prior to the Taj Mahal in the mid-16th century, and I could see similar Mughal architectural features of the Taj here but on a smaller and less impressive scale. Entry costs foreigners about 300 rupees ($6.50) to enter the tomb including the extra cost (25 rupees) if you want to take a video. It was such a majestic and peaceful place, and we enjoyed walking around the expansive area (12 hectares), following the paths to the tomb. We noticed so many eagles flying overhead, actually we’ve noticed eagles in the air all of the time in northern India. But today’s sighting was overwhelming – with the sky above full of gliding eagles. Dacey found the tree on the other side of the tomb which they seemed to flock towards and perch on, as well as the tomb’s pointy structural parts. A photo or even a video couldn’t show what it was like with the birds of prey, but just being there seeing it was extraordinary.
Next we visited Lodi Garden, another surprised escape from the chaos of Delhi. It’s a lovely big park, fee entry, and dotted with stone ruins. But the ruins are in quite good nick, and the girls really enjoyed the feel of this place, getting creative with their cameras and video. There was a lake, with geese on its banks and again swopping eagles that performed a show of dropping something into the water and flying back to collect it on the water’s surface. The sun was setting and so too was our day out. We decided to ask the tuk tuk drivers to drop us back at the bottom of Main Bazaar Road, and we would walk up in search of a place to have dinner – maybe at one of the many rooftop restaurant cafes overlooking the world below.
And as we walked along the main street, we came across an elephant. A great big one too. The elephant’s mahout (rider/trainer/keeper) was taking his elephant on a leisurely stroll up one of the craziest, busiest streets we had come across, stopping here and there while shop owners handed the mighty large dark grey beast coconuts and bunches of bananas into its trunk which it then proceeded to place inside its mouth and gobble them up whole. Now many of you may know I adore the elephant. So seeing this, right in front of me, walking past and my hand brushing past it’s thick wrinkling grey skin was a wow factor moment! The girls were also electrified seeing this elephant cruise up the street with cars and tuk tuks honking their horns trying to get past it, and people walking alongside its slow but gigantic strides. We walked with that elephant all the way up to our junction, where Main Bazaar Road branched out into a roundabout littered with pop up shops and fruit and veg stalls and street food and watched it disappear down another quieter alleyway, wondering where the heck such an animal would be kept around the main backpackers haunt of New Delhi.
After the elephant buzz, we ventured upstairs to the Krishna Rooftop Cafe for a dinner under the stars. It was lovely being up there, retreating from the horns and pollution down below. And we enjoyed a lovely dinner that cost us not much more than $40, a couple of drinks included.
Day 37 | Delhi day 4 | 24 Jan 2017
Today we decided to change things up slightly, and instead of hitting the usual place for breakfast – The Everest Bakery Café, we thought it would be good to try one of the roof top cafes for brunch. Everyone was on board, except for Ash who refused to come along for brunch.
So we ventured off, leaving her at the hotel, up the street and sat on one of the highest rooftop cafes – The Everest Rooftop (similar name but totally different place). The sun was out in strength today, and we found it a bit overpowering on the rooftop without adequate protection. However, it was an amazing vantage spot to see the people going about their daily business below. We returned to the hotel to a hungry and sorry Ash. She ended up grabbing another pad thai (so that’s number 5 in 4 days) and we got organised to head out for what was left of the afternoon to visit the Jama Masjid Mosque and Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi.
Our usual tuk tuk driver took us to the mosque (we had become good repeat business), but informed us that we would have to pay extra for taking each and every device with a camera due to an enforced photo/video fee of 300 rupee. You know, even if you get along with someone in a foreign country, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. But then again, some of the most unlikely are the most trustworthy. Our tuk tuk driver suggested we leave all of our iPhones in the bag with him, and take what device we wanted to pay for the privilege of a couple of snaps inside the mosque. He would wear the sling bag over his shoulder and keep it protected. Risky business this trust thing. So we pulled all the devices out, placed them into Charlie’s bright pink ocean pack bag she purchased in Langkawi to keep all her GoPro equipment in, and left them with the humble looking tuk tuk driver while I took a photo of his tuk tuk rego number.
Ash was outraged we would do such a thing, Steve very concerned but walked off, and me, well I went with the flow until Steve pointed out to me just before ascending the mosque stairs that we just left thousands of dollars’ worth of devices with this Indian tuk tuk driver. Hmmm…maybe that was going to be a lesson in trust. I climbed the stairs up to the mosque entry, and clearly written on the entry sign was iPhone and cameras each cost 300 rupees. Steve followed after I called to him from the entry, after he started marching back to the tuk tuk driver to grab our digital possessions. We went in without the pink bag.
The mosque holds 25,000 people at any one time which makes it the largest mosque in India. As always, we attracted lots of attention from the local crowd, and were asked to wear floral patterned dresses, cut like a dressing gown, and longhi for Steve. Requests for selfies were refused (we have learnt the hard way) and we wandered around the mosque posing for our own photos in our flowing attire. We spent about half an hour or less in the mosque area, thinking it best to get back to see if we were god damn idiots or lucky in tuk tuk driver trust. We descended the steps, and noticed the little tuk tuk man with the short grey stubble and wide smile wearing the bright pink ocean pack bag around his rounded body. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Next we paired up and got into a bicycle rickshaw for a journey through the old part of Delhi’s markets called Chandni Chowk. We hired three rickshaws, who all told us to watch our things for pick pockets. They cycled down choked and congested one way laneways (with three-way traffic!), and once inside we had entered a totally different world of shops, spices and society. Glad I was in the rickshaw to sit back and take in life on the streets of Old Delhi. We visited the old spice market and purchased some black tea infused with mango, strawberry, and enjoyed the free chai tea on offer. But when they wanted to take us to the jewellery stores, we asked them to just cycle back as we were not at all interested in jewellery or Indian outfits.
The tuk tuk driver’s dropped us back at Connaught Place, where we searched for a shop that sold a replacement battery charger for a secondary camera we brought over for the girls to use (but didn’t pack the charger!). None of the big shops had it, but one man who worked at Nikon approached Steve and whispered to him that he should go to the underground market where all the Chinese rip off are sold.
The underground market was actually underground, requiring a security check and scan of all bags and bodies on entry. It housed hundreds of shops that sold China rip offs of big brands. We were told to go to shop #1 and they would be able to help us out. It was a rabbit hole containing everything you need – clothing, electrical, tattoos, piercings – without the exorbitant price tags. We found what we needed, and a replacement battery. Then my phone rang, it was Apple and they were letting me know that my MacBook Pro had been repaired and was ready for collection!
Me: “What time do you close tonight?”
Mac lady: “We close at 6:30pm”
Me: “Oh that’s in 10 minutes, I’m in Connaught Place…I could come over now.”
Mac lady: “We will be close, best to come in and collect tomorrow from 10:30am.”
Me: “Oh really? Ok then.” Feeling defeated, but accepted that it would probably take too long from where we were to the get to the Mac shop in time.
We left the underground market, and walked back past the Mac shop on the way to the usual atm we’ve been drawing cash out of to get some more rupee out. It was 6.45pm and they were still open! The opening times written on the door said Close: 7pm.
We were in luck, and I produced my receipt and my brand new lap top screen opened up in perfect unbroken order in front of me. I was very happy. Steve believes he hadn’t seen me this happy since walking alongside the elephant in the street the other night!
We then made our way back to the hotel, to the complaints of many of the girls (they don’t want to walk anywhere, preferring tuk tuks all the time), and tried the third rooftop hotel – The India Club – for dinner. However, there was a hefty service charge on all the meals, as well as no fish, no pizza. We decided to enjoy some hot chips there, and move on to where we knew we would get great food – Krishna Rooftop. Another magical night with all of us on top of the New Delhi world below.
Day 38 | Delhi day 5 | 25 Jan 2017
Now that I had the lap top fixed, we could leave Delhi and start our journey to rural India, Buldana, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra. We just needed to purchase rail tickets, and luckily for us my friend Dr Moses helped out with the booking side of things. Tomorrow was India Republic Day, and there weren’t many seats available, so we just decided to leave Delhi the day after Republic Day and ensure we could all get tickets with no waitlist.
Today was a day to walk back to Connaught Place, grab a Star Bucks coffee and visit the official government-run Tourist Information Centre (there’s only one that’s official, but many others operate using the same name and logo as private operators which gets very confusing) and start to organise our Golden Triangle (GT) trip we will be undertaking with Steve’s sister Andrea and our nephews Luke and Harry during the Easter school holidays. Amazingly, within 20 minutes we had a planned our 10-day trip, costed it out, and seen the 11-seater van that will take the 9 of us around the GT. We start in Delhi and travel to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodhpur, and Uaidpur then return to Delhi where we both fly out of the country. We can’t wait!
That done, we continued down to the main area of Connaught Place to revisit the underground Chinese rip off market and look for a small device that would play music. We found a couple of them, decided on the cheaper option and got out of there walking along the footpath on top of the underground market area. The six of us were all fairly stretched out along the footpath, we knew where we were going – Star Bucks. Steve was following last when we heard him call out to me that a monkey pooped on his foot. I walked back to him and looked down, and on top of his right shoe a very large blob of wet poo sat comfortably on the top of his Keen trekking shoe. A man walking near him had noticed it too, and told him it was “monkey poo”. Steve just wanted to get it off with some water or something, and the man showed Steve to a shoe cleaning man sitting (conveniently) around the corner. We hollered to the girls to come back and see the monkey poo on dad’s foot, and we started looking up in the trees above searching for the monkey culprit. Little did we all know at that point in time that the scamming culprit was right before us cleaning the shoe! I kept saying to Steve, “I don’t see any moneys up there, and how did it land so perfectly on top of your foot from that height?” Obviously time was of the essence with this scam – the time when all the foreigner wants is to get the shit off his/her shoe and foot. So the little man cleaned the poo off Steve’s shoe with a red flannel, and then proceeded to wipe away the residue from his foot, and scrubbed his shoe clean. As soon as it was done, the man said to Steve 1500 rupees. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding that’s way too much for a shoe clean.” Steve asked a man standing on the curb, how much should I pay, the guy said 1000 rupee, especially with cleaning shit off.” So Steve passed two 500 notes to the scammer, and the scam was complete. We were all too wrapped up in the incident and looking up in the trees to concern ourselves with the quick disappearance of the scammers.
The girls found it funny, looking out for monkeys from then on. But as we sat in Star Bucks and enjoyed our drinks, Steve announced to us, “I’ve been scammed!” And I quickly got my phone out and googled monkey poo on shoe and there it was – one of the oldest scams in the Connaught Place area “poo on the shoe scam” and we all fell for it. I guess if we had been walking closer together along that footpath we might have noticed something suspicious. But these men look for individuals walking along the footpath alone, and they shoot poo (it looked more like human poo when I think about it) through a syringe-like device to unassuming tourists, and when they point it out and suggest where to go to get it cleaned the tourist is too concerned about getting it cleaned off to worry about whether they’re being scammed or not.
So for 1000 rupees ($20) we got ripped off lightly, but nevertheless totally scammed. It became the subject most talked about at dinner that night. Steve also cleaned his foot again thoroughly.
Steve and I decided to call it date night, and the girls were more than happy to continue hanging out at the Everest Bakery Café and order their own dinner. We walked to The India Club rooftop café, which was the only place we could find that offered a tandoori meat platter to share, and we enjoyed that with some raita yogurt and beers. Back at the hotel, the girls had enjoyed their dinner at Everest Bakery Cafe – Ash has lived off pad thai since we’ve been here!
Day 39 | Delhi day 6 | 26 Jan 2017
Happy Australia Day and India Republic Day 2017! We pulled out our travelling Aussie flag and took it with us to our favourite brunch place in New Delhi – Everest Bakery Café. But today we would not be celebrating with a BBQ and a beer; today marked the 68th India Republic Day and it was being commemorated and celebrated at the capital New Delhi with Prime Minister Modi and the special guest Crown Prince of Abhu Dhabi Sheik Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan. We turned our hotel room TVs on and watched the formal part with Modi at the India Gate and informal parade with a variety of military marches and might – rockets, launches, tanks etc, marching bands, and other cultural floats moving down the road showcasing the various traditional customs of the Indian States: the people, food, dance, and there was even a float called the Public Servant GST Float! Only in India hey.
I remember being in Buldana two years ago and watching the big screen while enjoying a breakfast with all the volunteers and teachers at a local hotel restaurant and watching Barack and Michelle Obama arrive to the ceremony as Modi’s official guests in 2015. It’s a very big day for the Indian people, and they wave their Indian flags with such pride and patriotism. Being here and seeing this, makes me more in favour of changing our own day, to start to find a better day and way to celebrate being Australian, indigenous and not.
There were thousands of people in the area, high security had been in place in and around the India Gate and Red Fort since we had arrived into New Delhi six days ago. We decided to stay away from the crowds, but were so close to the official action that we heard the cannon fire rumble the sky and the fighter jets scream overhead.
We walked outside to get something to eat from…yes you guessed it the Everest Bakery Café, and it had started to rain. Since being here the weather had been perfect – sunny and warm. But today it rained quite heavily and thunderstorms took over the sky. It was therefore a great day to rest up, catch up on my writing, and order lots of fresh coffee. So we sat at our little bakery for many hours doing just that. This is when we met Jeff our American friend. Jeff was an elderly American man who enjoys living off the grid and was back in new Delhi getting some new teeth! He sat with us for some time during that day, sharing his thoughts on the new look America with Trump at its helm. He left the US the day before Trump was inaugurated, and loathes the new President. Jeff was a well-read and educated man, and enjoyed talking to the girls about their year of travel. He also mentioned to us that all the people in our little alleyway were talking about them! But Jeff was a pleasant companion on a rainy day in a little Nepalese café, and he gave us some contacts in India for meditation.
The afternoon disappeared, so did the lights with the thunderstorms. We all ventured out after a very lazy and relaxed day for our final dinner at a rooftop restaurant in New Delhi – we revisited the Exotic Rooftop (our very first rooftop experience) and sat under a small rotunda with mats, pillows and blankets to keep us warm from the cold snap. Then we walked home avoiding the brown puddles, and started to pack our backpacks and get ready to leave on the train for Buldana at 3:20pm the next day.
Thank you Delhi it has been a lovely stay. And especially to our Nepalese family café, we have appreciated being in your café and getting to know you each day – thanks for the awesome food too! We will return with Andrea, Luke and Harry start of April when we tour the Golden Triangle.
PS Just for the record, Ash enjoyed 9 pad Thai dishes from the Everest Bakery Café in 7 days. She’s worried that nothing will compare now, and can’t wait to return in April.