Dodging goats, cows and Delhi dirt…

Our next stop after Amritsar was the big one – Delhi! A city that we were quite apprehensive about after hearing the horror stories of deformed beggars, tuk tuk cheats and chaotic traffic. But hey, if it was anywhere near as much fun as Pakistan’s cities, we thought, Bring It On! Getting to Delhi proved to be our longest bus journey yet – 12 hours! This was mainly due to the traffic but also due to the REALLY SLOW bus that we have for the Indian part of our trip.

The bus moved tediously slowly and was the bumpiest bus so far – we were all flying out of our seats – this was not helped by the driving style of our driver who seemed to have a severe hatred of the brake pedal, hardly touching it in heavy traffic and then stomping on it whenever he did! We were also hampered by roadworks which were ongoing all the way from the border. The Indian’s are renewing the ‘Golden Triangle’ between Kabul, Delhi and Bangalore by building a new GT road (Grand Truck road) – a massive British designed road, the construction of which has already been ongoing for about nine years! Construction in India is nothing like back home – no traffic cones or warning signs so the bus had to make some extremely tight twists and turns all the way to Delhi.

We did stop off at McDonalds on the way however, where (still sticking to our no-meat policy) we bought a McAloo Tikka and a Vegetable Surprise which were lovely! The rest of the journey was marked by beeping horns, dramatic bumps, sharp braking and the loud, violent swatting of flies by Tomas! We also broke up the tedium by yet another Oz Bus quiz which ended just as we reached Delhi’s outskirts.

It took another two hours after we reached the outskirts to get to our hotel – the traffic really was insane and by the time we inched our way through, half the bus had to make a desperate dash into the hotel lobby to get to the loo!

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It was already about 8pm by the time we had checked into our rooms at the Clark International (a very plush hotel tucked away amidst dirty backstreets with the most comfortable beds of the trip so far!) so we went up to eat in the roof top restaurant to save some time, before we headed into the city. We had been told of a place called Connaught Place which was in the British-built part of Delhi where bars and restaurants could be found. We wanted to go to a bar for a couple of drinks, having been deprived of alcohol for two weeks in Pakistan and Iran so had a quick shower after dinner and got a tuk tuk there. What we WEREN’T aware of before we got there was that the entire Connaught Place area was being torn apart by builders who were hastily preparing the area for the Commonwealth Games. India has 60 days to get ready for it before the games are taken off them, so construction is literally going on 24/7! Needless to say the area was a mess – we couldn’t even see the road for the mounds of dirt and we were jumping across big ditches in the road to peer into the windows of these apparent ‘bars’ which were all closed!! We were getting some funny looks from the workers too, who must have wondered what on earth we were doing there when there wasn’t another soul in sight!

Still on the hunt for an open bar we were quickly surrounded by tuk tuks, whose drivers were all shouting at us to get in. One of them just wouldn’t take no for an answer and started following us down the road – until the police turned up and yelled at him that is! Grateful for our stroke of luck we decided to ask the police if they knew of a bar that was open. Instead of answering us they motioned for us to get in saying they would drive us to one! Sat opposite a machine gun in the back, Richard and I just looked at each other thinking ‘this would only happen to us – a simple trip to find a bar, ends up in a ride in a police car’. After about 5 minutes the police stopped and pointed to a building across the road, nodding their heads when we asked them a) if it was a bar and b) if it was open. Satisfied with their answer we made our way across another ditch and a few more mounds of dirt, walked up to the door they had pointed out only to be greeted with a ‘we’re closed’! Bloody hell.

Giving it one more stab, we stopped another tuk tuk, told him to take us to an open bar and eventually pulled up outside Rodeo, a wild-west themed bar which thankfully WAS open. We sat and sipped our Brave Bull cocktails until closing time, after which we heading back outside and hailed our last tuk tuk of the evening who took us home through the now-empty streets (apart from the people living on the streets and the herd of cows going for a moonlit wander!).

The next day we set out to explore Delhi’s main sites. The ones we wanted to go to were the Red Ford, Jama Masjid Mosque and India Gate, as well as compare Old Delhi with New Delhi. We got a tuk tuk after agreeing a tour of the city which would take around 4-5 hours. Pretty much as soon as we left the hotel, the tuk tuk ‘guide’ started telling us that we couldn’t go to the Red Fort as it was closed and that he would take us to ‘no more than three’ shopping malls so that we could buy some Gold. Er, why the heck do we need to buy some Gold? We told him that we didn’t want to go to any shopping malls and instead to take us to the places WE wanted to go.

We were pretty annoyed about the Red Fort being closed – apparently it was closed for cleaning in preparation for some VIP’s and would be closed for the next 15 days. This is weird we thought, Leighton had already told us that it was open and was hosting a light and sound show that evening. We decided to do our homework and asked some police and other tourists at Jama Masjid Mosque whether they knew if the Fort was open. Of Course it’s open, was the answer! We quickly got the feeling that our tuk tuk guide was ‘mugging us off’ (in Richard’s terms), something which was confirmed when we asked him to come back up to the mosque an hour later once we’d been to India Gate, as the first time we went it was prayer time so we couldn’t go in. He said that would cost us more money as the road wasn’t as easy to drive down! Okay, time to get rid of him – we got him to drop us off at India Gate where we said we would get out and leave our so-called ‘city tour’. He didn’t like this and tried to ask us for 300 Ruppees for our ‘sightseeing’ tour, despite the fact that the tuk tuk meter said 150.

When we pointed this out the answer we got was “this is old price!’, followed by, “we don’t go by meter, you pay different price because it’s sightseeing” to which we pointed out that in other words, we have to pay more because we are tourists, since only tourists ‘sightsee’. He then pulled out a price sheet (which we think was the ‘tourist’ night rate sheet) and told us we had to pay 200 Rupees plus 100 Rupees each for ‘waiting time’. What did he wait for? We hadn’t seen anything yet and it was all apparently closed! We were well up for an argument at this stage, not least because we know he lied about the Red Fort being closed but also because he was trying his best to con us into buying gold (not that we would have anyway), then tried to rip us off for an hour and a half tuk tuk ride. Long story cut short, we yelled at him so much that he ended up just telling us to pay the meter price! Ha Ha, Tourists = 1, Tuk Tuk scam artist = 0!

We decided after that not to trust a soul and to complete our ‘tour’ ourselves. Needless to say we got to visit the Red Fort, Mosque, India Gate, Parliament House and the President’s House as well as getting to explore the back streets by foot…

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Seeing New Delhi and its monuments like India Gate and the Parliament buildings was a huge contrast with the back streets of Old Delhi. We saw more people living in squalor on street corners, under bridges, on the pavement and on rubbish tips. Literally everywhere we looked there was some poor family sat together, trying to wash themselves under street taps, rifling through rubbish bins or just staring into space.

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Like Pakistan, it really was terrible to see, but on such a larger scale. On the way back to our hotel at the end of the day (which ended up involving two tuk tuks and a rickshaw after two of our drivers got ‘lost’) we were stopped in traffic when a little girl walked up to the tuk tuk and started dancing in the road next to us – obviously her attempt to get us to give her some money. She was followed by a little boy, skinny and fragile looking. He must have been about 6 years old and had the saddest eyes we had ever seen. He was holding sum colouring pencils for us to buy and looked at us with such desperation as he pointed to his tummy and mouthed some incomprehensible worlds at us. We really wished we had some food on us that we could give him, but the tuk tuk soon started up again in the traffic and he was gone. That moment really hit home to both of us and we felt a little sad as we headed back to our 4 Star hotel.

Delhi has been an eye-opener for us, much like Pakistan was, although we were sort of expecting it to be. The city is massive and the sheer amount of people there is unbelievable – you can’t escape them. We noticed a definite pecking order there, with illiterate rickshaw riders and beggars being at the bottom and the fat cats in their flash cars, beeping and pushing them out of the way being at the top.

If we are being honest, we can’t say that we ‘enjoyed’ Delhi. Yes, it was fun being caught up in the chaotic traffic and haggling with tuk tuk operators, but when all that is over, the truth of it is that it’s a harsh, dirty city which can’t hide the huge gulf between rich and poor.

We observed on the drive into Delhi that India was a bit like Pakistan on a larger scale – it has more wealth, more poverty, more people, more land, but the one thing Delhi lacks is something that Pakistan has in abundance – this is Character and a colourful vibe that makes you what to soak up everything that you hear, smell or see. In a disappointing contrast, we found ourselves wanting to block out what Delhi had to offer and cover our noses and eyes to the filth and poverty that seemed to be inescapable. Two showers was not enough to scrub of the Delhi dirt that we had brought back to the hotel with us and breathing smog-filled air for so long was pretty harsh on our throats.

On a positive note we did manage to round of our Delhi visit with a really good experience – a slap up meal at the Alfa Spice Restaurant! We had a three course meal with beer for 1200 Rupees – about £16 English money! It was absolutely gorgeous and we got treated to some live Indian music while we were there too!

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5 Comments

  1. August 09, 15:26 #1 Aisleen Author

    I know, it kind of makes you think twice doesn’t it!

  2. August 09, 15:25 #2 Aisleen Author

    Crikey, yes those things don’t look particularly comfortable! So far we’ve stuck to pedal power!

  3. August 08, 20:01 #3 Uncle John

    Makes you realise how lucky we are sometimes although at the same time, for these poor people, life can only get better really. This blog had everything from funny, excitement of the tuk tuk and the sadness of the little boy and girl. It’s hard to imagine that people live this way in this day and age. I don’t think I will ever complain about an Indian or Pakistani call centre ringing me again.

  4. August 08, 10:35 #4 margaret D.

    The worst thing I can think of was a ride on the back of a bullock cart.The worst experance of my life,so some advice anyone offers you a lift on one run a mile!!!!


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