So, it turns out that you go to sleep to the sounds of horns blasting and awake to the same frenetic activity. It kind of completely set the tone for a dynamic tour of Delhi and an amazing introduction to India.
In Australia, hearing a horn means you’ve done or seen something stupid or seriously upset a fellow traveler. In India it means, ‘hey, I’m here, look out!’ Or even, ‘I’m just completely in love with this horn that my vehicle has kindly provided for my unlimited use and intend to show my gratitude repeatedly.’ Road markings are a complete joke and aren’t even used as a guideline for motorists, riders or those pushing a cart.
Opting to immediately head out to explore the sights, rather than wallowing in my one night only special upgraded suite with a spa, I did a spot of research, and found a private all day tour for AU$50 and set off to hit the town… the Old Town to start with.
My driver Rahul told me that you need three things when driving in India: a good horn, good brakes and good luck! (he may need more luck with the brakes…)
And what an epic day it turned out to be. Although it felt unhurried and quite relaxed, we managed to visit some amazing places. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists all reside in India and its sites and architecture reflect its diverse history.
I met my guide Qayoom when we started at the Jama Masjid, the largest Mosque in Delhi (incredible architecture) and snooped at the view of Old Delhi from all three gates. Shoes off and swathed in a bright yellow wrap, I wandered the walls of this building that can house 25,000 worshipers at a single time.
It was then a bicycle rickshaw ride through the Chandni Chowk area to see some more sights.
Zinat-ul Masjid or the Fatahpuri Mosque, surrounded by homes for those learning, and schools for children, was next. Koi splashed in the pond set aside for wudu (ceremonial washing before entering a mosque) as plans were underway to set up for Friday worship.
This was soon followed by a spot of shopping for the alleged purest spices on earth at the bazaar. (I may or may not be eating butter chicken and green curry for some time to come!) Seeing man and beast hauling the goods on carts from the supply areas to the shops made me almost glad of an office job.
Next up was a wander around the outside of the Red Fort which commenced its life in 1639 and was completed in 1648, taking almost 9 years to finish. It remained the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty for the next 200 years and today houses a number of museums (currently under renovation.)
We reconnected with Rahul here and made our way to Raj Ghat, the final resting place and memorial site for Mahatma Gandhi. Judging by the number of school groups on site, he’s still as highly revered for brokering a peaceful independence for India as he was back in the day… before being stopped by a bullet.
As it turns out, blondes may have more fun and I was accosted by bold, young schoolboys wanting photos with the white lady to mark their time at Raj Ghat, and smiles and waves from the shyer girls. (Unsure how pics of the granddaughter of a British Indian army officer will fit into their school report on this important excursion in their formative years.)
Up after that was an authentic Indian lunch at Pindi, with resident snake charmer lurking outside! I think I could have truly finished my tour right there with a full stomach and great pics, but there was still so much more to accomplish.
Isa Khan’s (an Afghan noble who fought against the Mughal’s) garden tomb followed, complete with new puppies, and it felt like I’d entered Dome Appreciation Day by the end of this site visit. There’s truly some clever people and amazing artisans who helped create these brilliant buildings. It’s kind of a shame that their residents don’t get to truly enjoy their final resting place. But then, maybe the traipsing of millions of tourists around their graves would be some consolation in that at least, they are remembered.
The Bu-Halima gateway then took us through to the real reason for our visit here, Humayun’s Tomb, another great building with extensive use of red sandstone, a final resting place for an Indian Moghul, as commissioned by his first wife and chief consort, and set in spectacular grounds. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a wander – but if you can’t handle seriously steep stairs, it may not be for you!
And last stop, which we just made in the nick of time, was the $10 million, white marble Baha’i Lotus Temple. Twenty -seven large petals forming nine sides, and nine swimming pools complete this House of Worship that has become a prominent attraction. The temple is available as a place of reflection regardless of your personal religious affiliation, or lack thereof. CNN has referred to it as the most visited building in the world. And with the sun setting behind, it was a fitting end to a big day and wonderful introduction to Delhi.
If you’ve been before, what are some of your highlights and ‘must-do’ things in this incredible city? Or, if you haven’t been, what’s on your bucket list? There’s still more to come from me! I’ve only just begun…