Rhymes with Belly
Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
63Trip End Apr 14, 2006
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Where I stayed
Hare Krishna Guesthouse, Paharganj district
The train journey had been less than relaxing. As we had not booked tickets in advance, the only type we could purchase was 2nd class unreserved. After traipsing hundreds of metres along the platform to reach the correct part of the train we were met with the sight of a carriage so full that people were hanging out of the doors. There was no way we were going to get in. We got on a sleeper carriage instead, but after a conductor (who we strongly suspected as a fake - he had no shiny badge) tried to charge us an upgrade fee of 5 times more than our ticket, we embarked on a shuffle with our rucksacks through the never-ending corridors. The 2nd class carraiges at the other end of the train that we had been directed too were a myth so we sat outside a toilet for a while until a kind man insisted we should sit with him
The bustling area we stayed in, Paharganj, is full of budget hotels, shops selling hippy clothes and restaurants offering tetley tea and pizza. It's full of travellers, but the hectic experience of an Indian street is not toned down because of this. Cows get in the way of cycle rickshaws which are beeped at by motorcycles weaving in and out of pedestrians who are trying to avoid the holes and piles of gravel created by roadworks that run the length of the street.
We met 2 friends from Brighton, Flic and Alex, who had arrived a few hours before us and who I will travel with for most of the rest of my time in India. We all got tipsy and caught up on the gossip. This was my first alcohol since arriving in India and a slight hangover the next morning made it so much harder to cope with persistent shop owners.
Mandy and I headed for a bird hospital in a Jain temple. They look after over 2000 injured birds at a time - mainly pigeons (the most common problem is broken or lost wings after they get cuaght up in ceiling fans) - but also peacocks, parrots, budgerigars, crows, doves and 3 rabbits which must wonder quite what they're doing there. There were also 5 large Kites squashed into tiny cages. Birds of Prey are only admitted as outpatients - they are not allowed overnight as they eat meat! Jains have a strict ethic of live and let live, but this means that they do not put down any of the birds. We saw birds that were paralysed or lying on their backs and quivering. I'm not sure I agree with prolonging their suffering. They insisted that they have a 98% recovery rate, but that seems unlikely.
After passing by the famous Red Fort (the two forts I've visited already is enough for me) we made our way to Jama Masjid - the largest Mosque in India - to meet Flic and Alex. We climbed up one of the minarets for panoramic views of Delhi. There are signs announcing that women are not allowed up without a man for safety reasons. This greatly amused Alex and raised my hackles. As it turned out Alex was the one who needed us to look after him, as his vertigo took hold in the tiny crowded look-out platform at the top. It also became apparent why the no single women rule might have been brought in. The spiral staircase going up the tower is so narrow that when 2 people pass you are squashed against each other. Great news for the men.
Afterwards we plunged headfirst into Kinari Bazaar. This is Old Delhi and the dark narrow alleyways are an excellent and easy place to get lost in. We passed through lots of different quarters on our meanderings - jewellers, a row of tiny rooms housing dentists that open right onto the street so everyone can peer in to see the patient, dozens of colourful fabric shops, even more bead and glitter shops (how do they all manage to make a profit?), and a row of ribbon and braid sellers
Raj Ghat is a peaceful park that you would not believe is in the centre of Delhi. It is the spot were Ghandi was cremated, and has memorials for him and several Prime Ministers. Mandy and I took a late afternoon stroll here and sat by a lake watching the squirrels. A class of identically dressed school girls came past and one asked to have her photo taken with us. We agreed and virtually every girl took it in turns to come and stand with us while a photo was taken with her camera. There was a lot of giggling - and that was just from Mandy and I!
Talking of photos, we get asked a lot by young Indian men to have their photo taken with us. There is no chatting first, they simply want a photo with Western women. Mandy warned me against agreeing as she has heard they will show the photos to their mates and imply that more happened than a minute of photo posing. So, I always refuse but I do feel a bit guilty because I have taken so many photos of Indians.
All of my other interactions with young Indian men take the form of being asked 'which country are you from?'
After only one full day in Delhi we escaped to the foothills of the Himalayas, catching an early morning train.