Shifting gear

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Riding into Delhi, I was surprised to find wide streets, light traffic and lots of green space. It turns out 'New Delhi', the planned city built by the British, is very distinct from Old Delhi, where most of the history happened. Both of these are distinct from Paharganj, the grotty backpacker slum situated outside New Delhi train station. My first few days in the capital were mainly spent in New Delhi, riding to the embassy area in search of Pakistan and China visas, so I did not develop the instant dislike of the town that almost everyone I've met has expressed. Although comparatively green and hassle free, New Delhi is short on entertainments, so few people spend much time there. The war memorial 'India gate' (not to be confused with Mumbai's 'gateway of India' ) and the presidents palace can occupy one afternoon, but thats about it.

South east of New Delhi is the tomb of Humayun, which is considered the architechtural forerunner to the Taj Mahal, and is indeed another impressive mausoleum. The tomb and surrounding areas have been comprehensively restored in recent years, with various other lesser tombs and gardens now open to the public. The displays in the information centre proudly boast of how the '10 year old encroachments were cleared away'; there was no information as to how those who'd made their homes in the slums, which had hitherto been turned a blind eye, were treated or compensated.

Eventually, after nearly a week in the city, I found the energy to visit Old Delhi. Due to some dodgy (for which read 'the usual') map reading, this involved walking some distance along the railway tracks before ducking through an opening into the narrow, busy streets of the old town. My unusual entry point placed me some distance from the usual tourist haunts. I was among working people, guys putting together motors, selling pipes or taps or sheet metal, all totally indifferent to my presence. I meandered through the different commercial quarters until I reached the main thoroughfare and the jama masjid, the huge mosque in the centre of Old Delhi.

Constructed, as are most of the Mogul monuments, of red sandstone and marble, the Jama Masjid is stunning. My visit was poorly timed, however, in the middle of the day. When the sun is high in the sky, and has been for an hour or two, the compulsorily unshod pilgrim suffers seven shades of torture from the superheated flagstones underfoot. From the Jama Masjid I walked some distance along a busy pavement, occupied by sellers of cheap plastic toys, cheap leather wallets and cheap dentistry. Really. Dentistry. I stood and watched for a while, as a beggar-woman was examined with what appeared to be antique instruments. I was too squeamish to stick around for the surgery. Finally I made it to the Red Fort, which was shut. 

A thing that happened:

I went to a waterpark today and slid down flumes. Tate modern shmate modern. These were the Real Deal, and I have the bruises, friction burns and haunting memories to prove it. There was also a fairground ride called 'Roll and Roll' that spun round and round horizontally while the attached pods with people (us) lashed inside spun round and round vertically; ie. in such a way as to require the following rules to be displayed: no loose change;  no cellphones; no pagers; please tie hair back; please avoid vomiting on the ride. After about five minutes the guy in charge of the ride called out 'stopping?' and Rob and I whimpered that stopping would probably be acceptable, not that we'd had enough of course. Meanwhile Peter, standing watching, called to the man with the controls 'they want to go faster'. Control man turned his treacherous little lever into the 'red zone'. Time slowed and my vision tunneled. 

I still feel a little strange, but more importantly, Peter and I are supposed to be riding through Pakistan together, and he's already trying to kill me...
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