The Final Frontier

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, November 16, 2012

A return to Indira Gandhi airport started our visit to the final country of the year, India. The current weather was listed as 27 degrees with 'smoke', and horribly smoggy it was.

Our hotel pickup driver wore an aging blue suit and old dress shoes that looked to be about three sizes too big.  His hair was groomed but greasy.  He asked us to pay extra for parking, but we politely refused.

The helpful staff at Hotel Rupam checked us into a comfortable room and suggested a few restaurants nearby.  The room and our first delicious meal were a little pricier than we were aiming for but worth it to help ease us into a new foreign land.

Diwali, the festival of light, celebrations continued with the streets all lit up and fireworks going off into the night again.  We tucked into our cozy room and spent six hours researching and booking train tickets online.  Jason turned on the TV for a little while and was amazed by the number of channels they had.  One of the late night infomercials was for skin whitening cream, complete with ghastly before and after testimonial photos.

We had a brief and interrupted sleep.  For breakfast, Sylvia ate aloo poori while Jason opted for western-style eggs, toast and cereal.  Then it was back to the room for a full morning of research and making a few bookings.

Unable to reserve one of the trains we wanted online, we took the metro to New Delhi Train Station and sat in the long, snaking line at the International Tourist's Bureau.  After two and a half hours, our turn came and we got the tickets for our final train; and what a relief it was.

By that point we were starving so we chose the first place we saw to eat a late lunch.  It was an Indian fast food restaurant.  Sylvia's vegetable biryani had more than her usual share of one hair per dish.  Jason didn't even look as he downed a vegetable thali combo.  It wasn't great, but there was something very appealing about the sensation of burning lips it left him with.

Outside, the smog was so thick we needed sunglasses more for pollution protection than preventing sun damage.  We hopped back on the efficient and modern metro with Humayun's Tomb as our next stop.

The spectacular red and white stone structures dazzled and it felt so rewarding to be back in the sightseeing game again.  However, the abject poverty on the streets, with people eating in groups on the sidewalk, watching and waiting for the worst looking buses we'd ever seen was too harsh a contrast for us to digest.

On the way back, the metro was utter insanity during rush hour.  The only way on or off was to push and shove.  There was no need to hold on to anything because we were packed in like sardines with nowhere to fall if we lost our balance.

Sylvia had better luck at dinner with paneer korma, naan and two mango lassies in a tasty dive called Madan on the backpacker area's main drag, aptly named Main Bazaar.

We both started the next morning with an Indian breakfast, then headed for the formidable Red Fort (Lal Qila).  Inside the monstrous rust-coloured walls and entrance gate lie a complex of interesting buildings, each with its own historical design and purpose: public and private halls, a mosque, women's quarters and even a subterranean step well that was once used as a prison by the British.

As it turned out, we were quite a tourist attraction ourselves.  Indian people couldn't get enough of taking pictures and shooting video of, and often with, us.  Several asked politely for permission, but there were many others who were more stealthy.

Navigating the chaotic traffic and mostly sign-less streets was challenging, but we found our way on foot over to Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque that holds over 25,000 people.  We decided not to go inside, but still enjoyed the 450 year old Mughal architecture.

We also stopped in at the nearby Gandhi Museum to learn a little more about the man who was on every one of the nation's bills.  Then it was on to Raj Ghat, the place where he was cremated.  From there we completed the circuit, not quite in chronological order, by taking an auto-rickshaw, India's version of the three-wheeler, to Gandhi Smriti, the house where he spent his final days.

The first driver took us to the wrong place.  The second one got us there, but we probably overpaid by about a dollar.  All of the auto-rickshaws had meters that were running, but apparently they were "not working" (in the driver's favour).

Gandhi Smriti was a peaceful, serene place. There were plenty of posters to read and photos to observe, but they also preserved the room where the icon of Indian freedom had lived and marked footprints along the path where he took his last steps before being shot on his way to evening prayers.

Darkness fell, monkeys roamed the streets, and Lonely Planet's map let us down with misplaced metro locations.  Were we too reliant on our guidebook?  We didn't think so.  We asked around and after several attempts, finally found someone who knew what and where the metro was.

So much of what we encountered in India was impossible to comprehend, like the trademark head-wobble, which could mean yes, no, okay, I understand, I will find out, that's just how it is, and the list goes on.  Was this the inspiration for bobble-head dolls?  Who knew, but everyone was doing it so Jason joined in from time to time.

The ride back to the hotel was our worst experience on the Delhi Metro, with men crowded a little too close to Sylvia.  We couldn't wait to return our passes and get our deposits back, hoping it would also be the last time we would have to ride it.

We went to bed at a reasonable hour in preparation for a very early start and another new, and quintessential Indian, experience.
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Audrey on

Everybody wanted to take pictures of us, too, so we would agree only if we could take one of them as well. Worked like a charm!

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