Delhi quickly sharpened our senses on a busy first day. We had flown Etihad from Cyprus to Delhi, with a three-hour layover in Abu Dhabi. We had departed Cyprus at 1400, and arrived in Delhi ten hours later, at 3.30 AM, India Standard Time (IST). In the seven hours flying time, we had covered circa 3,000 miles. Because of the very heavy fog in Delhi, our plane had taken ages to dock, once on the ground. When we finally arrived at our hotel, we managed to get three and a half hours sleep – we set our alarm for 9 AM, as we did not want to waste the day!
We are spending four nights in a delightful hotel in Old Delhi – it is one of Delhi’s first hotels, with original 19th century colonial charm and architecture.
After a late breakfast, we spent a couple of hours with our charming travel agent, Rohini – despite seemingly endless emails modifying our plans, it was amazing to hear Rohini actually outlining the final arrangements for our six weeks in India.
Deciding to skip lunch, we changed some money into low value bills at the hotel reception and took off to explore the Old City, using the Delhi metro. The short walk to the station quickly reminded us that we were back in India – constant honking of car horns, with cars and rickshaws fighting for every patch of road. The sound of street life in India is unmistakable. The fog had not lifted – it was quite cold and the pollution soon stung our eyes – we were wearing sweaters and fleeces. At the Metro, we bought some tokens, passed through the security scanners, women on one side men on the other, and took the metro two stops to Chandi Chouk, the heart of Old Delhi. As we looked around the crowded train, we observed that we were the only Europeans. Emerging from the train station, we sanitized our hands, followed the crowds and wandered down narrow lanes, all in poor state of repair. Apart from the sights, the sound and smell quickly capture your attention. We observed street vendors selling food, drinks and all manner of life’s essentials. After a couple of narrow alleyways, we emerged on to a busy main road and explored the colorful shops and bazaars. We bought nothing but had fun looking at the local crafts and wares etc. We then let a rickshaw driver convince us to take a short tour, which included the famous spice market – the aromas were amazing – this is the largest spice market in Asia. This is in contrast with a very different smell from the public urinals, that were in full view in the middle of the street – not such a beautiful sight!!!! This area is a major commercial hub and apparently anything can be bought and sold. If they haven’t got what you want, they will probably invent something and try to convince you that it is the same – even if they don’t understand what you are asking for! To travel by a bicycle peddled rickshaw, you need to have nerves of steel, as there seems to be no right of way, just the driver who honks his horn the loudest gets through the fastest and this will include crossing red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road – just about anything goes and its best to close your eyes – just immerse yourself in the experience!!! The streets are full of people, plus carts towed by hard-working people and the occasional bullock. A few hours later, we were pleased to take the metro back to our hotel. We were going out to celebrate our wedding anniversary in the evening and decided that a short nap was the order of the day.
The restaurant was in the area known as Connaught Place (known locally as CP), in the heart of New Delhi and built by the British and another commercial hub, but much more up market than the Old City. We had arranged a car and driver for the evening. It was a true eye opener to cross Delhi in the evening rush hour, with thousands of people wandering the streets. We soon noticed the road blocks and Police everywhere – our driver indicated that security was very tight ahead of the Independence Day celebrations on January 26th. Alf quickly spotted dozens of people sleeping rough under bridges – the bridges probably provided favored and sheltered spots for the night. The first day had quickly reminded us of India’s extremes of wealth and poverty but it really had our attention.
We arrived at the restaurant, named Zaffron, and even though we only ordered two starters and one main course between us, we soon felt we had over-ordered. For starters we had some tandoori chicken and fish tikka. The main course consisted of a mutton Rhogan Gosht curry, ochre and steamed Basmati rice. The restaurant specialized in authentic North Indian cuisine. We were absolutely delighted with the meal and think that it was probably the finest Indian cooking that we had ever tasted – everything was delicately cooked and the spices were just right – even the house wine was excellent! So, it was a nice touch after 31 years! We returned to our hotel and started to anticipate the possible delights that the next day would hold in store.
Watch this space!