I promised I would return to Delhi and I did.
You really need a minimum of 7 days to check out the city in any sort of meaningful way, and I imagine that after months if not years of exploration there would still be a ton to see. The city is HUGE. Taking the subway to the airport from the middle of the city, even though the airport is not in the burbs by any stretch, takes the better part of 80 minutes notwithstanding the fact that the subway stations are so far apart that it is actually an efficient way to get around (assuming the subway goes where you need it to go). I was astonished at the sheer number of majestic sites all over the city. On several days I visited 3-4 sights that had they been situated in different cities would be worth a multiple hour journey a piece.
Travelling on my own now and needing to cover huge swaths of the city, I could no longer afford to travel by tuk tuk. 4-5 x $4 CDN multiple rides a day add up pretty fast on your own. Fortunately, once you get a handle on the public transportation system, it is actually very good, and ridiculously cheap. And traffic is so bad that going on a bus is almost as inefficient as taking a cab (alas tuk tuks are much faster because they can weave in and out of traffic).
However, you need to know some things about the public transit system in Delhi to start off on the right foot. First, the subway while very fast and cheap, is like the Toronto subway system, huge swaths of the city are completely inaccessible via subway, in particular the southeastern part of the city. I ended up getting an unlimited subway pass for 5 days for about $3 CDN a day which I actually didn’t really pay off in use (but paid off in convenience in not having to line-up for tokens)–I erroneously thought it covered buses in the city as well. Silly me, the diagrams of freaking buses on the the card didn’t mean you could actually use the card on buses. Gee whiz why would I have thought that I could? It is hard to be bitter though, I paid an average of 30 cents for bus rides as long as one hour.
Here’s the main thing to know about using buses: nobody knows what they hell they are talking about when it comes to buses with one exception. So what you have to do is essentially treat the bus like the subway, using major avenues as if they were subway lines. Google maps tells you what buses you need to take, but it sucks in terms of the directions for finding the bus stops and it’s a fool’s errand to try and find them. Instead, just head to the nearest bus stop that seems to be conducive to going in the desired direction. DO NOT ask random people on the street what bus to take or where you can take it. I’m no exaggerating when I say that NOBODY knows anything yet they’ll willingly provide information that is totally wrong. The best approach is just to go to the aforementioned bus stop, get on any given bus (always on the rear as that is where the fellow that sells you the ticket is stationed) and tell the ticket seller where you are going. Trust me on this, the ONLY people you can trust to tell you which buses to take are the people selling you the tickets around the same vicinity to your desired route. Nobody else knows what they are talking about.
In terms of getting to your hotel from the airport, public transport is the best way. In the airport terminal where I landed (domestic arrivals), I needed to take a bus that connected us to the subway system, but it only cost 60 cents. The international terminal is connected directly to the airport express line. The main line that connects you to the general subway system is not part of the subway so it costs about $3 CDN to make it to the subway line. After that you’ll need to buy another token for about $1-2 CDN to get to your destination on the subway, depending on where you are going. You need to tap your token at the turn stile to enter, and then you need to tap the token and deposit it to get out at your destination.
Anyways, in terms of my accommodation this time along, I picked a fantastic family hotel in the same area that I stayed at for my first visit in September, The Hotel Sunstar Residency, near the Karol Bagh subway station. If you stay in the thick of things, the area is a bit too hectic, but my hotel was ideally situated in a quiet chunk of the neighbourhood.
I took it fairly easy on my first night back. I just had a mellow dinner and some drinks, and called it an early night because I had a busy morning planned.
Which brings me to an excellent aspect of my time in Delhi–turns out that Tim from the first leg of my Drago trip was in Delhi to catch the second leg of the Drago trip I continued onto back in September, so we got to hang out on my second day back in Delhi.
We started off at the amazing Qutb complex, with history going back as far as the 8th century C.E., though most of the buildings are from the 14th century. First, we have the Alai Darwaza gateway to the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque which was built by the second Khilji Sultan of Delhi, Ala-ud-din Khilji in 1311 C.E.:
The tall structure behind it is the Qutb Minar, which is the tallest brick minaret in the world. It is built in the Afghan style:
The nearby tomb of Imam Zamin:
The remains of the Qubbat-ul-Islam mosque which was started in 1193 C.E. by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak:
In front of the mosque is the famous Iron Pillar, built in the late 4th century C.E. by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. It is a metallurgical curiosity because of its resistance to corrosion despite being made of iron:
This is the bottom of the Alai Minar, which was going to be two times taller than the Qutb Minar. However, construction ceased in 1316 soon after the death of Sultan Alauddin Khilji who had commissioned the landmark. You can get a sense of the enormous scale from the two people at the front of the photo:
I don’t think we ever figured out what this mosque is. It’s a lovely structure but it does not appear to be used as a holy site any longer–currently it appears to house a number of homeless folk:
Nearby was the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. This place is a real treasure in Delhi. For some reason it’s not on the tourist radar and it is smack in the middle of an enormous park in Delhi. It doesn’t feel like you are in a large city at all as you wander around checking out the ruins.
A step well on the way to the Park:
The Mehrauli Archaeological Park:
A shot of a money exchange shop on the way to our next destination:
We backtracked to the mosque with the homeless people to find the Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah. It’s in the middle of a large maze-like bazaar but given that everyone around the place wants to take your shoes and sell you the offerings for the temple, it is remarkably easy to find. Unfortunately, they were pretty strict about dress code and it was tough to tell whether taking photos was allowed so I only managed to get one decent shot of the religious area around the shrine to the Sufi saint. Even though it’s an Islamic site, to me it felt a lot more like a Hindu holy site:
Shot of the surrounding neighbourhood:
About a 1.5 km walk away was Delhi’s India Gate:
After that we went off for lunch at an excellent chain restaurant called the Hotel Saravana (not an actual hotel). I’d been to this chain before in Chennai and it’s excellent and is consistently packed with locals. There’s apparently a branch out in Mississauga for those of you who live in the GTA.
The following morning I was on my own again and I started off the morning exploring Old Delhi. My first destination was the massive Red Fort complex from the 17th century, built by the Shah Jahan (the fellow who commissioned the Taj Mahal and was subsequently imprisoned by his son):
The Lahore Gate:
The Naubat Khana, housing the Indian War Memorial Museum on the second floor:
The Diwan-i-Aam which was used as the public audience hall and for state functions:
Shahi Burj, the personal study of the Shah:
The Moti Masjid, known as the Pearl Mosque, which was built in the 1650’s as a private mosque for the ruling family:
The Rang Mahal, used by the emperor’s wives and mistresses:
Some shots of some of the lesser visited buildings inside the fort:
Two shots of the outside of the fortress wall:
I took a 5 minute rickshaw ride south to the Sunehri Masjid, known as the Golden Mosque, built in the 17th century:
When I got back to the entrance to the Red Fort I went on a bit of a walking tour west for a kilometre or so, starting with the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir. It was built in 1656 and is said to be the oldest Jain temple in Delhi:
Some general shots from my walk through Old Delhi:
That night I went off to a restaurant that is a bit of a hipster joint but had received decent reviews. The tuk tuk ride wasn’t exactly cheap as it was not particularly near my hotel. The place had cool decor and the food was mediocre, but I thought it worthwhile in the end to check out a trendy spot in Delhi:
The following morning I decided to tackle the various sites in the southeastern part of the city, starting with the Purana Qila complex, constructed by the Afghan ruler Sher Shah in the 16th century:
The Sher Mandal, used as a library:
The Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque:
The moat surrounding Purana Qila:
A shot of the street right outside:
Two kilometres down the road is the complex holding Humayun’s Tomb. As the name would suggest, it is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, and it was commissioned by Humayun’s son, Akbar, between 1569 & 1570:
You get one free guess on what famous Agra tomb this place inspired …
One of the things I love about Delhi is that it’s a city of 16+ million, yet this is not an unusual sight, a camel on a major avenue not employed for tourism purposes:
This is the Lotus Temple, otherwise known as the Bahai House of worship, designed by the Indo-Canadian architect, Faribuz Sahba in the 80’s. Wish I could have taken some pictures inside but I made there it 30 minutes past closing:
I finished my night off checking out the Hauz Khas neighbourhood in south Delhi. It’s a a major tourist area, remedied only by the fact that the locale has some cool archeological sites and bars with pretty decent design interspersed:
Some of the streets off the beaten path around Hauz Khas:
Remember my time in Mumbai and my love of the Social bars in that city? I was happy to discover that Delhi has a Social bar as well, Hauz Khas Social:
I want to give you the authentic Delhi experience–this was my public transit voyage back to my hotel:
On my last full day in Delhi, I started off by tackling Safjardang’s Tomb, built in the mid-18th century as the Mughal empire was coming to an end–though you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell by the scale of the project:
A short distance away is the grand Nehru park, which was unfortunately a little too dusty when I visited:
Another short walk away is Teen Murti Bahavan that was built by the British in the 1930’s to house the British Commander-in-Chief of India. After India gained independence, the building became the residence of India’s first Prime Minister for 16 years until his death in 1964. The building now houses a museum and library:
After the residence, I had a lengthy bus ride to the International Museum of Toilets. The start of my journey:
The area around the museum is not particularly affluent:
After more than an hour on public transit and a twenty minute walk, I arrived at the International Museum of Toilets less than an hour before closing. I did kind of go on a lark, but when I read up about the museum I was impressed by the Sulabh organization. The organization essentially regards access to toilets as a fundamental human right, and so they built top-notch facilities around the world in neighbourhoods lacking basic sanitation. When you think about out it, good public sanitation has done a lot more to reduce mortality around the world than modern medicine so the mission is an admirable one:
The Incinolet is a Canadian designed toilet that, as the name would suggest incinerates feces and urine, leaving ash as the only waste product:
Seeking an original gift for young children? Look no further than the adorable Pee & Poo plush toys:
The following morning, I boarded a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka in the afternoon. My four months in India were truly remarkable. Even after all that time, there still remains a chunk of the far north that I was not able to check out because the roads up there close from October to June due to snow. I’m in the process of planning a return trip to India in August so this may not be my last India post.
I’ll leave you with a few shots of my last night in town: