|Our Really Big Adventure|
| The line of fume billowing
trucks rumbled mysteriously through the night, their secrecy obvious by
their lack of lights compounded by a thick mist that you would normally
associate with 18th century London not Delhi. We had just woken our taxi
driver outside Delhi International Airport. He was lying in the front seat
of his cab wrapped in an off-white blanket sound asleep waiting for his
nightly custom. The whole affair had the air of a secret military raid
things were going on, they were very important and we werent meant
Just about all international flights arrive in Delhi in the early hours of the morning, so despite our arrival at 1.30 am arrival, the airport was still fairly busy. Understandably none of the officials looked trilled to be there, as bleary eyed, they went through the red tape necessary to get us into the country. Once we collected our luggage it was time to meet our pre-arrange taxi.
Proving, yet again, my long suspected premonition capabilities, the taxi wasnt there. So we got a pre-paid taxi, and at this stage my stomach muscles were tense and my lower back starting to hurt stress due to the fact that I knew that we were going to get ripped off. Not one to mess with fate we resigned ourselves and got ripped off. We smelt of money.
So slightly harassed, but not raging (it was not as if it was the first time that weve been ripped off by a taxi) we arrived at our hotel, awoke the doorman and crashed into our room.
Our hotel was carefully selected by entering climbing wall and Delhi into the Google search engine. The result was The Legend Inn, probably the only hotel in the world to sport an in situ climbing wall. The wall, in actuality, is hardly impressive yet useable and while one might have expected their dollar to go a bit further in terms of room facilities, I can heartily recommend The Legend Inn.
We woke in Nanda Kot, each room in The Legend Inn is dedicated to a Himalayan Mountain climbed by the owner, Captain Solhi, disorientated but eager to get into the swing of things. We quickly showered and exited into a lobby dominated by the climbing wall. The duty manager spent some time with us as we tried to arrange the means by which we would do the next leg of our journey. This all ended as soon as we realized that we didnt really know what we wanted to do. I have always found that the best thing to do in these situations is either sleep or eat. As we had just got out of bed, we ate.
It was with a certain air of trepidation that we got the taxi into the commercial heart of Delhi, Connaught Circus. Arranged in three or four concentric circles, Connaught circus is the Backpackers spiritual home, with all of the associated rip-offs, touts, scams and fast food joints. We started to learn the lay of the land in my time-honoured fashion, start in the centre and walk in ever increasing circles.
Slowly we came to realize that Delhi isnt the hideous monster that is made to be. Sure there are touts, but generally they are dissuaded by gentle but repeated refusal. This is one of the things I hate about travelling we travel half way across the earth, to see new things and meet new people, and when we get there we refuse even to give the time of day to the locals, out of fear creating a beachhead past our feeble defences.
Everyone talks about Delhi in terms of the colours and the smells, which when combined with the massive poverty causes culture shock. Yes there is horrific poverty with figureless beggars pawing you for change. However, the city does not smell worse, look more colourful or seem more frantic than any Asian city, and far more orderly than some (Saigon or Hanoi). Mind you we have only explored a tiny part of this city, and then only the main tourist area. I doubt we will ever see the squalid slums that house over a third of Delhis population.
We had lunch in an Indian Fast Food restaurant (how can a fast food restaurant have waiter service?). The food was excellent, but nonetheless we worried. We have read so many articles and been given so much advice on how not to get ill when travelling, and we were trying to follow all of it. This seemed pretty much to mean avoiding all foods of any type (fruit, uncooked veg, seafood, anything from food stalls, meat, anything that has been simmering all day, water, ice, etc) then you wont get ill. All that this advice has done is cause us to be slightly paranoid after everything that passes our lips. Half of me thinks that you are going to get ill anyway, so you might as well just glug down a pint of tap water and get it over with. I just dont have the guts.
After lunch we went to visit the Jantar Mantar. We paid our foreigners entry fee of 100 Rupees each (about $2, compared to the Indians price of 5 Rps) and proceeded through the gate. Immediately a gentleman accosted us to offer his services as a guide. Since this was Day 1 in India, we had all our defences up, suspicious of every approach and looking out for the possible scam. A bit of discussion later, and we had agreed a price that all were happy with. In a few days time, well no doubt look back and laugh at ourselves for paying such an exorbitant rate, but our guide was chatty & informative and we appreciated the observatory far more thanks to his explanations.
Maharaja Jai Singh II was a renowned astronomer of the Mughal Empire. Instructed by the Emperor, Mohammed Shah, to correct the calendar and astronomical tables then in use, he first began a huge programme of measurements and observations, and then a huge programme of building. Jantar Mantar translates literally as instruments for measuring the harmony of the heavens, but rather than creating brass instruments for measurement, Jai Singh built structures of brick and marble the largest of which is 20m or more high. With broad sweeping curves, chunky steps and asymmetric lines, they are astonishingly modern in appearance.
Up close, detailed markings can still be seen on some of the instruments. The gauge on the large sundial, the Samrat, is graduated in hours, minutes and seconds, and is reputed to be accurate to within 2 seconds. For two minutes at noon on the equinox, sunlight streams through a small window and illuminates an underground chamber. The parallel with Newgrange and Stonehenge is striking. Other instruments, or yantras, determine horoscopes for newborn babies, auspicious wedding days and dates for future eclipses. All accurately, according to our guide, although I have my doubts about the eclipses.
Tomorrow lots of sight seeing. Friday, joy of
joys, a 15 hour bus journey.