The enticing visit to New Delhi turned out to be a very brief encounter as I travelled across Northern India from Punjab towards Kolkata in West Bengal with Roberto, Jon and Hannah. It was a Wednesday and we were due to stay a couple of nights before heading down to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal on Friday, but a moment of panic struck when we were told that it would be traditionally closed for prayer. That meant we had to cut down our time in the city to an afternoon and hire a taxi to Agra early Thursday morning.After taking an early morning train from Amritsar, Roberto, Jon, Hannah and I touched down in what we expected to be a daunting but alluring metropolis. The encounter with the first set of tuk-tuk drivers in Amritsar set the benchmark for what we might stumble across in our journey throughout India, but to our surprise, we actually felt quite abandoned upon arrival. The city was a far cry from what we expected as we left the station towards the centre of town to drop off our bags at the hotel. We didn’t feel threatened or pressurised in any way as we wandered through the main bazaar, checking out the many small winding alleyways, bustling with kiosks selling all types of merchandise. The streets were much cleaner than expected; much cleaner than our familiar preconceptions of dirt and squalor of India’s slums. A quick bite to eat at one of the local restaurants then changed our minds in an instant as the fears of Delhi belly started to come to fruition. The streets didn’t bear resemblance to the bleakness hidden away behind its façade, the true identity of New Delhi hitting you slap in the face behind closed doors. All four of us looked at each other in anguish at the dining options, all dark, dank and filthy abodes. We eventually just picked what looked like the most hygienic, and prayed for a lucky outcome. In all honesty, the food was delicious, en par with the delicacies we had tasted so far, but we couldn’t help but fear how the food had been prepared behind the scenes. The restaurant was grimy from top to bottom; it looked like the end of shift clean-up took about five minutes, probably using an assortment of soiled cloths. Many of the best places to eat whilst travelling are those that are unkempt, but you just couldn’t help but feel this was beyond the mark.
After lunch, we then embarked on a frantic adventure through the city after bartering with one of the many tuk-tuk drivers. I think it cost about twenty pounds between us to hire a guy who guided us to the main attractions, the usual fracas of traffic greeting us throughout the day.Again, the streets were much cleaner than expected and much more European in appearance, with huge wide main roads in and out of the centre. Around the flanks, many green thriving parks would decorate the city, with old crumbling buildings from the British occupation hiding amongst the new modern style buildings.
Our first point of call was the fascinating Humayun’s Tomb, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.Humuyun was the Second Mughal Emperor of India and his wife commissioned the site some 14 years after his death. The Mughal-style tomb was built in 1570 and was one of the first garden tombs on the Indian subcontinent that later provided inspiration for the creation of the Taj Mahal in Agra. The beautiful lush gardens provided a perfect backdrop to the saturated red sandstone and marble façades. Later, we then stopped off at the Gandhi Memorial – a pleasant and peaceful garden where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 31st January 1947, some 6 months on from the declaration of Indian independence and following on from years of fighting for social reform in India.
This gave us time to learn more about his life and achievements, his battles for a more equal democratic India, his resistance against racism, inequality and brutal treatment by the British, and also the fight for the preservation of Hindu-Muslim relations. From there, we headed off to stroll around another fascinating piece of Mughal Architecture – the Red Fort. This is a 17th century expansive fort-structured palace that served as home to the Mughal Emperors of India, another UNESCO World Heritage site and perfect example of the beautiful architectural achievements of the Mughal era.
A brief stop at the India Gate ended the day before we headed back to the centre of town for an evening spent in some of the local bars, whilst checking out some of the street stalls by night.Although it was nice to see some fascinating architecture and take in the views of the surrounding city, I couldn’t help but feel that throughout the day, we didn’t really see the true New Delhi, and being the fleeting visit it was, just packed in as much of the touristy parts as possible. But, India is a vast expansive plane with ever-changing captivations. Time was therefore a scarcity on this trip with more variety to be seen outside the metropolis life we are used to back home. There was much more excitement held for what was to come…
Further Reading on New Delhi
New Delhi Tourism
UNESCO – Humayun’s Tomb
UNESCO – The Red Fort
More Photography :
“The India Collection” by Antematters