Delhi & round and round and on to Agra! Wed 17 March – Sat 10 April 2010 .
As I type (Friday 26 March) we seem to have been stuck in Delhi a lot longer than planned. We knew we had to pull up here for a while to do a few jobs - mainly car and camera maintenance.
As mentioned before our digital camera has not been working to capacity for a while - there is something seriously wrong with its circuit board and we go through batteries at a ridiculous rate - which is really hard when we are "on the road" and don't always have access to ready power. We'd had the camera mended at Olympus in Delhi last time we visited but it was not working well again so we'd been waiting to get to Delhi to get it fixed once more. As if it knew, as we left Jaipur to drive to Delhi the camera finally gave up the ghost and died. Having braved the traffic to get it straight to the repair centre we were dismayed that now they no longer repair waterproof digital cameras there in Delhi (which is maybe why it went wrong before!) and it has to be shipped off to Mumbai - which will take GOK how long. Furthermore there is an outside chance it might not be worth repairing - in which case we'll have to replace it. This is further complicated by the fact that the new version of this camera (the 8010) has not long been released. No one can tell us when it will hit Delhi it was "next week" all last week and still no sign. So, frustratingly, we await firm news as we can't venture on camera-less. On a brighter note Olympus have agreed to provide us with a "service camera" whilst ours is being fixed so we can still take pictures.
In the meantime we have been dealing with various other chores as well as seeing a few of the sights of Delhi we skipped on our previous trips. I have to say I really don't find Delhi the easiest of cities. Maybe it's the heat - the papers are reporting that at 38 degrees it is unseasonably hot for March - but getting around the city feels like wading through treacle- the heat dust and pollution really sap your energy. The traffic is also a nightmare - getting one job done tends to take the whole day when you factor in driving time - it is particularly atrocious at the moment as the deadline for the Commonwealth Games approaches - around 200 days left- and the preparations become frantic resulting in a lot of diversions from the normal route which really throw us.
It really doesn't look like anything will be ready for the CG - but who knows. The Indians are incredibly entrepreneurial and will probably pull it together and there's a lot of labour available here so they can throw more hands at it as the date approaches. Some areas like Connaught Place (CP) the central business and shopping centre are like building sites and you have to climb ramps and slog through sand to get to the shops. No OH & S here!! A further frustration was that a couple of times we spent hours getting to a car workshop only to find that it was shut due to a very specific Hindu holiday that not everyone celebrates. India abounds with these holidays -but in a city as spread out as Delhi this was particularly irritating. Thus far we've driven over 500 km just around the city in under 2 weeks!
Anyway as we drive through the dust and heat at least we are getting to see a fair bit of Delhi. We have just come to the end of a search for a new kit for our brake master cylinder (more Andrew's area of expertise than mine!) which has taken us from the posher suburbs of New Delhi full of big hotels and embassies (as well as Khan Market - so the rich have somewhere convenient to get their cars serviced!) to the chaotic markets of Kashmir Gate in the old city. All's well that ends well and we finally found the necessary part and as I type we're in Toyota getting it fitted. Big thanks go to Gary and his wife who run Grewal Auto Store in Khan Market. We met Gary in Chandigarh (he is a friend of the Dhandes) and it was just by lucky chance that we ran into him here. He was really helpful pointing Andrew in the right direction and providing us with reviving shade and cold drinks at just the right time!
On the subject of big thanks we were also really pleased to return to Maxxis and pick up 2 of our 6 new tyres - the remaining 4 stay in storage to be picked up on our final trip through Delhi when we head towards the Wagah border before passing into Pakistan. Olympus had by now provided us with a camera to use whilst ours was repaired and we got out there to take some pictures of the Maxxis team when the camera died! We had to reschedule for the next day (more Delhi traffic - groan!) and in the meantime get back to Olympus to get a camera which worked. That's so quick to type but about 8 hours driving time! Thanks so much to Raj and his team who let us recuperate in their air-conditioning and more importantly thanks so much to all at Maxxis for getting the tyres brought in from Thailand for us. They really are fantastic tyres and we're thrilled to have them and have Maxxis as a sponsor and look forward to lots of happy motoring! We also got our new improved Maxxis stickers on, check out Maxxis's great range of products on their website at www.maxxis.com
A big thank you is also due to Mobil1 who have agreed to sponsor us for the oil we need for our oil changes. As mentioned previously Mobil1 have already sponsored us in Nepal but now India are also coming on board which is fantastic. On a journey like this one which has some very arduous moments you really need 100% reliability from your vehicle so we're very particular about the products we use. Since beginning to use Mobil1 oil shortly after we arrived in India we have been really pleased with its performance and we're sure they'll help us to make it to the UK in one piece! We're also in the process of being fitted up for our new Mobil1 stickers ..picture to follow! Thanks to Dinesh, Panna and the team at Mobil1 for all their help. See more about their great products on www.exxonmobil.com
So anyway despite the (many) hours spent in traffic and camera and car matters (and swinging by the Nepalese embassy to sort out our next visa - Bangladesh to follow!) we did manage to fit in a small amount of "tourist stuff."
On Sunday 21 March we headed off to see the Red Fort (or Lal Qila) the landmark by which we negotiate our way around the city as the road to the Tibetan Colony where we stay is just next to it. We'd skipped seeing this before being a bit "forted out" but after a break we felt ready to begin again. Built by Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) between 1638 & 1648 it is an imposing building in red (duh!!!) sandstone built by the Mughals at the peak of their power.
It's hard to imagine that the river used to flow right though it and around the moat - it's dry as a bone now. There are a variety of gardens and buildings including a mosque inside. It had a pleasantly shady garden and was interesting enough - though definitely nowhere near Agra fort in the impressive stakes - so see that if you only feel like doing one!
We took a cycle rickshaw down towards Raj Ghat but on the way stopped to have a look at some of the Sunday book stalls. There I was really thrilled to find JG Farrell's "The Siege of Krishnapur. " I'd been looking out for this book (which I studied for 'O' levels about 100 years ago) since visiting Lucknow where the original siege it was loosely based on happened and luckily I found it at the bottom of a pile of old text books. I really enjoyed it - a good find!!
Raj Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna river marks the site where Gandhi was cremated. This memorial is visited by people from all over the world - there is a beautiful garden and a flame burns in the great man's memory. Sadly our camera battery died (we are not having a good time camera wise!) before we got any pictures- we hope to drop by and take some prior to leaving -who knows if we'll manage! We did !!!
We then visited the nearby Gandhi Memorial Museum -which had a wealth of informatiabout the great man including the blood splattered dhoti he was wearing when he was shot and the offending bullet. I'm sure we've seen the blood covered dhoti in a previous museum (Pune?) maybe he was wearing a few of them! There were some telephones which had a recording of one of Gandhi's speeches which you could listen to which was interesting as was the whole museum though the heat and crowds were a bit overwhelming. More information can be found at on the museum's site at www.gandhimuseum.org
We also managed to see the Bahai temple on Wednesday 24 March- which was the day when all the car businesses were shut for some unknown holiday. There are only 7 of these temples in the world - one being very close to our house in Narrabeen which we've driven past loads of times but never made it inside, though Andrew has visited one of the other temples in Samoa.
The Bahai religion was founded by a young man known as the Bab (or "the Gate") in Persia or what is now Iran. After proclaiming himself as a new spiritual leader he was cruelly persecuted by the authorities for heresy and eventually martyred in 1850. His beliefs which became a religion lived on through his followers - who continue to be persecuted in Iran to this day. It seems a harmless religion preaching total equality and that all religions are equal in terms of being paths to God "the earth is one country and mankind its citizens. " Thus it encourages all people and all faiths to join together to worship the creator in a prejudice free environment. Sounds better than most religions I know!
Akka (once Palestine now Israel) is their spiritual HQ after their leader Baha-u- llah was banished and died there, and there is a huge temple/memorial to him there which looks worth a visit one day.
All the Bahai temples are built to a similar design having 9 sides - 9 is the highest digit and apparently symbolizes "comprehensiveness, oneness and unity." This one built in 1986 by an Iranian architect now living in Canada was really impressive, a fact reflected by the fact it won numerous architectural awards and was lauded as a "modern day Taj Mahal." Built to resemble a lotus flower and surrounded by 7 cooling pools the architecture is stunning. You could have a look inside (lovely and cool despite the heat outside) and see the visitors' centre for free. It made us wish we'd made more effort to see the one in Sydney. Talking of Sydney it really reminded us both of the Opera House. To learn more about the building of the temple or the Bahai faith have a look at www.bahaindia.org.
One other religious place we were keen to have a look at was the Qutb Minar a complex of Afghani style buildings which date from the initial arrival of Islam in India. The central tower is supposedly a victory tower to commemorate the defeat of the preceding Hindu kingdom. It's fairly imposing at 73 metres high and tapers in diameter from 15 metres at the bottom to 2.5 at the top. It was built by Qutb-ud-din in 1193 though only to the first storey the rest were added a couple of centuries later.
Right next to it is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid or Might of Islam Mosque -the first mosque ever built in India in 1193 also by Qutb-ud-din. The Mosque was built out of destroyed Hindu and Jain temples as a plaque on the wall confirms and you can see bits of Hindu architecture everywhere. Various extensions and additions were added over the following centuries.
There is also an iron pillar in the mosque's courtyard 7 m high which pre-dates the mosque - probably being from outside a former Hindu temple - dating from around 375 AD. The pillar remains a bit of a mystery as it has never rusted and scientists still can't understand how an iron of this purity could have been cast with the technology of that time.
There is also an incomplete tower the Alai Minar - built by Ala-ud-din this was planned to be twice the size of the Qutb Minar but he only got to 27 metres before dying and no one else could be bothered to take on the project. There were a few semi derelict tombs and palaces in the complex and a nice shady garden to escape the heat of the streets making it a nice spot to wander for a few hours.
We were hungry by this time so (based on the advice of the LP) we headed to the nearby "Olive Bar and Kitchen." We had noticed that the area was pretty up market but from the way the LP talked we expected a casual Mediterranean villa style café where we'd have a sandwich. It was way more up market than that - which we quickly realized when we were met by a valet parker!! The villa style building contained a little complex with a beauty spa and an up market dress shop set around the gorgeous shady courtyard. We weren't sure whether to bolt (on financial grounds) or stay but the waiter had already opened a bottle of mineral water (110 rupees vs. the usual 15!) so we decided to make the best of it. Besides it was lovely to sit down out of the sun!
Sadly we didn't feel we could justify a bottle of wine (all over 2,000 rupees - around $50 Aus) but we had a really nice meal - though we'll have to adjust the budget for the rest of the week! The food was superb - definitely recommend it for a splurge.
As interesting as the food (almost) were our co-lunchers. We really don't move in these circles so it was an experience to see the rich Delhi-ites (well their wives!) at play. We had a table full of very glam ladies behind us - lots of gold and miniskirts - which you don't see in a lot of India (the miniskirts that is gold is actually everywhere!) and they were quaffing the wine to our envy! The overheard conversations were a bit different to many in India too .."So I said to him …there's no way I can take the trip to Paris before my divorce comes through ..yaaa…." You could be in Double Bay Sydney - or Covent Garden London! We were near the diplomatic core and the place was full of well heeled multi-national embassy wives too. A very different Delhi to much of what we've seen.
After this - back to earth with a bump- we headed back to our hotel. Yes ..we are finally defeated even we can't camp in Delhi!- at the Tibetan Colony of Majnu-ka-Tilla where we stay at Wongdhen House as we have previously. Whilst the people here remain lovely and it's an interesting spot - maybe it's the time of year but this whole area does seem to have got a bit grubbier than we remember. The guest house is well cleaned but the river stinks and the mozzie's are incorrigible - just too many people crowded in here I guess. The atmosphere is friendly though and you're never far away from a plate of steaming momos (gorgeous Tibetan little dumplings) so we can't really complain.
We also met a really nice couple from Wellington NZ (we didn't hold being Kiwis against them!) Diana and Julian. We enjoyed their company and even sneaked in an illicit beer to enjoy on the balcony for their last night! Julian is actually a professional photographer and has taken many pictures of the area which are bound to be better than ours (when we do get a camera that works!) so have a look on his site www.julianward.co.nz Hope you had a safe journey home guys.
So as at Friday 26 March as I type we're at Toyota getting the oil change (thanks again to Mobil1) and eagerly awaiting news of the camera's ETA so we can start the drive east.
Fri 26 Mar - Sat 10 April 2010
As I type on Saturday 10 April we are back in Agra once more staying at the Laurie Hotel. Andrew is across the road working with the upholstery man who mended our shower tent when we were last here getting a new wheel cover made for our new Maxxis tyres, as well as getting a puncture repaired at the shop next door and I'm sitting under the fan updating this. It's HOT HOT HOT!! - 30 degrees by 8.30am - with the promise of only getting hotter. Word on the street is it should hit 47 degrees by next week- oh joy! This is when car camping gets tough and we are in the wrong season weather-wise as we head towards Bangladesh which will be even hotter.
We spent the rest of the time in hot sticky dusty Delhi in Majnu-ka-Tilla the Tibetan colony. There we met our old friends the shoeshine boys and the ear cleaners going about their business as well as multitudes of beggars. Since we were there last the banks of the river are once more fertile and green - they'll be underwater again by September as they were when we were last there and everyone will be fishing around rescuing their possessions.
As you should know by now we both really like India but we do meet people who hate it. I think a lot of those people land in Delhi and don't travel around enough to change their initial impressions. Delhi is hard work - the heat the traffic and the incredible poverty. This seems to be worse than ever -we saw some awful sights. One that sticks in my mind was an amputee - he had his leg stump wrapped in plastic tied up with string from which you could see gushing blood and he was dragging himself through the traffic to beg - it was truly sickening. Kids with no shoes begging are everywhere - not sure if they are moving in for the forth coming Commonwealth Games or if they are displaced -as attempts are made to tidy up the area in readiness for this. Really awful.
Not sure if we've mentioned before but there have been some changes to the Indian visa rules. As detailed before we had a bit of a struggle on to get our last one in Nepal so we are a bit concerned re: going for our 3rd 6 month one. The new ruling says you have to have a 2 month gap between visas - which means that we'll have to spend 2 months in Bangladesh when we only really meant to have a quick look. Apparently in "special circumstances" this can be waived - but no one can define these SC's for us. We'll have to play it by ear. In the meantime we got both our Nepal and Bangladesh visas so that's all done. For the latter we had hoped to use our virgin UK passports - as this cost 3,500 rps ($85 Aus approx) for a visa versa $5,400 ( $131 Aus) for the Aussie ones. Sadly as we have been travelling on our Aussie ones and this is where our paper trail was this wasn't allowed - damn!
We also spent many happy(!!!) hours in the heat going round Kashmir Gate Market - Asia's largest car market. Actually we shouldn't complain there were a lot of workers there - mainly delivering things by rickshaw - who were doing it far harder than us in the heat! This market is immense - 17,500 shops in all - and we managed to source all the new spares we needed so we now have a full kit once more. Olympus also finally agreed to bear the cost of mending our camera - as the problems with it began whilst it was still under warranty - so all in all we kicked a few goals. The only ongoing problem is the fridge - it is not cycling properly and staying at too high a temperature. We tried to track down a specialist in Delhi but ended up more confused than when we started! We intend to email Engel's technical people in Oz to see if they can shed any light, as they were really helpful last time. Meanwhile we are running at luke warm rather than cold!
Whilst all the above was a bit of a chore we did manage to see some sights whilst in Delhi. Whilst driving over 1,000 km around the city (!!!) we saw the Gandhi statue which appears on the 500 rupee note. We also met up with our friend Kush whose wedding we attended in Jaisalmer last December. Kush was in town on business for a few days and we really enjoyed catching up with him. We met him at the Imperial Hotel which was amazing. The top hotel in Delhi (and one of the top hotels in the world) this ornate art deco building dates from 1931. Built by a Sikh royal family the hotel has hosted rock stars and royalty and was the where Gandhi and Mountbatten met several times to discuss the whole patrician issue. Sadly the service camera wasn't up to it that day so no pictures but it was beautiful, full of priceless artworks with a lovely ambience. We had breakfast in one of the restaurants - 1911- all in all highly recommended if you're feeling flush! Kush then took us to a nearby Government shopping emporium. We usually avoid these like the plague - indeed the words "shopping emporium" strike terror into the marrow of many tourists in India- but being Government run (and presumably not commission based ) this was actually very relaxed. No one pressed you to buy and we could look around and compare - so we actually bought a couple of things which we don't when we're hassled. Pushy shopkeepers take note!! Andrew got some material to have a few kurtas (the long shirt-like tunic men wear in much of Asia) made and I bought a new (cool) cotton top.
We also saw the proposed rugby pitch for the Commonwealth Games - which was opposite Kush's hotel. Andrew nearly got arrested for taking the enclosed picture of the pitch - not sure why they were so upset but we were glad to have Kush to talk us out of a potentially sticky situation! We intended to see a cricket match too but sadly it was sold out when we rocked up to get tickets. Cricket is incredibly popular here -but when the Delhi Dare Devils are playing at home - forget it as far as getting tickets goes!! We'll try again in Calcutta. We hope to catch up with Kush again on our way east after our visit to Varanasi which is very near his home. We'll look forward to it.
Another interesting diversion was the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. We nearly never made it here as the LP map was wrong wrong wrong!! This made it look like the Museum was in the airport complex and after driving around a few times we attracted the attentions of the security men who made us open the vehicle up! Finally we found it - see their website for address details and take a cab to the Mahavir Enclave - 7 kms or so from the airport!! www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org
We had thought this museum would be a quirky 5 minutes of interest but it was actually far more than that. It was set up by a man who followed Gandhi's work to improve the lives of untouchables or scavengers. These poor people were seen as dirty as their work was to remove human excrement from dry toilets. Due to such dirty work they often got sick and were treated very badly by society a situation which is greatly improved but still exists in pockets to this day. The Museum which employs many scientists (and runs a free medical clinic for poor people) develops good toilet systems for poor and remote communities. They have built 100s of toilet complexes around India an award winning example being one within the Taj Mahal complex in the style of that monument. Wish I'd gone whilst we were there! The extreme importance of their work is reflected by the fact that many international politicians and the (former) Pope have visited this centre. It was really impressive as was the very enthusiastic tour of the loos through the ages - from the first plumbing systems (in Dholavira which we visited - see our Kutch section) to a new fangled Japanese loo which has buttons for washing drying warming and massage as well as piped MP3 music! There was also an old French toilet in the style of a bookcase with all English tomes including Shakespeare. This was designed at a time when tension between the 2 countries ran high and was a way of expressing their contempt for all things English! Nice! Sulabah are doing incredibly good work - very important in India where a horrifying number of people don't have access to toilets. Well worth a visit - admission free and no donations accepted.
One more recommended tourist sight we took in was the mid 16th century Humayun's tomb. Built to intern her husband the Mughal Emperor Humayun by Persian born Haji Begum this is an excellent early example of Moghul architecture. You can see that this style was refined over the years to produce the masterpiece at Agra the Taj Mahal. There are a few more tombs set in the complexes' ornate gardens and it was a beautiful place to walk around at sunset.
After this it being Friday night we headed to the nearby Nizam-Ud-Din's Shrine to hear the qawwali or devotional singing. Nizam-Ud-Din Chishti was a Muslim Sufi saint who died in 1325 aged 92. He is credited with the fall of nearby Tughlaqabad. This crumbling complex was once to be a great city just out of Delhi. When the Tughlaq ruler took workers from where they were busy building the Muslim Saint's shrine to build this city the saint cursed the city saying only shepherds would live there. Bizarrely this is now the case!
The lead up to the Shrine -many stalls crowded in selling rose petals as offerings - was very like the shrine we saw in Ajmer. Ladies aren't allowed inside and neither was Andrew as he was wearing 3/4 length pants - so we just got to watch the action through the jalis or carved screen with the ladies. Afterwards we sat outside and heard some of the singing whilst men with huge fans walked up and down keeping everyone cool. It was really interesting and everyone was friendly. There were quite a few beggars and poor people around as they are fed at this time - financed by Mosque donations - which was nice to see. The decorations were like those at some of the painted Mosques we saw in Kashmir, very lovely.
Finally we saw the National Museum - mainly as on our travels we'd been to many places where they told us that's where the originals of the displayed items were (if they weren't in England!) Thus we saw the originals of many of the artifacts we'd seen in Dholavira. There was also a really impressive display of Rajasthan miniature paintings. Sorry no photos allowed.
Just prior to leaving Delhi we caught up on the phone with Andy Pag. We first heard of Andy (a journalist) last year when he was in Pushkar where he hit the papers for all the wrong reasons! Andy is driving a bio -diesel vehicle a converted school bus from the UK to Australia to raise awareness of the potential for use of organic fuel. He had a satellite phone with him in case of emergencies and because of this (despite the fact he never used it) whilst in Pushkar he was arrested on suspicion of spying and spent 7 days in gaol! Whilst he has now been cleared the whole thing (which must have been majorly distressing) cost him a fortunes in legal fees. This really shook us up as we had seriously looked at getting one of these phones - but decided not to on cost grounds. No one tells you it is illegal so it seems a bit unfair and heavy handed to react like this. Andy is now seeking contributions so he can continue his journey. To make a contribution to this worthy cause or find out more about his trip please see his website - the bio diesel one under the UK section of our website's contact page.
So we're only here for a day in Agra to get our upholstery work done as we've "seen it all before." We head on tomorrow for a day's drive to our next destination the Kama Sutra temple of Khajuraho. We have to leave India (to cross into Bangladesh) by the 21 April - so over the next 10 days we have a long drive ahead of us!