I’m not really sure what I expected from Delhi. Friends, Romans and the Lonely Planet guide warned us of the noise, volume of people and confusion, especially at Delhi Airport, and the general culture shock that we would experience.
On arrival from the short (1.5 hour) flight from Nepal, we had the second smoothest passage through an airport I’ve ever had (the smoothest being in Singapore at 23:00 on a Sunday). Customs was a breeze (visas had been sorted out in London), my bag was off the plane by the time we reached the carousel and a quick trip to the taxi counter with 400 rupees (£4) got us a taxi to our hotel. The streets were pretty quiet and we arrived within 30 minutes at our recuperation spot for the next few days.
We’d decided about halfway through the Annapurna circuit that we wanted to spend (and had earned!) a few days pampered by the pool before committing to further tourist activities. Fortunately there was a deal on a 5-star luxury hotel near Connaught Place in New Delhi that got us in for less that a night at the Luton Airport Travelodge. Some lounging by the pool, a trip to the shops for some fresh (clean) lightweight cotton clothes, some gorgeous food was just the ticket… to give me a mild upset digestive system for the next few days.
The heat was really something. It had been hot in Hong Kong and Kathmandu, but it was hitting 36 degrees in Delhi. That’s too damn hot. Like absolute idiots, we decided to brave these midday temperatures and head to the Red Fort in Old Delhi. Being idiots who like walking and taking public transport in cities, we decided to walk to the metro, take that to near the fort and then walk down Chadni Chowk (a huge bazaar street) to the fort. This was, well, quite intense. Here we finally got the noise and confusion we’d been warned about, not at all helped by the heat or my dicky stomach. When we finally made it through the traffic to the Red Fort, we found a crumbling remnant of old times, used by kings and maharajas, and subsequently by the British. To be honest it was a bit disappointing, it’s poorly maintained, poorly signed and not very informative. I felt this at the time and it’s even more apparent over a week later having been through Rajasthan (more on which to follow).
What was moving in the Red Fort, however, was the Museum of the Struggle for Indian Independence. Again, it’s not hugely well curated, but the message and the history are powerful enough to overwhelm that. I’ve rarely been to an exhibit that made me feel to proud (of the Indians) and so horrificly ashamed (of being British). What unconscionable shits we were to India. The utter grace, respect and friendliness we have received from almost every Indian we’ve met is an astonishingly impressive legacy of the liberal foresight of the leaders of their revolution. That they achieved their goal (eventually) without demonising their former colonial overseers is one thing, but they also managed to not just bind together an utterly disparate nation, but put front and centre the necessity to break the caste system and educate their mothers and daughters while doing it.
A couple of days into our stop in Delhi we realised that with the week and a half we had left, we weren’t going to be able to see too much under our own steam. So we went via the Indian Tourist agency and organised an 8-day tour of Agra and Rajasthan. A trip to the Indian National Museum, another dip in the pool and we were off to explore beyond Delhi.