Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Delhi Encounter #2: Pickpockets and Skyfall

9th-14th November 2012

Despite being the least deserving, Delhi is the only place we’ve visited on this trip to be given a second chance. For some reason we’d given ourselves a full five days more to spend in the place. We briefly considered holing up in our hotel for the duration but sense prevailed and we decided to give it another go. Who knows, maybe last time we were just unlucky…

It seems that even when Delhi gets things right it gets them wrong. We’d booked a first-class cabin for the sleeper train from Jodhpur. The cabin was fairly big and pretty clean if you don’t mind the odd mouse. We also set off on time which was nice. Even better, we actually arrived in Delhi early. This is usually a good thing but we were meant to arrive at 5.30 am and at 5 am we were awoken by the guards knocking on our door announcing that we were nearly there. By ‘nearly there’ they meant ‘already arrived’ as less than 30 seconds later the train come to a stop. Cue a mad, sleepy scramble to gather our stuff (and wits) and get off the train.

Our hotel had sent a driver to pick us up and by about 9 am they’d managed to clear a room for us so we managed to catch up on lost sleep pretty quickly. Days one and two were spent exploring the local area, Karol Bagh (still mental, but less mental than where we stayed last time) and doing a bit of light shopping along the Main Bazaar. It was all fairly relaxing – even the overly persistent rickshaw drivers weren’t being too annoying. So, on our third day we thought we’d visit a couple of the sights, the Red Fort and Jama Masjid.

We took the metro to Chandni Chowk and to get to the fort we had to fight our way along the bazaar. With Diwali being just around the corner, it was packed. We emerged from the other end hot and bothered but in one piece only for a rogue bicycle to take a chunk out of Karen’s shin. Gritting our teeth we soldiered on.

The Red Fort looks very grand from the outside and we considered going in but after the past couple of weeks we were a bit forted-out so we decided just to take a couple of snaps and go to the mosque instead.

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The Red Fort
This is where things started to get nasty. To get to the mosque we had to walk down Meena Bazaar, packed to the gills with stalls and people. As with any large crowd, there was lots of shoving and jostling but about half-way along we both suddenly became aware that the same few men had been keeping pace with us. They’d been taking it in turns to push in front of us then suddenly stop to either answer a phantom text message or pretend to peruse a stall. Each time this caused the crowd around us to bunch and, during the subsequent jostling, their accomplices were attempting to rifle through my bag. Sure enough, as soon as we stopped and checked we found the bag half-opened. Luckily all the valuables were in my pockets (thank you wallet-on-a-chain) and nothing was missing. The most they would have got was a half-used wet-wipe.

A bit rattled, we made our way to the mosque, took off our shoes (as you do) and walked towards the entrance. Our way was suddenly blocked by a group of very aggressive young men who insisted that we had to pay 300 rupees each for our ‘cameras’. We knew that entry was free and although we had a camera, we had no intention of using it, so refused and tried to walk on. They continued to physically bar our progress although none of them had any official uniforms or ID cards and other tourists were being waved through while this was going on. I don't know why they took a particular dislike to us but judging from similar travellers’ experiences I’ve since read on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, this kind of extortion is common at Jama Masjid. The experience left a really bad taste in the mouth – it’s easily the most uncomfortable and unwelcome I’ve felt anywhere in Asia, and that includes these guys in Vietnam.

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Remember us?
We abandoned the sightseeing for the day and took refuge in our hotel room.

The next day we decided to we needed a bit of insulation so we took ourselves off to a nice clean shopping mall and went to see the new James Bond movie - Skyfall. Sadly it didn't live up to the hype. Bond may be back but that’s only true in the literal sense. The dialogue was stilted and the story unbelievable. Now, that’s true for all Bond movies, but what was missing was the sheer joie-de-vivre and chutzpah that usually accompanies the silliness. (English, French and Yiddish in one sentence - Sugoi!) I want my Bond movies to say to me, “I know this is ridiculous, but just go with it and let’s all have some fun!”

Skyfall tries to take itself a bit too seriously and for me it didn’t really work. Also, like last time, the cinema’s aircon was set to January in Novosibirsk.

So, after four days, my opinion of Delhi was still at pretty low ebb. But it did have one last trick up it’s sleeve – the Lotus Temple.

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The Baha'i Lotus Temple
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Looks like a lotus!
Finally, a place I can unequivocally recommend – free to get in, almost spotlessly clean, well-organised – it’s an oasis of calm amidst the madness. We spent a pleasant hour enjoying the views and the sweet, sweet silence inside the temple itself. (No talking allowed – it’s heaven!)

And so, for the first time in six months, that brings this blog right up to the present moment. I’m writing this in our hotel room listening to the first fireworks of Diwali explode around us. It’s been an amazing six months – we’ve seen and done so much and some of it hasn’t really sunk in yet -  but I think we’re both finally ready to come home.

Do keep checking the blog as in the next week or so I’m planning to put together some of our favourite bits and closing thoughts: a highlights package for those of you that haven’t managed to read all 90 posts! (Shame on you.)

Until then it’s sayonara, zai jian, etc. etc. and we're looking forward to seeing you all again very soon!

Current location: Delhi until tomorrow
Next stop: home

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