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Irene's Adventures

India - Delhi

INDIA | Saturday, 4 September 2010 | Views [794]

We arrived at the stop for this particular bus company – basically a hole-in-the-wall shop on the previously mentioned busy street.  We asked directions to the Tibetan Village, where we intended to stay; straight down the street, take your first right.  The streets are like any street and sidewalk in every other place in the world, except North America.  You walk over loose bricks, piles of sand and gravel, around street vendors and past hole-in-the-wall shops, and of course lots of rubbish.  We turned at the first right (about 100 meters) and it was not so much a street as a lane about 3 meters wide with a high cement wall on either side, and about 50 meters long.  Once into the village we found a nice little hotel, (Potala Guest House), and then showered.  A cold shower never felt so welcome, as the temperature was about 34C at 7:00 am!)

This may be the Tibetan Village, but it was a lot different than McLeod Ganj.  There were loads of begging children and disabled people, all grabbing at us and looking absolutely pathetic.  They didn’t look Tibetan, but Hindi.  They were very annoying; they would grab at us and not let go.  One woman was carrying a small baby and I’m sure I saw her pinch the kid to start crying, as he was perfectly content 5 seconds before, and it was obviously a “hey, that hurt” kind of cry.  We may all speak different languages eventually, but initially every kid’s cry has a universal sound. 

Len’s camera had quit and we decided that we should head directly to a camera repair place, as it may take a few days to fix.  As well, Michaela wanted to check out suppliers for her soon-to-be-created fine fabric creations business – scarves, shawls, cushion covers, table runners, etc.  All made with the finest silk, wool, and pashmina.   A little plug here:  The samples she has collected from various Asian suppliers are unique and beautiful.  The quality is the absolute finest, as she meticulously goes over every detail of workmanship.  She has also visits the factories to make sure they are using ethical labour and standards.  So we decided to go to Connaught Place, if you can’t find it there, you won’t find it anywhere.

How does one describe mayhem?    Delhi will be hosting the Commonwealth Games in mid-October and they are terribly behind schedule.  As one gent explained, the bureaucrats wasted a lot of time in the planning, a lot of money has ‘gone missing’ and the one thing they forgot to consider was the monsoon.  “You cannot combat nature”, was what he said.  As a result, the building of stadiums and venues are not even half complete, with 6 weeks to go.  Refurbishing and beautifying the city has turned into an absolute mess.  Streets are torn apart, sidewalks totally ripped up, building fronts getting face-lifts are either draped in scaffolding and littered with building material or simply chiselled off and left looking like a bomb went off.


Connaught Place is a huge circular complex of Emporiums and exquisite shops. The entire circular face has a covered walkway fronted with huge white columns (getting repainted), giving it a very grand appearance.   It is several kilometres in circumference with a huge underground Palika Bazaar in the very center.  The cycling event is to take place at this location for the Games.  They did a trial run the day before we arrived and two cyclists were injured due to the rubble and state of the street.  There was a picture in the paper where you could hardly make anything out, due to the dust – which turns to mud the second the rain starts. 


Now you have to bear in mind that construction sites in India are not what you see in Canada.  The scaffolding is bamboo and looks very haphazard; there are multitudes of men re- plastering the buildings by hand, with multitudes more mixing the plaster on the ground, or sidewalk, with pedestrians walking right through the middle of it all.  The sidewalks are also being redone.  The large slate and marble tiles will be absolutely beautiful when it is finished, but in the meantime, it is being completed in patches.  There seem to be various crews working in random locations, which will all meet at some point.  But it doesn’t seem like they all have the same kinds of tiles or use the same pattern.  The few places that were complete were lovely, and the different tiles and patterns did seem to work out in the end.   What will eventually be green space between the columns and street is a mess of electrical wires, pipes, open manholes, huge sacks of mysterious material, and mud.  Electrical wires hang down over the walkways, in places so low you have to bend down to get past them.  Absolutely nothing is cordoned off.  It is all a case of walker beware.


The central hub of Connaught Place is the huge circular, underground Palika Bazaar, which is set up in a mall-type layout, with a large main thoroughfares, circular staircases and skylights.  There are (I think) 7 entrances.  You have to go through a metal detector and get your bag checked for the usual bombs and guns.  However, they really appear to be putting in their shift rather than actually checking.  They ask you to open your bag; they look what is immediately on top, give it a little nudge, with the appearance of actually looking past it, and wave you on.  Then they go back to chatting amongst themselves.  Then you descend down an unlit ramp, which has sand, gravel, bricks and old rubble.  You wonder if you are really entering a mall or entering Michael Jackson’s Thriller video or a left over movie set from the Matrix. 


Palika is also under construction.  It looks like a war zone bunker.  The amazing thing is, it is business as usual, despite all the construction.  The only light appears to come from the individual tiny shops, giving it a very eerie feeling.  Imagine your typical industrial construction site, with every conceivable building material imaginable laying about, workers cutting, welding (without face masks) and grinding, wires, conduit, lumber, cement in every junction, the noise, the sparks and the dust, the stairways with no railings, the mezzanines with no railing, the future beautiful skylights obscured with some green algae looking stuff – and there you have Palika.  You also have to remember these shops are not your North American luxury shops. These are the 2 x 3 meter bazaar shops with stuff literally spilling out from them and fellows accosting you as you walk by, waving goods in front of you and shouting out touts ; “silk scarves – many colors” “I have many things” “ would you like to try”. 

underground mall under construction

We found the camera repair place.  Len was a bit apprehensive about having his camera torn apart here, as everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.  But the fellow seemed to know what was wrong with the camera and assured him that he dismantles it in a clean chamber and he could have it ready in 2 days.  Great!  2 days later we went to pick it up and the power was out in the Palika. The power goes out several times a day, so no one seems to notice; hence things carry on as usual. The creepy bazaar just got creepier.  The camera was fixed to Len’s satisfaction, however.

underground mall under construction

I’m sure this refurbishing will all look very nice when it is all completed.  The government has urged people to “re-double their efforts” and have been encouraging civilians to help complete the city’s attempt to impress the Commonwealth, and the world.  In reality, there is no way it will ever be done on time.  I am left to wonder if, after the Games, the construction will continue to completion or will it simply stop, with billions of dollars (not rupees) over budget and no need to impress anyone any longer.

I had a parcel of gifts (yes, some of you lucky readers get goodiesJ) to send off.  I certainly didn’t want to carry the extra weight for the duration of the trip. Len’s keyboard for his laptop got mouldy in McLeod Ganj and quit, so he went to the computer part of Dehli, 1400 shops dealing with computers, parts and repairs all in one area, while Michaela and I decided to take my package to the post office.  Now if I were to tell you that I went to the post office in any town in Alberta, we would both yawn with the mundane of that statement.   THIS was an adventure!

The lady at our hotel told us Kashmiri Gate post office was the nearest one.  We knew Kashmiri Gate was close by, as we went through it on the Tube (subway).  We decided to take a bicycle rickshaw, as they are cheaper and we thought it would be a fun experience.  The guy didn’t speak English, but some other rickshaw drivers translated where we needed to go.  That in itself should have been a warning.  Off we go.  These bicycle rickshaw guys are in tremendous shape.  They haul passengers and goods up and down hills and over, oftentimes, gravel streets as well as manoeuvring through heavy traffic.  You typically see them standing and pedalling, hunched over the handlebars and sweating buckets.  I videoed parts of our ride, for those interested. 

After 15 or 20 minutes he pulls up to Kashmiri Gate tube station.  NO!  We want the post office near Kashmiri Gate.  Yes, yes....  We didn’t go far when we realized he was totally lost.  Michaela kept asking him if he knew the way.  Yes, yes....   We insisted he ask directions.  He stopped at a convergence of tuktuks and rickshaws and jabbered something in Hindi.  It was about then that we realized he didn’t know what a post office was.  We piped up and motioned to the parcel and said ‘Post Office’.  Ah, post office.....   Jabber, jabber, arms waving – all in a different direction – jabber, jabber, nod, nod, off we go.  We went down some of the shabbiest streets I have ever seen in my life.  I’m sure it was the slum district of Delhi.  I can only imagine the shanty towns being worse.  We soon started seeing some of the same things – we were going in circles.  We told him to ask directions again.  Motion to the parcel, Post Office, ah, jabber, jabber, arms waving (you really have to see this arm waving thing they all do, it is quite unique) and off we go again.  After a few more of these sessions, and an hour later, we finally had a fellow motion to follow him, on his bicycle, and he led us to the post office.  It was pretty much across the street from Kashmiri Gate tube station.  I did get some great shots from the rickshaw, however.


Ok, now we are at the post office.  Again, pretty mundane, right?  Wrong!  First of all you have to get the parcel wrapped, in a white canvas, by a guy located outside; literally outside with a small wooden table, heaps of canvas stuff, a large needle and thread and wax seals.  While he stitches the package, we forced our way to the counter to get a customs form.  There is really no polite way of getting a thing like a form from a counter, as there is always someone arguing with the agent and numerous other people pushing forward to get his attention.  While I filled out the form, Michaela went to check on the stitching.   I was apprehensive about leaving the parcel with this guy on the street, but apparently he is very trustworthy.  Then we had to argue with the agent about sending the parcel by land and sea, rather than air.  ‘Not possible’.  Michaela got all over him saying she had just sent a parcel by land/sea 2 weeks ago, it IS possible!  Head bobble (the sideways bobble which neither means yes or no, which everyone does) ok, ok... counter number 7 for sea/land.   Counter 7 has a lady that has been standing there since we arrived, 15 minutes ago.  She is waiting, waiting, waiting, there is no agent there.  There are about 12 milling about, but none at this counter.   In the meantime, we are standing beside her, to use the counter to hold the package – it was heavy – and these fellows come muscling their way in between us and the lady.  Again, you can’t be polite.  We made ourselves big, taking up as much space as possible and standing on either side of the lady, to prevent others from sneaking in.  Finally, the agent returns, with what appears to be a supervisor and her transaction gets completed.  Then she wants some form stamped.  He says no and hands it back to her.  She started tearing a strip off him and dropped the form right in front of him.  He says not and hands it back.  She didn’t even accept it, but continued tearing a strip off him even more aggressively.  Finally, he does the head bobble and stamps the form.  I haven’t got a clue what that was all about, but it was a good example of how aggressive those lovely sari clad women can be.  We got the parcel sent off.  Ride to post office, 1 hour, time in post office ½ hour, ride back to guest house 15 minutes.  Adventure, timeless!

Let me explain how one goes about purchasing things in India.  First of all you select what you want, be it a gift box, roll of tape, granola bar, or clothing.  Most things are behind a large wooden counter with someone ‘serving’ you.  I use the word ‘serving’ loosely.  If you want to see a scarf, the man (mostly men, women work on the road construction sites – weird) will literally throw about 10 scarves on the counter for you to look at.  If you say, “I don’t like this color” he’ll throw 10 more, same color, in front of you.  They have no concept of color coordination and will try to tell you that the hot pink scarf looks ‘veddy good’ with your red shirt, and will keep pulling out things until there is a mountain of material in front of you.  If there was something you were interested in, it is buried under the mountain.

You then make your selection and they give you a receipt which you have to take to another counter to pay.  This counter will take your money, and stamp the receipt as paid, so you can go to yet another counter to collect your items, which they bundle up nicely in used newspaper (plastic bags are outlawed in India – the one thing they do have over us!)  After collecting your purchased items, you get checked by the guard at the door.  It is clearly evident that no one is trusted with both merchandise and cash at the same time.  It is all rather labour intensive, but with the annual income just under $900 a year, I guess it is best to triple check everything than to raise prices due to theft.  A small restaurant we went into had 17 employees that we could see and count, one to seat you, one to bring you the menu, one to bring the food, one to clear the table, etc.  Of course the owner NEVER does anything except watch over and collect the money.  It is a 3 man affair even to buy a roll of tape.

A quick mention of the tube stations is in order.  They are ultra modern and air conditioned, which is an absolute must having witnessed and experienced people jamming into the carriages like sardines.  Again, one goes through metal detectors, package x-ray and frisking.  There are signs reminding people that spitting is prohibited.  They chew this tobacco stuff that is blood red when they spit it out along with volumes of spit – old Boniface Andrews would have been jealous (only my parents and siblings will get that joke).  They also have signs not to bring manure, human remains and decomposed flesh.  Huh???  Unfortunately, they are very protective about pictures being taken of their public signs smattered all over the walls.  Huh???  So you have to take my word for it as I have no photographic proof.  There are also armed guards behind stacks of sand bags, which may make sense except in most cases their backs are entirely exposed.


We also went to see Jama Masjid, a mosque that can hold 25,000 people.  I began to lose my composure with India here.  I came prepared for entering a mosque, long pants, shoulders and head covered.  The buggers insisted on covering me with a ridiculous robe; open in the back like a hospital gown, and charging me 20 rupees!  Indian women far more scantily clad were waved through.  It was just a cash grab by men suspiciously invisible to the guards.  I’m fairly certain they split the proceeds at the end of the day.  The mosque itself was a fairly large structure, with the open courtyard being able to hold the multitudes.  As usual, there were Indians sleeping all over the place.  They have the amazing ability to sleep in the craziest places.  The best being on top of cement walls that are no more than 30 – 40 centimetres across.  How they don’t fall off and over the edge is beyond me.

Jama Masjid  Jama Masjid 

The same day we went to the Red Fort.  Both structures were build during the reign of the Mughal’s, in the 1500 – 1600’s.  Much of the semi-precious stones have been scavenged by various invading empires, the last being the British.  There was reportedly a peacock throne at the Fort that weighed 270 Kg and had a diamond that was 119 carats.  It has been redone to fit the Queen’s crown and is on display at the Tower of London.  The throne, as suggested, was in the shape of a peacock tail, and one can only imagine how grand that must have been with gems making the colors of the peacock alive.  Currently, the Fort is only a skeleton of its former self, leaving only shadows of its splendour in the intricate waterways that guide you from one structure to the next, as well as some of the stone and tile work that has been left untouched.

Red Fort 

After 3 days in Delhi, we took the sleeper class train to Agra (Taj Mahal).  The sleeper class train reminded me of the old train cars at Fort Edmonton.  There are long seats facing each other which are long enough for someone to sleep on and another ‘cot’ that flops down from the wall above our heads.  4 people could sleep on this side. The other side had single seats facing each other, which could be flopped down for a single person to sleep parallel to the aisle.  The windows had steel roller-shutters with no glass.  Once open you were open to the elements.  There were horizontal steel bars to prevent falling / jumping out.  Fortunately I got to sit by the emergency window, so there were no bars, and I had an excellent view of the country side.  There is no air conditioning, only the fans on the ceiling and the wind from the movement of the train.  It was hot, but bearable.  We sat with a father, mother and grown daughter who were good company, as they spoke fairly good English.

  Train interior  train exterior

We arrived in Agra a bit after noon.  Delhi was the prelude to Agra, which I am soon to discover, is the prelude to Varanasi, each city adding more and more contradiction to the lovely travel brochures saying “Incredible India”. 

sifting through rubbish   

Agra next.......


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