Going To Delhi: First Impressions, Real Curry & Gandhi’s Murder Site
It’s been forty-eight hours since Dave and I left Buenos Aires airport and touched down in Delhi. Forty-eight hours and three different planes. Needless to say, traipsing out of Delhi airport at dawn and with our backpacks in tow, we want nothing more than a quick ride to our hotel and a comfy bed. Given that we’ve just landed in the capital of India though, we’re alert and aware that we’re about to get our first glimpse of a place we’ve heard so many intriguing stories about.
The first glimpse of Delhi
We’re met at the gate by a pre-booked driver that will be taking us to Hotel Perfect, in the Karol Bagh neighbourhood. As our friendly driver leads us outside to his rundown car, two things strike me. Firstly, the littering of rubbish on nearby roundabouts and roadsides, as though the airport is located in a waste tip. Secondly, the thick smog that hovers all around us, causing me to pull my neck scarf up over my mouth to avoid triggering my asthma. I guess you could say that’s not a great first impression, but I’m open-minded and ready to see what else Delhi has to offer… well, after a nap.
It’s not long before we’re weaving in and out of traffic, and the closer we get to the centre of New Delhi, the busier it gets for cars, tuk tuks, and people walking the sides of the highway. At one point, we pull up at traffic lights and a young boy starts to bang on the passenger window, miming eating and pointing at us. Dave and I both freeze. We’ve been told this would happen, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of shock, empathy and helplessness you feel when the stories become reality. Having just arrived we don’t have any food on us, so pretty much sit feeling horrendous for thirty-seconds before the lights turn green and our driver takes us on our way. I’m fast learning that backpacking India is going to be an emotional experience like no other.
Pulling up at Hotel Perfect, located on a dusty broken-concrete street that’s full of low hanging electrical wires, we’re pleasantly surprised to find we can check in to our room early. The hotel is clean and furnished well, and we waste zero time pulling on clean clothes and crawling in to bed.
A real Indian curry
Ten hours of sleep later, Dave and I pull ourselves out of our comas and visit the rooftop deck, which contains two tables and is gated by bamboo on all four sides, blocking the view of grey buildings. It does nothing to dull the noise though, and as we order our first real Indian curry, the buzz of beeping horns and engines is constant. Smog still hovering, we sip beer until our korma curries with rice and naan bread arrive. The naan bread is particularly good, and perhaps due to the fact we’re in an upmarket hotel, the korma is not too different from the type you’d find at an English curry house, just a little more flavoursome. I’ll tell you one thing though, Delhi belly is real, people.
Visiting the site of Gandhi’s assassination
When morning comes, Dave and I feel like new people, and we’ve planned a day of sightseeing before meeting our G Adventures tour group that evening. During breakfast we happen to meet one of the women who is also on our tour, so invite her to join us in our day of exploring. Modestly dressed and with maps in our hands, the three of us make our way to the train station, hounded by numerous tuk-tuk drivers from the moment we step outside of the hotel entrance. One driver is particularly relentless, and despite our multiple statements of ‘no, thank you’, he tails us for a good five minutes, before claiming to help us find the train station and directing us the opposite way, which we naively follow. So, after an unnecessary hike, we eventually find the station, buy a ticket, and pass through a security system no different to those you find in the airport.
Our first destination is Gandhi Smriti, the place Mahatma Gandhi spent his last days, and where he was assassinated back in 1948. It’s a peaceful house, in a nice neighbourhood much cleaner than Karol Bagh with barely any litter on the streets. In a noisy, vibrant city, the peacefulness of strolling the Gandhi Smriti gardens, observing the history of Gandhi, is hugely welcome.
Next stop, Safdarjang’s Tomb
After a couple of hours’ education and appreciation of Gandhi’s impact on Indian people and their country, we head to our second stop on the itinerary; Safdarjang’s Tomb. It’s the resting place of a prime minister, but you wouldn’t think of it as a gravesite once you see the intricate, colourful detail of the grand building. In one word, it’s beautiful. What’s crazy is the juxtaposition of these historic and well cared for sights, against the dirty, dusty and hectic streets they sit amongst. Who knew one city could bring out so many feelings of admiration, intimidation, discomfort, and romance?
The rest of our day is spent browsing a few markets, being jostled from side to side in crowds and looking at stalls and shop entrances touting colourful saris, shawls, jewellery, sunglasses, and secondhand clothes. Shop owners are forceful and in your face, but harmless at the same time. It’s day one in Delhi and I’m already blown away. With another week planned for northern India before crossing to Nepal, it’s time to meet our G Adventures tour guide and group, and the first place on the itinerary is the pink city of Jaipur.
What was your first impression of Delhi? Dreaming of visiting and want more details on places to go and stay? Shoot me your questions, I’ll be happy to help!