10.07.10 Getting amongst the Delhidees

Auckland has Jafas and Buenos Aires has Porteños. Well, Delhi has Delhidees.

My local sim card in Delhi suddenly decided to stop working which I later discovered was due to my dodgy street side vendor didn’t submit my documents to the Vodafone headquarters. So after a week of operating an unauthorized sim card the head office decided to bar the service and I was left hanging with an automated message saying “this service is not available on your phone”. I’m glad that Jas and I made prior arrangements to meet up in Delhi! We checked into the fourth Sikh guru (there are 10)’s temple just a short stroll from Connaught Place. She kept me in a bit of suspense building up to this visit and told me that our first night will involve me getting up at 2 in the morning, and I didn’t doubt her for a second when I saw her pulling out a notepad with a huge list of places she must have agonized over to select the best places for us to visit together over the next four days.

And what a tour guide Jas made – not only is she an architect but she has been a Delhidee herself because she lived her during her college years AND she loves history. I don’t think anyone could have found a better guide to see India, and what made it so awesome is that I was seeing India from the local’s perspective! So Jas explained that Delhi has had 7 historic cities and 4 contemporary cities in its recorded history, and its sheer vastness and eclecticism has been a result of as many periods in its long history. Most visitors to Delhi would only see the city in two parts – the New Delhi and the Old Delhi, but Delhi has a history that’s so much richer than what a foreigner can muster with an untrained set of eyes. Connaught Place, commonly abbreviated by the locals as ‘CP’, is the most recent of its many hubs, and it’s been around since the time of British colonization. I felt like a voyeur from different perspectives, and oh, spending only half a day with Jas made me realize just how much I have been overpaying for my auto rickshaw rides and also just how lucky I am to have Jas haggle and fight on my behalf. It was only on the last day of our trip together that Jas confessed to feeling extremely ripped off as a local and seeing how different the experience of the city was as a foreigner.

Jas also took me on my first, non A/C public bus at peak hour – and I’m talking about peak hour of the sun, not traffic – and I got a taste of what conditions locals have to endure on daily basis. Again, I was drinking like a whale and sweating like a pig. The sizzling tin can bus ride between noon and 1 o’clock was the closest thing to being pinned to an open pit of fire in my imagination, and my pores had long given up on trying to regulate themselves and Jas even suggested that I get myself some toner for them. Once we reached the shopping mall, I wanted so badly to run to the air-conditioned inside, but my feet felt so heavy that it’s a miracle I completed what felt like the 50 metre marathon in slow-mo. Luckily the huge mall we went to had so many wings and endless number of shops that we managed to spend 4 hours roaming it and I didn’t have to make up an excuse for leaving the air-conditioned shops before sunset.

For dinner, Jas and I went to one of her favourite eateries for South Indian food. I made a bit of a scene by breaking a glass bottle and looking really awkward in an upscale restaurant, but it probably made Jas feel more awkward having me make a big deal out of it!

11.07.10 Spiritual Delhi

Jas must be one helluvah superwoman.

She kept her word and woke me up at 1:30am to get ready for the 2:00am ceremony at the Sikh temple. It’s when the Sikh holy book begins its day and the entire temple gets hand washed by its members inside and out for this ceremony. It was a wonderful experience, though I felt really bad about carrying around my flamboyant yellow satchel declaring eternal love for the Hindi deity Shiva, in a Sikh temple. I found out that later during one of Jasmine’s illustrious history lessons that Sikh religion originated to protect Hinduism in 1600 A.D, so it made me feel better to know that the strange stares were due to my pasty foreignness more so than for my religious ignorance.

So after the ceremony we went back to sleep and woke up again at 9 to visit the infamous Lotus temple of Bahai, then Iskon temple of Lord Krishna shortly thereafter. On the map the two temples were on the same block, but our tuk-tuk ride proved otherwise, and not just because the driver diverted us in the middle of our journey to see his affiliate’s store called (fake) Delhi Haat to try and con us into buying something from them. I still felt bad about being the only customers in a store that had about 15 employees and with working A/C. In retrospect I could have bought something to help them pay the bills!

At Iskon temple, built by B. V. Doshi, I got to taste a great Hari Krishna buffet for the first time. Doshi’s arts & crafts inspired columns and playful use of walls, floor transitions and stained glass windows all made the dining experience more scrumptious and fun. You have to hand it to Doshi to give fine vegetarian dining a new meaning.

I took the afternoon off, probably because I was still feeling a little bused out from yesterday, so I let Jas go shopping on her own and I rested in the A/Ced room for a couple of hours. In the afternoon I went to Delhi’s equivalent of NZIA, the Delhi Habitat Centre, which is a hub of buzzing architecture firms, media students and environmental architecture professionals. And in the middle of all this, we found ourselves inside an all American diner, called the “All American Diner”. No kidding! It’s supposedly where some of the Bollywood stars come to hang out, and funnily enough Jas spotted a famous comedian TV personality while we were there.

12.07.10 Part 1: “Spain Wins World Cup” Says Delhi Times HQ

I should have pulled my camera out and taken a photo of this building! But you can just take my word for it. We woke up at 2:30am to catch the bus to Chandigarh, and the departing bus terminal was some 15 min taxi ride from our temple. Being two girls out in the most unpredictable part of India – so in other words, you have to take necessary precautions if you don’t want to get in trouble – we arranged a cab to pick us up from the temple. We paid… (Well, what I probably would have paid in a broad day light to cover half of the distance in a cycle rickshaw, all things considered!) but it was worth our safety. This is the quietest time I’ve ever come across in Delhi – and if Delhi slept at all, this was the time in which the city slept – and the taxi driver had stayed up watching the FIFA finals before coming to pick us up.

Once we got to the bus terminal, there were actually a lot of people mulling about, either waiting to get on a bus or to just sleep, because some people do just that in big cities where they have no homes to call their own: sans domicile fixe. It was definitely out of my comfort zone and I never felt so naked with full clothes on before, and could even sympathise with the emperor who had no clothes! Of course, I tried my best to hide it and so did Jasmine – the poor girl who had the bigger burden of taking around a foreigner! We ended up getting a non A/C public bus once again, but we were supposed to reach our destination before the sun was too high off the ground. Besides, the A/C bus was another 2 hours before departure and all I wanted was to get out of there before we got circled in a thick ring of unkempt, partially-clothed men who would have all sorts of unimaginable uses for us two girls.

The dirt on the bus was just out of this world, but when you have no choice… well, as our tour leader said: beggars don’t choose. My eyelids kept closing on me and I rested my head on my backpack and curled up across 3 seats on one of the adjoining rows. The next time I opened my eyes, the bus was completely full, entirely of men, save me and Jas, and I had to sit back up to make room for two people who were standing on the aisle.

12.07.10 Part 2: Chandigarh on Monday

After what seemed like an endless journey, we arrived in Chandigarh. Yes, on Monday, of all days. Monday is like everyone else’s Sunday in Chandigarh, and all the public buildings, museums, entertainment facilities close down on this day. But to echo Jas’ famous words, “You can do anything you want in India, but you also can’t anticipate anything in India. You can never plan too far in advance.” Chandigarh is one of the most developed cities in India, and certainly was the cleanest of cities I’ve visited so far. Jas was simply ecstatic to be there and I was pretty excited about meeting her best friend, Kanika (sp?). When we got off the bus, I had an instant friend, a skinny black dog that had the same eyes as my little Paul’s, which proceeded to follow us wherever we went. The poor stray eventually got kicked mercilessly by some kids that were sitting next to us, and with a painful yelp it limped away into the distance.

So just because it was Monday, it didn’t mean we weren’t going to see what we came to Chandigarh to see. We wanted to visit the administrative complex in Sector One, built by Le Corbusier, and arguably what every architectourist come to see. We managed to negotiate our way through the office of tourism, the department of urban planning and a couple more offices that got us to take photos, take my passport, and just when I was anticipating a blood test and a thumb print, they let us in to the administrative quarters of Chandigarh. It was gorgeous, and I think both Jas and Kanika enjoyed it much more than I did.

I only began to grasp the concept of how upper middleclass Indians live, when we got picked up by Kanika’s car, which also came with her personal driver who took us everywhere. We caught the late afternoon bus up to Jalandhar, Jasmine’s hometown, to spend the rest of the evening with her family and depart early for the golden temple in Amritsar. She had the sweetest and most affectionate family I have met since my bestfriend Daniel’s, and they made me feel right at home and adopted me in for the night. I couldn’t believe she had 186 relatives just on her father’s side of family, but I began to appreciate it when Jas began to point out several other mansions on the same street that belonged to her uncles and aunties. What a trip!

13.07.10 Jalandhar > Amritsar > Delhi > Ahmedabad

It was the most sound sleep I’ve had in two weeks, ok, let’s make that months. And it’s just as well that I got some sleep in because today ended up being a pretty long day of waiting in transit and carrying all the weight of my backpack on my shoulders! We had a hearty Punjabi breakfast at Jas’ place to fuel us for a 2 hour journey up north – btw her mum’s homemade mango shakes was out of this world! – then departed for Amritsar to pay our homage to the golden temple, the most important site of pilgrimage for the Sikhs, en route to the airport to bid Sayonara. Jas’ sister-in-law – who was a newly-wed at a tender age of 22, was technically the eldest of us three in social ranks – accompanied us and en route told me that anything you wish for at the temple would come true. I made a wish and so far it’s going well!

The two flights I caught from Amritsar > Delhi, and from Delhi > Ahmedabad was only supposed to take 2 hours 20 mins in total, but when you factor in the delays on both flights, it ends up taking as long as a train ride directly to Ahmedabad. I left at 4:30 and checked into the hotel past midnight.

So Ahmedabad, my third and final leg of the journey began.


One thought on “North India in 4 days

  1. What a great account of the sort of things one can and would experience in the incredible india. 🙂
    I can’t believe how brave (or silly) you two girls were travelling after sunset on a local bus. You really did rough it right. Glad to hear that you’re safe and still in one piece. Hope to hear more ‘off the record’ stories once you come back. J

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