We are really good at doing chilled out days.
After the draining few days we’d had, surviving on minimal sleep and barely stopping in between sights, we decided to allow ourselves a lie-in (what luxury!) to let ourselves recover. Though I made sure to get up briefly to scoff some breakfast because it’s included (I like to get my money’s worth, and also I like food a lot), we didn’t emerge from our rooms until past 11 o’clock. By the time we eventually set off for the Lotus Temple it was already the afternoon, and Token Aussie’s departure was imminent (sob). The Lotus Temple, home to the Bahá’í faith, was pretty cool, though as per usual it looked better from the outside. It was also surrounded by painfully tempting pools of water which we would all have happily paid several lakh to be allowed to jump into. We bumped into another Brit on our way round (as ever, follow the cameras and large groups of amused Indians and there you will a tourist find), and absorbed him into our little group for the duration of the visit. Once we’d had our fill of wandering round and reading about the history of Bahá’ísm we headed back to the hostel so that Oscar could pack and we could sit down some more (currently our favourite activity). The hour finally came: group hugs were had, goodbyes were said, and a promise of a visit to Durham to experience a Hatfield formal was made.
Once he had left, we wallowed in our misery for a little while, persuading ourselves that we were still in our designated ‘chilling out’ time and only rousing ourselves to go out at about 6.30. The Moustache hostel map suggested that the only place to be on a Thursday evening was a place called Nizamuddin Dargah, a temple of unknown religion and significance, to experience the apparently hauntingly beautiful singing. Along for the ride was the latest addition to the group, making us a happy 6 again. Replacement Oscar was almost eerily similar to his predecessor, which was very helpful in soothing our aching hearts.
The market in which the dargah was located was pretty cool in itself, all bright colours and prasad (Indian sweets) and garlands of flowers. The walk to the inner temple was pretty intimidating as beggars practically lined the walls, but once we made it in it was quite impressive, the complex all lit up with lights and thronged with people offering their prayers. However, we couldn’t for the life of us figure out why it was “the place to be on a Thursday evening”: the singing which we had been promised turned out to be one guy and a microphone, warbling from somewhere hidden out of sight, whereas I think most of us had conjured up visions of some kind of Indian-gospel choir hybrid. Which, let’s face it, would be pretty wicked.
So we quickly tired of the temple, especially because its hard to keep your wits about you when you’re being shunted from side to side by people in salwaar kameez trying to make their way to prayers, and made our way back out. (Side note: Replacement Oscar bumped into someone he’d met at the hostel earlier, who is apparently two years into a trip walking from England to Australia. No joke. He is currently waiting to sort out his passport because he needs to get more pages added to accommodate the number of stamps.)
After that we had been planning to see the light show at Old Fort, but we decided to sack it off in favour of dinner with Claudia, partly because at least three different sources of information cited three different times for its occurrence. We ate in the rather upmarket Khan Market area, settling on a place called ‘Wok in the Clouds’, which at the very least had plenty of choice… and, crucially, air con. After the meal we were joined by yet another Hatfielder and her friend, who were full of stories about their trip round India so far and were just back in Delhi for the day before getting the train to Rishikesh. The small world gets smaller. We headed out to a bar called Town Hall for drinks and chatted away for hours (again – how does the time pass so fast?), and made it back to the hostel and to bed by the reasonable hour of about half 1.
The next day was another reasonably early wakeup, with plans to have a wonder round Old Delhi (which I only remembered very vaguely, as a stressful road crossing and an incredibly knowledgeable guide whose tour I couldn’t hear a word of). We made it out only a bit later than planned (we’re getting worse and worse with our allotted faffing time) and caught the metro to Chandni Chowk, with hopes of walking out of the metro and straight into the crowded stalls and cramped streets of the Old Delhi I remember. Unfortunately it turned down I didn’t have a flipping clue where it was that we’d been taken the last time, and after meandering aimlessly for a little while we decided to give in to the umpteen offers of a rickshaw tour. Though I generally rile against the idea of having a guided tour to anywhere (for no legitimate reason), it actually turned out to be a really good plan. All I remember of my last cycle rickshaw experience was a vague feeling that I should probably lose some weight, with a hefty side-order of guilt, as the poor skinny Indian man puffed his way down the street to our apartment with us in tow. This time it was much more fun. Old Delhi by rickshaw was a brilliant way to do it – less time to aimlessly browse the manifold stalls, because of course the guides wanted to make sure we had enough time to spend in the shop at the end (sigh), but a great way to feel like you were fully absorbed into the chaos of it all. Our driver took us to various different bits of the market, to look at spices and dried chillies and to see a rooftop view of the streets. We sampled some Indian cinnamon (actually delicious: it’s a lot sweeter than its British counterpart), Replacement Oscar (whose name is Grant, by the way) bought some of the World’s Hottest Chillies, and I declined to taste a type of salt that the shop owner claimed tasted like eggs because the look on Kate’s face fully confirmed the fact.
We were set to meet a friend of Tyler’s at Red Fort (yet another Durham student in Delhi, what is this conspiracy), so after we’d gone through the rigmarole of feigning interest in overpriced “100% silk” scarves, we got the rickshaw to drop us off there. Our nice morning was slightly spoilt by the rickshaw driver trying to eke more money out of us as a tip, but we were all pretty much of the opinion that if you don’t name a price you’re happy with then it’s your own silly fault, and felt no qualms about sticking with the 100 extra rupees we’d felt was deserved. We met Meg and Guy at the entrance to the fort and spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering round the complex, repeatedly getting whistles blown at us for trying to make up our own version of the route, shuffling from fan to fan in the museum exhibits, and after a while just pretending to read the informative signs. India is really hot, OK?
Much as I am a fan of historic monuments, easily the best part of the day was getting picked up by Meg’s driver in their family’s air conditioned Landrover, being driven through the streets of Delhi to their incredible palace of a house, and treated to an amazing South Indian meal, with dosas and idli sambar and coconut chutney and pakoda and delicious, delicious gulab jamun.
I really really like food.
After we’d eaten at least three times our bodyweight, thanked our hosts profusely, and done our level best to overturn Meg’s refusal to let us help clear up, we got driven back to the hostel, with a promise of meeting up later for drinks (sound familar?).
I’ll leave the retelling of that night for tomorrow, because it’s half one in the morning (why is it always half one in the morning?) and I’m tired and ill (only I could come to India and get a cold instead of Delhi belly); but suffice it to say it involves three bars, an old friend, and Delhi’s answer to Klute.
If that’s not reason enough to check back tomorrow, then I don’t know what is.