After mixed initial reviews, we were back in Delhi, this time armed with knowledge and experience. We spent an afternoon of settling back in and unwinding from our trip, after which I set off to meet up with my friend Debanjan, who had been a colleague at the university when we were living in Brussels. I had a surprisingly easy time finding him, and we discovered that there was a youth festival going on in Connaught Place, the city center. After grabbing some amazing 30 rupee samosas from a street stand, we wandered into the park to watch various student groups put on dance performances. All of these had a vaguely traditional vibe to them, with assorted modern influences tacked on. It was pretty fun to watch, and an unexpected free treat. Afterwards, we decided to head back to our hostel to pick up Alina for dinner, where Debanjan explained to us what we’d been ordering at Indian restaurants our whole lives.
Next morning we met up and were shown a tradional South Indian breakfast at a local chaat shop (sort of equivalent to a fast food place). Alina got a Masala Dosa (big crepe type thing), and we got Idlis and Vadas. The first are small cakes made of ground lentils and rice, and the second are of similar ingredients but in the form of doughnuts and fried. We all had a variety of delicious sauces for dipping.
In the afternoon we decided to check out the Akshardam Temple complex, on the east side of the city. The temple was built by one of the Hindu sects within the past 10 years, and is an amazing display piece of traditional stone work and sculpture. Around the entire base of the main temple is a bas relief of the various symbology of the elephant; from daily life, to royal significance, to its presence in Hindu texts. Inside the temple were a dazzling array of domed ceilings, each unique and covered in intricate carvings. Of course, all cameras were strictly prohibited at the entrance to the complex. I managed a shot or two from far away, outside the main gates, but they really don’t do it justice.
It being Thanksgiving, Debanjan suggested we head out to Barbecue Nation for dinner, an all-you-can-eat grill and buffet. We thought this sounded like a great idea. And in some respects it was. We had a great time while there, but we massively overate. First, way too many grilled kebabs of fish, chicken, beef, paneer, etc. And then after that, we tackled the buffet, and had to sample at least one of everything up there.
By the end of the evening, I was feeling absolutely miserable, and could barely make it back to the metro and then our hostel. And that wasn’t the end of my woes. Starting sometime that night both Alina and I started to feel really sick, and we then spent the whole next day doing things best left undescribed, but extremely unpleasant. It was the worst food poisoning either of us had ever had, and it has taken more than a week before we’ve started to feel relatively normal again. The worst thing was that Debanjan had come all the way out from Kolkata to visit with us, and here we were, miserably voiding our bodies. He was very understanding though, and I managed to drag myself out of bed the two mornings later to wish him a pleasant flight back home.
After we’d recovered enough to move, we took a day to make a walking tour of New Delhi, the section of the city to the south, designed by the British in the ’30s. We saw parliament, some massive legislative blocks, and the presiden’t palace, then took a stroll down the Raj Path, a parade boulevard.
At the end is the massive India Gate, commemerating the soliders of the Indian armies who lost their lives in World War I. Pretty cool, but nothing compared to the Arc du Triomphe or Constantine’s Arch in Rome.
Feeling pretty weak (we could barely eat anything for the next week), and needing to get out of the sun, we popped in to the Indian Crafts Museum, an open air compound showcasing the local handicraft from various parts of the country. There were also sample reconstructed villages from different areas, and an indoor museum with a lot of artifacts of craftwork from the last two centuries.
It was built on the site of the legendary Indraprastha, famous city of the Mahabharata. Surrounded by a lake and park, there were many families out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, paddling around in rented boats, or just visiting the sights.
We finished off the day with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, build for one of the Mughal emperors of the 1500s. It’s the first example of a Persian garden-tomb in India, and introduced many of the architectural styles that would find their pinnacle in the Taj Mahal about 100 years later.
On our last day in the city, we decided to take it easy, and just make a short walk downtown to visit the Laxmi Narayan temple complex. Another large Hindu temple, this one was build in the ’30s, and inaugurated by Gandhi, who stipulated that it must be available to all worshippers, regardless of religion or caste. It had an amazingly different style from the Akshardam temple we’d seen earlier, and we spent an enjoyable time wandering the gardens behind it and taking in the shrines to various deities.
After that, it was off to Agra and the Taj Mahal for a day before finally catching our flight to Bangkok. India certainly left a better impression the second time around, and I’ll be interested to return one day to see some other areas of this extremely diverse country. We also decided that next time we might want to consider changing our travelling style. Typically Alina and I prefer a very low budget approach which includes walking a lot, using public transportation, eating at cheap restaurants, staying in cheap hotels and relying on the know-how of the local people. Some of these things can be somewhat complicated and even sometimes unpleasant in India and next time I think some compromises might be in order to give India a fair chance.