Delhi by hire car

This morning we got talking to three girls over breakfast, who’d just come back from the trip we are about to embark upon. They said they’d enjoyed it, pointed out a few things worth seeing and gave us pointers on accomodation. Thank you!

As a result of the chit-chat, we were a little late meeting our driver. He didn’t mind, was very polite and as soon as we jumped in set off through the chaotic traffic towards Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. There was a fee of 200Rp each to take our cameras in, and Hans had to pay an extra 20Rp for a skirt to cover his knobbly knees as his shorts were too short.

This is an immense structure and it’s hard to imagine it filled completely with worshippers, but it frequently is – 25,000 of them. It took 14 years to build from 1644 to 1658 and has three gateways, four towers and two minarets each of which is 40m in height. It is possible to climb one of the minarets, but we didn’t bother.

We had the usual fun with the kids, trying to sneak into our photographs and then demanding money for their guest appearances. One boy in particular kept asking us for “one photograph – no money!” but we knew his game. Some other children asked Hans to take their picture and when he said “No rupees!” the adults nearby laughed, obviously used to the kids.

We spent something like half an hour walking around, enjoying the view and treading barefoot in pigeon poop before walking back down the steps to meet up again with our driver. He drove us past the enormous Red Fort (“Look good from outside. You can walk around inside. Maybe an hour and a half – see nothing“) and on to Raj Ghat, where Ghandi’s Samadhi is kept. This is a memorial marking where he was cremated. This is a large marble block decorated with fresh orange and yellow flowers and a constantly burning flame. It’s a lovely place to visit, being within a huge park, and very serene.

Our next stop was Humayun’s Tomb, also known as Little Taj Mahal. It’s 10Rp to get in as a local, 250Rp ($US5) as a tourist. It was built in the mid 16th century and is an exemple of what’s called Mughal architecture. The basic shape was taken, moulded and refined to be used for the Taj Mahal in Agra almost 100 years later. It’s a superb looking building and definitely worth the couple of quid to get in and walk around. Of course, every time you walk into a building expect some nice person to point some things out, rattle off some trivia and then say “three dollars” with their hand out.

Zooming off, as much as one can zoom in Delhi’s traffic chaos, we arrived in a cloud of dust at the Qutb Minar. After parting with another tourist-heavy entrance fee, we walked inside to see some very old buildings and an enormous tower. And I mean enormous. Also, very beautifully carved. It’s 73m in height, 15m in diameter at the base and 2.5m across at the top and construction began in 1193. I’ll say one thing for India – it certainly has some very old national monuments.

Putting this to shame for age is an iron pillar stuck into the ground nearby. Sanskrit writing on it places it at around AD400, raised in the memory of a ruler. This is impressive enough. However, scientists have tested the iron and simply cannot explain how metal of such purity was cast almost 2000 years ago. There isn’t a single hint of rust on its surface. Simple answer – little green men. Hans and I agree on this one.

By now, hunger was starting to claw – it was approaching 2:30 – so we decided to just clear some things with the tour operator before heading for lunch. The nice chap at the office had charged us the 3% fee for paying by visa, but not put it on our actual bill – this saved us paying 10% sales tax on the 3% visa fee! Instead, we were to drop it off as cash. We also sorted out some more details of our trip and got information on the hotel we’d be staying at in Agra. While we waited for our driver to down some chow, we walked to a nearby post office and I sent off four more postcards. Cross your fingers, regular recipients! The stamps come without glue, so you have to smear paste on them yourself. Mind, at 8Rp per postcard I can forgive them saving on the sticky stuff.

We weakened for lunch. Simply for convenience we headed back to KFC. We were both a teeny bit peckish and I managed to talk Hans into sharing a “Feast For Four” with me. Four Pepsi, two large fries, six bits of spicy chicken, two mini-burgers, two Zinger burgers and four raspberry ice-cream desserts. Hans picked the coating off his chicken and gave one of his ice creams to a girl at the next table. Wuss.

Once outside, we found our driver. We also found the car blocked in by three other vehicles in the tightly-packed parking area. Much honking of horns later, we were on our way to the Bangladesh embassy. By some miracle I actually knew the way better than our driver (go figure) and we got there easily enough. We queued, collected our stamped passports and then I spotted a slight problem. While we both had single-entry 10-day visas issued on December 13th, Hans’ expired on January 12th while mine expired on March 12th. We’d put on the forms that we were travelling together and aiming to visit Bangladesh at the end of February so this kind of screwed things up.

Back to the front gate where, it being 5pm, we thought we had no chance. The guard on duty, however, called someone inside. They came out, took the passports away and returned after 15 minutes. He’d corrected the mistake and now we both have visas until March 12th, so our plans can go unchanged. Phew! We thanked him and, in the meantime, had got talking to a man also in the queue who arranges trips in and around Kashmir. We have his card and a promise of a stay in a houseboat on a lake in the mountains courtesy of one of his friends, should be go there. Apparently it’s the most beautiful place in India and all the most intelligent people come from there. I feel he may have been slightly biased.

Hans wanted to go by the Butan embassy to return the two brochures we didn’t need. I mentioned yesterday about how amazing the building was and I thought there was no harm in asking if I could take a photo… and they said “no problem”! I think this is the first time I’ve ever been allowed to photograph an embassy. Unfortunately, it was a little dark as the sun was dipping by then but it’s still a good picture and I’m grateful to the staff. I’ll try and get the photos online the next time I’m somewhere I can plug my laptop into the internet. I should work my way around some of the other embassies as there are some gorgeous ones around Delhi.

And finally back to the Shelton. I don’t think we’ll be bothering with dinner tonight. It’ll be an early start in the morning as we head for Mandawa. Our driver picks us up at 7:30 so I’ll have fun kicking Hans out of bed at 6:30!

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