Tuesday, July 26, 2016

a yellow day in delhi

Make it yellow. That is my advice.

If you have just a day in this historic city with so many sights, then spend it on the Yellow Metro line. Check into the simple, central and adequate YMCA accommodation in Jai Singh Rd. Get a good sleep. Breakfast at 7am - and out the door at 7.30am after you've brushed your teeth.

Take the short walk to the Patel Chowk Metro station, buy your daylong Metro pass for INR150 (GBP1.5), and head south to the Qutb Minar station. 30 minutes. Delhi's finest is visible from the train station as you disembark. The view of my happy place rushes the adrenalin through me.

Maybe this is a good time to remember William Dalrymple's comments about Delhi (in The Last Mughal): "... of the great cities of the world, only Rome, Istanbul, and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains ... during a six hundred year period climaxing with the 18th century, Delhi had been the greatest city between Constantinople and Canton ... sometimes it seems as if no other great city of the world is less loved, or less cared for." (8, 24)

A 10min ride in an auto rickshaw and you are at the Qutb Minar - in the cool of the morning and long before the tourists. Dawn to dusk opening hours. Great. Built in the 12th century, the Qutb was the tallest structure in the world for many decades. Wander around the grounds for an hour and then it is back to the station and the Yellow ride north to the Jor Bagh station. The day is still young. Head north a few hundred metres and then turn right into Lodi Rd. The Lodi Gardens will appear on your left within minutes. Enjoy a walk, either clockwise or anticlockwise, through this park. Ignore the putrid water in the lake and it is rather nice, with its ancient rubbled tombs dotted here and there. A favoured location for photo shoots...


On the way back to Jorbagh station, pop across the road into Safdarjang's Tomb (you can't miss it) for a quick look. Then stay on that side of the road for a long walk south, up and over an iconic Delhi fly-over (Delhi's answer to every congested intersection, it seems), and into Dilli Haat. State-by-state, shop-by-shop, here are India's products and cuisine all in one place. Linger for lunch and a little shopping and then head for the INA Market station next door. Aim for somewhere between 1pm-2pm.

Head north on Yellow and the third station will be Udyog Bhavan. Get off here, emerge outside, and take the short walk to the next station, Central Secretariat. This will take you across Raj Path, the 2km dead-straight road leading from the President's residence (Rashtrapati Bhavan) down to India Gate. The Republic Day Parade on January 26 travels this route, with hundreds of thousands people in attendance. Now that is a sight for the imagination. At other times of the year the open spaces are a gathering point for locals as twilight nears, with picnics and cricket games aplenty.

Back in Yellow and now we travel further north, under the central city, and emerge in the heart of Old Delhi at the Chandni Chowk station. This is a different world. Every sense in overload, all the time. Soak it up. People everywhere. It takes a bit to find Chandni Chowk (the street). The easiest way is to ask for directions to Haldirams, a restaurant, and then sit there enjoying an afternoon snack of Delhi street food (chaat), while you plan your visit. This was the main business district for Delhi for an age (particularly through the 19th century). Off the main thoroughfare are all sorts of markets (spice, silver, textile etc) where it is fun to get lost and found. As a child I had bad dreams about getting lost, but not found here. As a parent I once got my family lost here - and while never admitting it, I did eventually get found out. At one end is the Red Fort (not enough time to go inside on this day), presiding over everything. It is from this vantage point that the Prime Minister speaks on Independence Day each year. Down towards the Red Fort is a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurdwara, a Jain temple - and even the Central Baptist Church (established in 1814; quite possibly the oldest church in North India).


Add in the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques anywhere, and you have quite the gathering place for the religions of the world. Sadly, the Jama Masjid is one of the unfriendliest places in Delhi, with tourists conned into having to pay to go inside when it is meant to be free. People always seem gruff and rude at the entrances. Nevertheless it is worth going inside and climbing a minaret with its expansive views - for example, looking across to the Red Fort nearby.


Depending on how long you have loitered, darkness will be closing in. It is time to go Yellow again. If you are comfortable with cycle rickshaws (with a man doing the cycling hard work; I always pay them twice what they ask), then catch one from the Jama Masjid to the Chawri Bazaar station. It is quite the ride. Two stops back to Rajiv Chowk station (Connaught Place, the columned circular space at the centre of Delhi). Wander around the concentric circles, with plenty of restaurants from which to choose. Eventually, make your way to Jan Path - at '6 o'clock' from the circles - and meander down through the shops lining the road. When you reach the intersection with Tolstoy Marg (with the multi-story Cottage Industries Emporium on one side ahead of you and the little Tibetan shops on the other side), turn right and you are on the very road that takes you back to the YMCA.

A day for the ages, all on Yellow. Just do it.

nice chatting

Paul

If you do happen to have a second day, then make Humayun's Tomb a priority. Every time I come to Delhi, it has been improved in some way.


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