Indira Ghandi International is fairly new and seems quite nice and well run. At "O-dark-thirty" we move through immigration and customs with no fuss and the hotel representative and driver are waiting for us as we exit the controlled area. We note that we that we are in the car and heading for the hotel less than 50 minutes after landing.
Of course, by now it is pushing 2AM but the streets are relatively clear of traffic and we are at The Oberoi, New Delhi after a 30 minute drive. Our driver tells us that big trucks are banned from the streets during the day but they are sure out at night. Also, we go through several police check points where the car has to navigate an obstacle course that slows it to a crawl. Our driver is never stopped or questioned by the police manning these posts but we do see one car pulled out of line just ahead of us. Also, all but the main boulevards seem to have "axle-breaking" speed bumps for which our driver slows to a dead stop before easing across them.
We don't see much in the dark but the gate to our hotel is guarded by 6-8 uniformed men and they let us through without stopping as we are in a hotel car. We are met by hot and cold running hotel staff and whisked into the lobby. We change some large currency bills for small ones, get the red dot on our forehead and are escorted to our two room suite on the second floor. It is similar to an Embassy Suites room, but more formal in design and very comfortable.
We are both wired and it is after 3AM before we have had a hot shower and go to bed. Dick sleeps poorly and is up at 6:30AM working on this blog. There is a coffee making set up in the room but the coffee choice is instant Nescafe so he opts for Twinings English Breakfast Tea and goes for a short exploration of the hotel after his first cup.
By the time he gets back and brews a second cup, Carolyn is stirring and as soon as she is ready we head down for our included breakfast. We are greeted royally and seated by the window. While the waiter is preparing mint tea and a cup of very strong, freshly brewed coffee we head for the buffet. It is quite extensive and includes eggs and omelets cooked to order. Dick enjoys a fruit and yogurt smoothie poured from a pitcher into a tall glass, smoked salmon, fried eggs, hash browns, sausage and croissants. Carolyn has similar fare including crisp English style bacon. The hotel has a great selection of breads and pastries also.
Our car and driver, Rishi, from India by Car and Driver picks us up at 10:45AM and we head out for our first day in Delhi. Our first stop is the Red Fort, a world heritage site, for a bicycle rickshaw ride down Chandni Chowk the famous Mughal thoroughfare of Shah Jahan's walled 17th century city, Shahjahanabad or Old Delhi, the 7th city of Delhi.
After negotiating the teaming through a fare, we take off through the warren of small crowded market streets. Hope our of pictures do this experience justice. The negotiated price between our driver and the rickshaw boss man for the ride is 300 rupees or $6US for an hour ride. The rickshaw driver assigned to us works hard with our two large bodies crammed in behind him and he does a good job of telling us what we are seeing.
The first sites are the Red Fort then Lal Mandir with its red towers, the Jains temple built of red stone by Shah Jahanand and Gauri Shankar Mandir, the lovely white Hindu temple. We then pass by Sunehri Masjid with its three gilded domes, the Mughal mosque built in 1721. After a peak at the town hall, we turn into the narrow streets each with a different market. We end up at the western gate of Jama Masjid the largest mosque in India, built in 1656, in time to see the local school bus turn the corner in front of us. It is a great ride leaving us wishing we had time to walk around on foot and explore some of the wonderful little "hole in the wall" shops!!
Dick slips the driver a 500 Rupees bill while we are heading back to the car and then the agreed 300 Rupees plus a 100 Rupee tip when we get back to our car. The 900 rupees or $18 was worth every penny. What a great introduction to India!!
Shopping is high on Carolyn's list so our second stop is Cottage Industries Exposition where Carolyn buys a beautiful, colorful silk sari for the fabric, a neat tie-dyed silk scarf for Dana and a ready made silk caftan style top for herself for $260US. She manages to resist a pair of antique gold earrings for $1,850US and refuses to let Dick spend $7,650US on a Kashmir silk-on-silk rug in the "Tree of Life" pattern. It has 900 knots to the square inch and is stunningly beautiful but we probably can do without it. Bummer!!
We next spend some time looking for an outlet store that Carolyn has heard about on-line. We finally find it on a back street but they do not have anything she likes so we move on for a walk through Lodi Gardens, the 15th and 16th century burial grounds for the pre Mughal Delhi Sayyid and Lodi rulers of one of the seven cities of Delhi, now a garden oasis in the city. There are several tombs, parts of a mosque and the interesting Athpula ( Eight Piered ) Bridge. We are both under whelmed with the area as it is not very well cared for. The highlight of the stop is our discovery of a small animal that looks like a cross between a chipmunk and a squirrel and a Indian family enjoying their afternoon.
We end our first day in India paying 500 rupees to enter Humayun'‘s Tomb. This is another world heritage site, the tomb of the first Mughal Emperor, Humayun who ruled from 1530 to 1556.
It is after three when we get there and it has become quite hot in the direct sun. We walk about a mile, round trip from the car. The tomb with its gardens and massive walls is very impressive. However, Carolyn passes on climbing the steps up into the tomb and tells Dick he will have to go it alone to take photos. It is worth the effort but the steps are very steep and each step is about a step and a half high. Dick has some trouble doing it and declares himself ready for a cold shower upon his return to Carolyn.
We return to the car and during our walk back take photos of a crew of women planting grass by hand and men unloading a truck of mud to make bricks by hand. Labor is cheap and everybody appears to be working. Beggars,
Beggars, including children, on the street corners testify to the lack of a social safety net.
Back at the hotel we get cleaned up and head down for a light supper. The several days of travel and lack of sleep has caught up with us. Dick is not feeling well and neither of us eats all of our club sandwich. We split three cans of coke and even manage two glasses full of ice! Knowing we will be hungry later and refusing to waste the remains of $54 worth of sandwiches, salads and drinks, we take half of the sandwiches back to the room in case we wake up in the middle of the night hungry, plug in our electronics, including the cell phone our driver has provided and head for bed about 7PM. Hopefully we will feel better by morning and will have adjusted our body clocks to an acceptable level.