Rajpath and India Gate
Rajpath, which means “King’s Way”, is a tourist attraction for visitors, but is also considered one of the most important roads in India. It is the ceremonial boulevard of Delhi, and runs from Rashtrapati Bhavan (official residence of the President of India), through India Gate to the National Stadium. It also seems to be a popular place for the locals to hang of an evening, flanked with lots of stalls with people selling food and drinks. There appeared to be some setting up of seating banks along the side of the road in preparation for a procession (maybe for the annual Republic Day Parade in January). Our driver said that it was often almost like a street party here.
Our sights set on India Gate, we were about to leave the van when Anand turned to us with explicit instructions – “Talk to no-one. No eye contact, no smiling, nothing. Understand?” He clearly knows how tourists are targeted by all manner of touters and wanted us safe and happy. That became his refrain throughout our weeks together on our return to the van – “Happy, mam? Happy, sir?”
His warnings were appropriate. There were so many touters there, but most were not too pushy. There were also many, many Indian tourists at this Arc de Triomphe-inspired war memorial that honours those fallen in WWI and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. So when a woman smiled her friendly smile and said hello, I returned both and kept walking. She then approached me to try and sell…whatever…When I said, ‘no thank you’ she made a bit of a lunge as though to dab something on my shoulder. I did a snarl-dismissive-hand-gesture-combo and she backed off. Don’t try that crap with me, lady!
Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum
Inspired with thoughts of fighting oppression we moved on to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum. This was my favourite tourist site of the day, and such a ‘user friendly’ museum on a number of levels. It was full of photographs from all stages of her life, teamed with excerpts from her memoirs and quotes from others about her. What a woman! Her complete absence of fear and capacity for love was astounding. As the house is where she actually lived, there are several rooms preserved as they were when she lived there. Even her taste in décor was impeccable!
It was also really interesting to learn about her son, Rajiv, who was only called to continue in his mother’s footsteps when his brother, Sanjay, died far too young in a plane crash. Rajiv reminded me a little of George VI, who had to ‘step up’ after his brother abdicated.
A cute little aspect of our experience at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum was that I was in demand in the selfie market! The first request came from a group of teenage boys, who took the photo-op very seriously (apparently smiling for photos is not a thing in India, at least not for the boys!). Then primary school girls on excursion were walking past calling out hello and wanting to shake my hand. Then young adult women were asking to pose with me for selfies, dragging John into the pic, too. One hilarious moment was when one shy teenage girl got up the courage to ask, and then 10 more came from nowhere, crowding into the picture. Priceless! Little did I know that this was to be the trend of our travels throughout the country!
Lunch was at a restaurant recommended by our driver, Anand – Lazeez Affaire. We had hoped to get a reservation at Indian Accent, but when a restaurant is rated #87 in the world, two-day’s notice ain’t gonna cut it! But it was a lovely, filling, meal at Lazeez Affaire. We had malai kofta (a cheese in a very mild, nutty, sweet curry sauce) and subz khanda masala – stir fried spicy vegetables. Lesson learned today – we don’t need BOTH sparkling water AND beer!
Humayun’s Tomb was the big, impressive tourist attraction of the day. This was built 520 years ago, and was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It was only recently restored (finished in 2013), and is utterly magnificent. It looks more like a luxurious palace than a tomb, and is the first example of Mughal architecture in India. Such beauty and opulence to honour a dead spouse! But that was the way of things in ancient times for the uber rich.
Had another ‘drive by experience’ at the home of the President of India – Rashtrapati Bhavan. The actual residential part of this complex is behind gates that are exactly the same as Buckingham Palace. Didn’t really get a good look at the palace, though, because of the ever-present, tedious haze. But we got out of the car and had a quick wander past the North and South government buildings.
Qutb Minar Complex
Qutb Minar Complex, south of New Delhi, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and constitutes the first monuments of Muslim India. There are many interesting and beautiful ruins here, dating from the early 13th century. One fascinating feature of this complex is the Iron Pillar in the middle of what would’ve been the original mosque – it’s a rust free pillar, which has puzzled metallurgists. It contains “as much as one percent phosphorous, which has acted as a chemical catalyst to create a protective layer of an unusual compound called misawite around the metal.” (ROUGH GUIDE)
The stone carvings of the various structures were incredibly detailed and beautiful, but in particular the marriage of different styles in the tower were breathtaking in their skilfully rendered art in pink and cream stone.
On our approach to The Lotus Temple we did a double take. It looked like the offspring of the Sydney Opera House; it’s lotus flower petals bearing more than a passing resemblance to the white-tiled ‘sails’ of our iconic Sydney tourist attraction. This Baha’i house of worship was completed in 1986; “twenty-seven spectacular giant white petals of marble in the shape of an unfolding lotus spring from nine pools and walkways, to symbolise the nine unifying spiritual paths of the Baha’i faith; each petal alcove contains an extract from the Baha’i holy scriptures.” (ROUGH GUIDE)
Home cooked meal
On our last night in Delhi, we were invited to Anil’s home for dinner (the owner of our tour company). Anand drove us through the crazy Delhi peak hour traffic, but for such a short distance, it took a ridiculously long time (nearly 2 hours). It was a huge honour to be taken into Anil’s home and to share a meal with him. His wife is a good, kind woman who is also an excellent cook, and we met his smiling daughter and extended family, including his adorable twin nephews, about 8 months old. Anil was thrilled to host us, and it was a wonderful experience to be invited into a regular home and indulge in an authentic Indian meal. After our delicious dinner, and the process of Anil’s sister-in-law hennaing my hand, we headed back to our hotel through the Delhi traffic. The ‘peak hour’ intensity had not abated, and our homeward journey took nearly as long as the outward bound one. Definitely will not miss the Delhi traffic when we head to Agra.
Our India journey continues in Agra…
Accommodation: Le Meridien Hotel, New Delhi
Tour Company: Intense India Tours
Read our full Delhi story here:
Part 1: Old Delhi
Part 2 (current): New Delhi