Category Archives: India

Delhi India in 4.5 days: A personal story – Part Three

This was my first trip to both Delhi, and India, and thus far, I had found Delhi huge, overwhelming, the people seemed less happy (and less friendly) than in other parts of India. This is the conclusion of a three part series. In Part Two, I tell the story of meeting Ravi from Jaipur, and traveling around Delhi together, visiting Delhi Fort and Chadni Chowk market, an unpleasant encounter with an unscrupulous cycle rickshaw driver, and finally, a visit to India Gate.

DAY FOUR

I awoke in my hotel, the Su Shree Continental in Paharganj, to find out that my ex boyfriend, Wayne, had passed away earlier that week. My friend Van who was a mutual friend of ours messaged me from Vancouver to see if I was okay, however she didn’t realize that I actually didn’t know the news yet.

Wayne and I had not remained in communication over the last year and a half since our breakup, so I initially wasn’t sure how to learn more about what happened. I have severed almost every tie between us. I found some information online which confirmed Van’s news. At this time, I felt deflated and down, and all kinds of things were running though my mind. During the period of our excommunication, I had felt angry with him, but now, I didn’t know how to feel. I also noticed that the buddist service for Wayne put his age at 59, which was very confusing for me as he had always told me that he was about ten years younger.

I stewed all morning, experiencing conflicting emotions. I’ve never lost a former partner before. Eventually got myself going in the early afternoon. I headed south, toward Janpath lane and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which actually turned out to be my favourite location in all Delhi. I wanted to see Connaught Place en route, and started walking in that direction. A cycle rickshaw picked me up en route and since Gurudwara would be the easiest place for his rickshaw to access, he took me there. I only saw the back of Connaught Place after all.IMG_20170504_222524

On entering Gurudwara Sikh temple I could hear prayers sung out from the overhead speakers attached to the main central building. I had to first leave my shoes with fellas in the lower level for safekeeping. Barefoot, I headed upstairs, waded through a little pool of water that presumably purified my feet, and then I was free to wander the grounds. The entire complex appeared to be built on a platform raised above street level.

I headed to the right, where a huge square pool of water glistened against the white temple. I walked around the large pool, and watched boys wade into the pool. Later, I saw a Sikh pool guard beat misbehaving boys with a string when they exited the pool. Public corporal punishment seems normal here, I suppose. I stopped there for a while, and recorded a video while a heron meandered in the pool.IMG_20170504_204638

IMG_20170504_204741IMG_20170504_204552IMG_20170504_205443I recorded a second video before leaving the premises, to show off the central courtyard where most of the action was taking place. I have never experienced a religious location quite like this. Gurudwara was an oasis in the mist of chaotic Delhi, and I really needed this peaceful alone time to reflect and rest.IMG_20170504_212155

IMG_20170504_212209On my way out, a friendly and charming guy started talking to me. Before long, I found out that he was a rickshaw driver, looked to drive me to my next destination. I agreed as I wanted to get to nearby Janpath Lane, however I never imagined that it’d take him almost two hours to get me there.

The rickshaw driver somehow convinced me to visit a nearby bazar en route to our destination, which apparently had ‘much better prices’ than Janpath market. It turned out that the bazar was largely aimed at settled tourists, who owned homes and had room to put all the heavy and pricy souvenirs. I, on the other hand, was traveling backpacker style and currently have no permanent home. This bazar was not for me! I returned to my driver annoyed because he had clearly misled me.

While halted at a traffic stop, kids approached, begging me for money. I gave them cookies I had in my bag. Once again en route to Janpath, the driver convinced me again to visit another Bazar, which he explained was an attempt for him to receive vouchers for gas. I agreed to the detour once again, but I was beginning to get impatient. We made a pit stop at the bazar so my driver could get his damn gas vouchers. That entailed me walking around the bazar looking like a genuine customer who intended to buy lots of luxurious items for a home that I don’t own yet.

When I returned to the rickshaw, I demanded that we go directly to Janpath, which was actually not far from Gurudwara, but I was now angry that I was wasting my last full day in Delhi doing what my driver was persuading me to do.

Finally, as I was about to pay him, he declared he had no change from my larger money dominations, and then hinting that I could pay him more, suggested I should pay him what I thought the trip was worth. I was so annoyed that he had wasted my precious time that I decided against tipping him, and with help from another rickshaw driver who broke up my larger bill, I paid my driver exactly what we had agreed at the outset. I was relieved to enter Janpath and be clear of that driver who I had initially trusted. I felt annoyed that I had to verbally battle with him just to go where I had intended.IMG_20170504_223253

Thankfully, Janpath was worth the long detour. The market was compact, short and had vendors selling clothing, costume jewelry, shoes, and belts. Sellers approached me trying to sell me board games, wooden pipes and other wacky items.

I spied a stall that had many pretty Gujarat handbags, and so I chatted with the owner for a while. I picked up some pretty local earrings from other vendors, and then exited the market, hoping to find Little Tibet market, located nearby.

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Janpath Lane market

 

As I approached Little Tibet, I noticed that shops suddenly became very western, and their prices did too. I was advised by shop owners en route that Little Tibet usually closed around 7pm, and by now, it was already 8pm. I began to feel that the area was in fact a pit stop for wealthy western ‘hippies’, and this was really not what I had in mind. I was actually on a mission to find local incense. I stopped by a store to pick up Delhi candy for my students back in Korea, and also purchased a couple of embroidered fabric pieces from a very grateful street vendor who had her wears displayed on the sidewalk. When I stumbled across Patel Chowk station, I decided to just head back to Paharganj. That night, I ate at a local restaurant in the sketchy alleys near my hotel. I hardly remember a thing about it, so I must have been very tired!

HEADING HOME

My flight was in the evening, so I had the whole morning and part of the afternoon before I headed to Delhi international airport. My flight was at 7:40pm, so I figured I’d leave Paharganj around 3pm. After packing and extending my check out time with my hotel, I stumbled across a local restaurant and ordered palak paneer (mashed potato and cheese sandwiched between hot roti bread) and a mango lassi.

While I waited for my food, more hungry customers arrived. I noticed a man dressed in rags, who seemed to have something wrong with his legs sitting on the sidewalk across the street. I thought how strange it was, for all the customers within to be staring at this man, while we ate and he looked so thin. When my breakfast arrived, I darted quickly across the street with a piece of my breakfast and the remaining water in my water bottle. He looked super happy as I gave him this small gift, and afterwards, I darted back to my table at the restaurant, to reflect on the wealth disparity between the Indian guests staying at my hotel, and the local poor.

Around the corner, I stopped for a sugar cane and lime refreshing beverage, before heading to Main Bazar Road where I intended to spend my last few hours before leaving India. The tiny alleys toward Main Bazar Road were poorly maintained which made wearing sandals a little challenging. I was surprised every time though, when I wondered into a cow on the street.

I initially wanted to find a post office, so I could send three postcards, but this took me quite a while to find as there were no clear identifying signs above the post office. I must have asked at least five people before I eventually found it. It opened at 10am, so because I arrived too early, I decided to return later.

I headed to nearby Krishna café to check out their pretty embroidered Gujarat handbags that I had noticed on my previous visit. They were all too large for my taste, so I just stopped for tea. I ended up striking a conversation with a Japanese man sitting beside me, and he told me about his crazy schedule, visiting multiple locations in India, all within the space of a week. He explained that this was his eighth trip to India, and he was visiting many sites because in Japan, employees get short vacation breaks, and he was making the best of his time away from work.

After tea, I headed back to the post office. I poked my head through an entrance on the right, and headed up a narrow staircase, entered a small courtyard, and within one of the rooms lay the post office. The clerks were friendly, and postage, cheap. I was happy to successfully send my postcards!

The next few hours were a shopping blur. I looked at afgani pants, cushions, wall hangings and backpacks. Eventually, I found myself in a small shoe store, Meenu Traders (1045-46 Main Basar Road), and chatted with the chatty owner, Mr. Manchanda, and eventually bought a pair of colourful leather sandals ( around 400 rupees) that fit me well. I’m apparently an Indian shoe-size 10! The store reminded me of the charming shoe shop I visited in Jodhpur a week earlier.

I decided by now that local restaurants served better quality food, their prices were local (unlike many of the tourist restaurants along Main Bazar Road) and I felt good about supporting the local businesses. I ordered a Thali at the entrance.

The restaurant upstairs-seating opened up into the street, and as my food arrived, some fella started splitting coal on the sidewalk pavement outside. As a result, I breathed in some of the dust that floated up toward me, and I found it interesting that it seemed that many here just didn’t know about the hazards of air pollution. Perhaps one of the benefits of attending tourist restaurants was that guests didn’t receive a complimentary side of coal dust with their birianis.

I made one last pit stop at a jewelers who specialized in silver. I had come across The Ornaments on my first day staying in Paharganj, and had seen a ring I liked. The owner, Raja, had given me his card so I’d find him again. I tracked him down at 1549 Main Bazar Road, and Raja explained that he designs jewelry. I purchased the same silver ring I had seen earlier, which had a dark African amethyst stone in the center. I paid just over 700 rupees for it and felt ecstatic to have landed this beautiful piece of jewelry.

Two memorable things happened while en route to the airport. Firstly, as usual, I grabbed a shared rickshaw from DB Gupta road across the big bridge to the Delhi metro station. I ended up sharing a rickshaw with a fella that in fact was going to another nearby train station. I wouldn’t have mounted the rickshaw but the driver led me to believe he was headed to Delhi metro. So, the driver let me dismount, to haggle with alternate drivers who were driving over the busy bridge. The weather was hot, and I was wearing a heavy backpack, but thankfully, a rickshaw driver soon stopped to see if he could pick up my fare. I hopped on, and all worked out.

At Delhi metro station, I discovered that I needed to locate the actual airport express line station, which was adjacent to the regular metro station. The ticket counter guy was ambiguous about exactly where the airport metro station was located, but a kind Indian fella in the queue approached me and explained that I had to head toward exit 4, where I would find the correct building and ticket booth to travel to the airport. I was pretty grateful for this guy’s help, and two minutes later, after emerging from the metro building and crossing the street, I entered the airport express metro station.

My 60 rupee one way ticket to the airport was cheap, as the airport was only about five stops away. I got to the airport within half an hour. The train was clean, had plenty of seating, and the train journey couldn’t have been smoother.

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Airport express train

I arrived at the airport, furnished my paper airline itinerary to gain entrance, and had plenty of time to kill. The airport was a delight, with pretty shops in the Duty Free area and plenty of seating. My last little stint of time at the airport quickly evaporated, and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed home. Till next time, India!IMG_20170505_223147

 

Have you visited Delhi, or intend to visit? Please share your surprise experiences or future plans in the comments below. Please click the like button, and share! Thanks for reading.

 

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Delhi India in 4.5 days: A personal story – Part Two

My first ever trip to Delhi was the least favourite part of my India trip, however, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In the latter half of my stay in Delhi, I encountered the most challenging and interesting situations, hands down. The following story picks up where Delhi, Part One, left off.

DAY THREE

I had stayed in contact with Ravi, the manager of the guesthouse I had stayed at in Jaipur. He was visiting Delhi, so we decided to be tourists together, and visit the Red Fort and the famous India Gate.

My foreigner ticket to enter Delhi’s UNESCO heritage Red Fort cost 500 rupees, while locals paid 30 rupees. Foreigners and Indians were separated into different lines, each with different prices paid for entry tickets. While my line to get in was short, Ravi’s was long.

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Entrance to the Red Fort

We were funneled through a picturesque walkway entrance, flanked by souvenir shops which opened up into the fort grounds. The entrance has a museum above, the Indian War Memorial, which Ravi and I visited on our way out. We immediately went to the colonnaded audience hall where the king received guests and heard their petitions. I sneakily listened to a nearby tour guide who was instructing her group in Italian. Her group, it seemed, could hardly hear what she was saying or were too busy taking photos to care.

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Ravi standing in front of the royal Audience Hall

We meandered through the grounds, encountering pretty bath houses, rooms and gardens. Some marble structures were very ornate and gorgeous to photograph, however most of them seemed neglected and were sectioned off, preventing visitors from accessing them. Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, I thought, seemed significantly better maintained!

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Beautiful white marble structures

 

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Intricate detailing incised into the decorative marble panels

Returning to the entrance gate, we headed up the narrow stair case to the Indian War Memorial Museum. The museum was packed, and we were fascinated by the colonial rifles, revolvers, swords and other weapons used by Indians to help the British during the First World War.

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The Red Fort grounds

 

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In front of the Indian War Memorial Museum

Chadni Chowk, the famous massive market, was close by, so exiting the Red Fort, we headed in that direction. A cyclist rickshaw encountered us, and agreed to take us there for 50 rupees. Actually, the minute we hopped onto his rickshaw, we were already within the market as it was only across the street.

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Jame Masjid mosque

 

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Jame Masjid mosque
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Jame Masjid mosque; Ravi posing like a model. For once, I was behind the camera!

I wanted to see Jame Masjid, so he took us through the market up to the mosque so we could take photos there! It was lunch time, so since Karim’s restaurant was nearby, we decided to end our little tour there. The cyclist convinced us to continue with his services for 100 rupees total, with the agreement that he’d resume the market tour after we ate.

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Karim’s, Chadni Chowk

Karim’s looked exactly like the photos and videos I had seen from vlogs on the internet, however the restaurant complex was larger than I had expected! In addition to the kitchens, there was a vegetarian restaurant section, and several buildings for client dining. We ordered a mutton stew, dahl (lentils), rice and roti (local bread). The dining environment was casual and laidback and many local families appeared to frequent this restaurant.

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Karim’s

 

As we stepped out of Karim’s, the cycle rickshaw fella waved us over, and we hopped back onto his seat for our tour of Chadni Chowk. We recorded a video while admiring the saris and clothing embellishments as we slowly progressed through narrow market lanes.

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Chadni Chowk tour

A most curious thing happened when I wanted to pay. Firstly, the rickshaw driver assumed that Ravi was not a friend, but a tour guide. When I went to pay, the cyclist driver began screaming and shouting that we had agreed to 500 rupees payment, and that I was cheating him. In my previous experience, I paid about 500 rupees to have a rickshaw driver’s service for about 5 hours, driving me between tourist destinations which were considerably far apart, so I was surprised at this cycle rickshaw guy. His loud performance drew a crowd around us and made the situation into a spectacle.

Ravi talked to him calmly, while the guy screamed and shouted. The situation made me feel frustrated because I knew this fella was doing this because I’m a white foreigner, and I was embarrassed because about twenty Indian men were all gathered around in a circle, which gave this guy an audience and seemed to validate his accusations directed at me. Also, I felt that if Ravi hadn’t been there, the rickshaw guy would never had behaved like this toward me alone.

I threatened that we’d call the police, and have them intervene, and Ravi, to my surprise, called them up immediately. He spoke to them, and then placed the shouting fella on the phone with them. Ravi later told me that the policeman had told the guy to calm down and accept the payment agreed at the beginning. This didn’t seem to have any effect.

While the guy continued shouting, Ravi and other random men approached me, saying, why don’t you just give the driver half of what he is asking. I felt somewhat ganged up on. I retorted to the driver that his dishonesty makes me feel like never returning to Delhi with my tourist money, and he retorted something (apparently vulgar) in Hindi to me. Ravi became very angry at what the cyclist had said to me, and suddenly shouted at the rickshaw driver. The driver suddenly seemed to calm down, and I finally paid the him double of what we had initially agreed. I walked away feeling frustrated and disappointed.

We then meandered through Chadni Chowk, and I picked up some delicious local cakes. I still felt shaken up by the drama from the cycle rickshaw guy. We cautiously grabbed another rickshaw, and headed out to India Gate.

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India Gate!

 

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Night time approached at India Gate

The gate towers in the center of a plaza, and Indian tourists, particularly families, crowded around, taking selfies, while sellers approached tourists with all kinds of random knick knacks. We began walking toward the president’s house, and after resting on the grass that flanked the walkway, we decided to abandon the walk and get dinner instead.

We grabbed a rickshaw that dropped us off at restaurant in Paharganj. We ordered overpriced, mediocre Indian fare, ate and parted ways.

Stand by for Part Three.

 

What was your experience of Delhi? Have you visited the Red Fort, Chadni Chowk, Karim’s restaurant or India Gate and had similar experiences? What about these locations inspire you to visit Delhi?

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Delhi, India in 4.5 days: a personal story – Part One

Let’s be honest. Ragasthan is way nicer than Uttar Pradesh. I loved Jaipur, and especially Jodhpur, but what I saw of Agra and Delhi didn’t grab me in quite the same way. In fact, of the four cities I visited in Northern India over two weeks, Delhi was my least favourite.

The people didn’t smile like they did in Ragasthan. Delhi is huge and sprawling, so it took time to reach sites. Also, economic inequality seemed more prevalent in the tourist areas that attracted many beggars, and some beggars were quite aggressive approaching tourists.

I had read articles by other writers prior to my travel, and they often professed dislike for Delhi, but I wanted to experience it for myself and make up my own mind about it. In preparation for my visit, I had prepared a loose itinerary of sites, including temples, forts, palaces and markets that I really wanted to see. I was also eager to eat my way around the city. Here’s my story.

DAY ONE

I arrived into Delhi on the express train from Agra. I traveled with another solo traveller, Chrisie, originally from Germany, whom I had met in Agra three days prior. On arrival at New Delhi train station, I headed to Paharganj, located just behind the station. A wee bridge, filled with trash along the sidewalk, made crossing it difficult, however when I arrived at my hotel, the Su Shree Continental, I was delighted with my room. It was clean, well presented and the temperature was cool, although the room had no exterior window, and lunch on the hotel roof was a little boring as there was no view.

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Su Shree Continental hotel

 

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Late lunch: Aloo Gobhi (Potato curry with rice)

Soon, I discovered the winding allies and general touristiness of my local neighbourhood. I stumbled across a newly constructed guesthouse called the Jyoti Mahal. The architecture and furniture looked old, and was styled in a colonial Indian fashion. I snooped around, exploring the rooms, and enjoyed tea in the lobby area. The reception staff explained that their rates are usually around 2,000 rupees ($40) per night in off season, and 2,500 ($50) in peak season. If I revisit Delhi, I’d like to stay at this guesthouse.

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Jyoti Mahal

 

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Joyti Mahal
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Joyti Mahal

IMG_20170517_130214I meandered on, discovered a neat shop which sold bed coverings, and told the sales fella how to better display his items! Afterwards, I stumbled across Main Bazar Road, where I discovered cafes, silver jewelry shops, pretty craft shops selling leather items, local handmade bags, and basically, everything a tourist could be enticed by. After a nice walk, I returned to the Su Shree to sleep.

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Grocery bag souvenirs

DAY TWO

Qutub Minar, the archaeological site housing the tallest minaret in the world, was highest on my to-do list. After a late morning start, I headed to the Delhi Metro station as I discovered that the yellow line would take me directly to the Qutub Minar. I hopped onto a shared rickshaw which took me to the Delhi metro station for 10 rupees, and bought my metro ticket at the booth for about 20 rupees. The metro station was large, and the trains air-conditioned. The train carriages were full, and everyone was squished together, like packed trains in Seoul, S. Korea. While traveling, I read up on my destination, so I knew a little about the structures located there. When I emerged, I shared another rickshaw with tourists going between the station and the Qutub Minar site. Within the rickshaw, I met two young Indian girls who I’d bump into later.

The Qutub Minar entrance fee was 500 rupees (or $10), as seems to be the usual foreigner price in Northern India for entry to sites of this scale or fame. The site was filled with Islamic tombs, made from red-stone, sand stone and marble. The weather was hot, and while resting, I got chatting with a Afgani-Japanese couple.

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Qutb Minar

 

 

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Qutb Minar

Shortly thereafter, I left my bottled water on the ground while I took a photo, and meanwhile, a local child walking by with his family furiously kicked it over. I demanded that the child pick it up right away, and when he didn’t, the mother came back and picked it up. Seeing this, an Australian tourist, accompanied by her husband, expressed her approval of my admonishment of the child. I explained that I’m a teacher and deal with children all the time. She then explained she was also a teacher, and so we got chatting for twenty minutes about their travels. We were soon besieged by locals who asked to take photos with us. I replied that they could take one photo with me, but after that, I’d begin to charge. The couple found that funny, but the new Indian friends didn’t know what to make of me.

I had talked to the couple about experiencing diarrhea in Jaipur, and how I wasn’t even sure whether it was heat stroke or something I ate that caused it. They explained to me that over their numerous travels throughout Asia, they always take a supplement called Acidophilus. They said that this product taken daily whenever they travel helps balance their stomach acids and thus far, in combination with being careful to avoid unfamiliar bacteria, they have never fallen sick. Perhaps I’ll look into this supplement for my next travel adventure.

And then I bumped into the girls from the earlier rickshaw. I learned that Nandini was visiting her cousin Samia, who lived in Delhi. Nandini was quite the history student. We walked around taking photos together, and discussing Persian monarchs in India’s history.

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Samia (black trousers), myself and Nandini

 

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Qutb Minar: Smith’s Cupola

Finally, they invited me to join them in Sarojni Market, which was the next stop on their agenda. I had planned to go to Chadni Chowk market, but I wanted to see Sarojni too, so together, we headed to INA station, where we grabbed another shared rickshaw which brought us to Sarojni. To my surprise, the rickshaw driver piled four of us ladies into the back seat, and another next to him in the driver seat to maximize his profit. I was glad to be crammed alongside ladies, not fellas, and happy to be traveling local style, experiencing India as the locals do.

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Riding Delhi’s metro system!

At Sarojni market, Samia and Nandini weren’t messing around! They were serious shoppers. I wanted to hang out with them, just to enjoy the experience of hanging out with locals and learning about their culture, but after spending at least ten minutes watching them trying on watches and fifteen minutes rummaging through clothing in a shop, I excused myself so I could meander at my own, faster pace. Aside from shops with western clothing, I discovered lady’s ali baba pants that go under traditional suits, entire indoor market stalls of dedicated to saris, stores with shelves loaded with two piece suits, and a corner of the market where machinists tailored newly purchased suits for clients.

The best location was Mahendra Sweet House. I walked up to the counter, and a friendly manager helped me select a meal. I paid another fella at a cash register for a token equivalent to the meal price, and then submitted my token to receive my delicious dahl and rice lunch. Before leaving, I purchased some delicious local sweets! I got a spongy green sweet made from ghiya burfree (bottle gourd vegetable), and also a coconut sweet. I had these packaged up for a later snack.

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Sarojni market

 

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Dahl and rice at Mahendra, Sarojni market

I ate my sweets later that evening, on the corner of my street (DB Gupta Road) by Su Shree hotel. They were oily and delicious! There, I ordered a street chai tea, and sat with some local men on a make-shift seat beside the tea wagon. It was fun observing the tea specialist throwing spices into a boiling pan, and then after a couple of minutes, straining the tea into a small cup.

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Street chai tea, with delicious sweets from Mahendra

After tea and a quick stop by my hotel, I headed out to find postcards and food. I ended up in Krishna café, having been enticed by their pretty bags hanging outside their stepped doorway. I ordered a Paneer Butter Masala.IMG_20170502_225733

 

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Paneer butter masala

 

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Street view from Krishna café terrace

An older German fella, Winfried, asked if he could join me, and after listening to his adventures, as well as upcoming retirement plans, and intentions to do the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, he decided I was amazing, just what he was looking for, and if only he had met me earlier in his travels. It was an interesting evening.

Standby for the next blog, Delhi, Part Two.

 

Have you visited Delhi? What are your must see sites, or your experience of Paharganj? Please leave your comments below, like, share, and subscribe to my blog! Thanks for reading!

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Tips for first time travel to India

Many travellers believe India is the ultimate travel destination. India is guaranteed to challenge and reward visitors with rich cultural experiences. Some visitors remain for months and even years, while others find it difficult to adapt to city challenges, like noise, pollution, and so on. Some vow to never return.IMG_20170421_163401 My mother introduced me and my siblings to Indian culture when I was probably ten years old. Her best friend, Sheh, was a successful business woman from New Delhi. She had married a British fella and relocated to London. My family would visit her at her London home, and she shared her culture with us.

We would watch Bollywood romance movies, and these often entailed infectious choreographed traditional dance as well as fight scenes, jealous lovers and beautiful actors. Sneh was a fine cook, and would invite us to eat amazing native Delhi dishes. Brits already have a love of Indian food, but this home cooking stirred my appreciation for fine, traditional Indian food at a young age. The icing on the cake was that Sneh would bring my mother traditional Indian clothing gifts, which my mother cherished, and so mama would dress up on occasion in a punjabi suit, or her bright gold and green sari!

Since childhood, I have longed to visit India. I’ve now watched countless documentaries on various topics, including the brilliant train system in Mumbai, women cops standing for local women’s rights, and tourist ‘travel love’ for Goa.

FINDING FLIGHTS

Two months ago, I began a non-committal search on Googleflights.com for flights to Hanoi, Vietnam. After playing around with dates using some of the useful features on the site, and noting peaks and lows in pricing based on flight dates, I found a flight to Delhi for around 540,000 KRW (Korean won). I cross-referenced the flight on Skyscanner.com to confirm that the price was the same, and after reserving time off from work, I booked the flight. I will travel direct with Korean Air, will take approximately eight hours to get to Delhi, and seven hours to return to Seoul.

INDIAN VISA

Every tourist, it seems, needs a visa to enter India. The basic e-tourist visa allows visitors to stay for a month, and costs approximately $49US. The Indiavisaonline website encourages travellers to begin the process at least four days before flying, and this entails filling out several pages on information including citizenship background, passport details, religion, and parents’ place of birth.

I had to upload a suitable head shot from a recent passport-style photograph, as well as upload a scanned image of the passport I would use while traveling. The site was very specific about the size of the files that could be uploaded, and these details made the process a little tedious. Also, I began several applications because my initial attempts didn’t seem to save.

READ, READ, READ!

The minute that I had booked my flights and started my visa application, I began to consume as much information as I could about India, and particularly, Northern India. I contacted an Indian friend, Jay, who I knew had returned from Canada to live in India, to tell him about my trip. I discovered that he was in fact living in Northern India. We decided very quickly that I’d journey out to Jodhpur from New Delhi to visit him. I began reading blog after blog, searching for relevant material using key search words on Goggle and Pintrest to find blogs, particularly on topics like, which sites to visit, solo women travel, what to eat, and so on.

I realised that there were many factors worth consideration. For example, would my power converter work in India? Where should I exchange my Korean won for Indian Rupees? If I want to dress like a local, what outfits should I consider buying there? How do I bargain in India? What is safe to consume for western stomachs? What is Delhi belly and Loperamide?

I also began finding that blogs covered topics like, who should I trust? What scams are common? What is the best way to travel? How do I buy train tickets? What is the easiest way to deal with taxis? Should I avoid meat? What goes on at a yoga ashram? What’s the scoop on sketchy hotel bed sheets? What should I pack? What does the ‘head bobble’ mean? Also, how should western women dress, and how can we avoid or address unwanted attention from men? What’s the deal with everyone wanting a photo with westerners?

WATCH, WATCH, WATCH!

I have watched numerous documentaries, particularly Kevin McCloud’s series, “Slumming It,” documenting fascinating Dharavi in Mumbai. In preparation for travel itself, I’ve really enjoyed watching GottaDoIndia. This travel show, presented by model and local Indian Sherry, introduces different cities in India in short, five minute videos that leave travellers with lots of ideas to do while visiting cities all over India. I’ve learned about recommended sites to visit and what to do there, been introduced to different restaurants and shops, and learn how to bargain while shopping.

I’ve also enjoyed watching Mark Wiens who eats his way around India. He introduces many different Indian dishes, identifies ingredients, and lists clearly where to find the food trucks and restaurants that he visits. Just watching him eat is pleasurable because his face lights up with each mouthful.

For learning about how what to expect as a foreign backpacker traveling around India, I really like watching Gabriel Traveler. He takes viewers through the cities he travels to, listing his living costs, stories on the road, and scams to watch for. I find his delivery style engaging and his tips, indispensable.

Before traveling, I intend to watch a documentary on a brief history of India, to get a chronological sense of events that somewhat define the multiple cultures found within this ancient, religious and caste-based society. I want to understand more about Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions here to understand a little about diverse Indian identity.

JOIN ONLINE TRAVEL COMMUNITIES

A few months ago, I began to take my travel writing seriously, and as a result, I joined a few social media forums. These included travel forums for people who travel often and want to communicate with other travellers. On Facebook, I joined Female Travel Bloggers, Travel Buddies Korea, Ultimate Travel Group, Girls Love Travel and Bloggers in Korea. Being part of these online communities has been particularly useful.

On a number of occasions, I’ve requested members to post blogs they’ve written on destinations that I plan to visit. Additionally, I’ve asked for advice on topics like acquiring an entry visa to India, and buying Indian Rupees. These forums are supportive, and I’ve found many informative blogs in this way.

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BEGIN A TRAVEL-INDIA JOURNAL

My current two week trip entails flying into Delhi, and heading straight to Jodhpur (Ragasthan). After a  few days, I’ll enjoy a short stay in Jaipur, and thereafter head to Agra. My last few days will be spent exploring Delhi. My trip entails quite a lot, so as I began reading blogs about these cities, I realized that I was gaining a lot of information that I would not necessarily remember. As a result, I began keeping a diary exclusively for my trip to India. I started taking notes on places of interest and keeping all the information together as a way to keep track of all the ideas and tips that I’d like to recall once I arrive at my destination.

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Thus far, I’ve got pages of notes on travel tips. I’ve listed markets and restaurants to visit, food to try, cultural places of interest like Hindu, Sikh and Muslim temples, forts, palaces and gardens. I label these with two, three or four stars, identifying for myself what I cannot miss. I’ve noted souvenirs to look out for, and suitable clothing types to purchase. I’ve noted bars and hookah cafes to visit in Delhi.  Additionally, I’ve jotted down hotel bookings, dates, and location/ contact information in case of a technical failure with my tablet.

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Notes on useful apps like Cleartrip for booking trains, pre-paid taxi services available at airports and train stations (to avoid haggling), and the Delhi Airport Metro Express from Pahargani to Delhi Airport, have all made it into my diary. Finally, I’ve added a quick currency conversion chart, anticipated expenses, and passwords for internet banking.

LEARN BASIC HINDI PHRASES

Although I’m lucky enough to have been born speaking the current Lingua Franca as my native tongue, as an international traveller, I don’t take for granted that everyone speaks my language. For me, learning a few phrases in the local language is not only useful for getting around, particularly if locals don’t speak English, but also shows respect for the culture that I am visiting. Learning some Hindi will remind me that I’m a guest in India, and that to some degree, I’m representing the culture I originate from. Additionally, learning a little of a new language is fun. I did the same thing when I visited Japan recently, and try to do this whenever I have the time and drive before travelling to a new country.

Every morning, I listen to a short Hindi lesson to learn some basic, useful phrases that I’ll actually use. I like the Learn Hindi (Hindi Pod101) series because the lessons are short (three minutes), I can replay them easily, and I can learn one or two phrases within each lesson. Presenter Prerana speaks slowly and clearly, and her classes are accompanied by text. The visual and audio combination suits my language learning style well, so for my purposes, these sessions are fun, simple and useful.

BOOKING ACCOMODATION

I have been so consumed learning about all the different places to visit that booking accommodation got left to the last week or two. It worked out well because when I travel, I prioritize easy accessibility to sites of interest, and thus I often prefer central locations. I can only do this once I have an idea of the city layout.

Now, knowing which locations I intend to visit, I began booking-marking the locations on Google maps, and from there, I could get a good idea of what neighbourhood might be a most suitable base from which to visit the majority of the sites of interest.

I reserved all my accommodation using Booking.com. This site allows clients to narrow searches using star ratings, particular neighborhoods, budgets and so on. I really like the feature which allows clients to view available hotels for their travel dates directly on a map. These include location and price. I used this feature to book all my accommodations, and it proved very useful for finding a hotel two minutes walking distance to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Overall, I’ve never spent so much time preparing for a trip as I have with this one. There are so many things I want to experience and avoid missing out on. I want to approach this unique culture with an open mind, and be ready to embrace differences from norms that I’m accustomed to. I’m aware that I will encounter numerous challenges, but I also know that my attitude, and my ability to be flexible will enable an experience that I will never forget.

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Have you traveled to India and have some travel tips you’d like to share? Please post your comments below!

Keep Learning!