Return to the capital
26.03.2012 - 30.05.2012 32 °C
Our departure from the mountain views of Himachal Pradesh was via the historical train journey down the Shimla Kalka railway, a toy train line built by a Victorian British viceroy. We booked our trains as before but on boarding the train found that it was (understandably) considerably smaller and more cramped than any other. The 90km trip takes 6 hours, which is mainly down to the number of metres the line descends through the mountains, as well as the number of tunnels (102) and switch backs in the line. However, this did give us plenty of time to admire the Himalayan foothills for the final time on our trip. Our stay in Kalka was brief, enough time to leave the toy train and get on our first and only AC chair carriage (the most similar set up to a British train) as there were no cheaper means of getting to Delhi that evening. By the time we arrived at Delhi’s Sarai Rohilla station we had spent the best part of 12 hours on trains that day, and were very pleased to be offered a lift to Pahar Ganj by one of David Cameron’s bodyguards, and his mother, a priest from Weymouth who had been doing the same journey as us. For our second stay in Delhi we booked into the same hotel as we had stayed in during the few days we were there around Holi, although as there were two hotels owned by the same people, it turned out we had a room in the other hotel this time around.
After our relaxing period in the mountains we decided to try and pack in as much as we could in our time back in the capital, starting with the New Delhi area. This part of the city was built by the British when they relocated the national capital back to Delhi. We took the metro (again, one of the most impressively Western things in the whole country) down to the stop nearest to the main attractions of New Delhi, emerging on the Rajpath, a 2km straight road with the Delhi Gate at one end and the presidential residence at the other. The searing heat of the plains had returned and the stroll around the governmental buildings of the secretariat was very hot, so we headed for the relative cool of the National Museum. There were some interesting ancient relics and another large collection of Rajasthani miniature painting, though with a number of the galleries being closed we felt we didn’t get the full experience. After another hot walk down the Rajpath we arrived at the Delhi Gate, an imposing structure similar to the Gateway to India in Mumbai but bigger and less ornate. A further walk through embassy district brought us to the Gandhi Smriti, the Mahatma’s residence during the final few months of his life. Unfortunately we arrived quite late in the day so only had time for a quick look around, although we did manage to take in some of the information about the independence campaign and see the spot where he was martyred.
The following day we set off to Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad, to give it its full and previous title. This is where Delhi really reflects the stereotype of Indian - busy crowded chaotic streets and hordes of people selling you everything and rickshaw wallahs refusing to give you directions unless you take a lift from them even just a block down the street. After lunch at an Indian fast food restaurant (although it’s hard to find anywhere on the street that isn’t fast for food) we headed for the Red Fort. Modelled on the fort at Agra, this was the centrepiece of Shah Jahan’s new capital at Delhi and is set over a large piece of ground on the edge of the river. We saw the various halls of public and private audience and the lawns where the Mughal emperors held court and ruled their empire. As always, we were accompanied by hurrying crowds of Indians all the way round. Our final stop on this tour was a museum of independence in one of the outbuildings, a distinctly one sided look at the late history of the raj and the struggle of the Indian people towards independence in 1947. Not for the first time we were shocked to discover a part of a museum extolling the virtues of someone who had killed many British people, this time it was a soldier who had defected from the Indian army and run away to China to get support for his idea of an Indian Independence Army. This gallery was juxtaposed by more rooms telling the tale of Gandhi, the Indian hero who abhorred violence and the idea of creating independence by force. After the Red Fort we walked round to the Jama Masjid, Delhi’s main mosque. We arrived during afternoon prayers which meant we had to wait until the Muslims had finished praying to go in even though many obviously non-Muslim or non-religious Muslim Indians were strolling in, running around and taking photos during the prayers. We were then told by the door man that we were then not allowed in at the same time without buying a camera licence for the camera in our bag. That evening we had an excellent meal at a restaurant in Pahar Ganj, with Patrick feeling brave enough to try the tandoori chicken and Ffion having chicken momos, which were both very tasty.
We spent our final full day in the capital travelling to some more outlying sights, starting with the Baha’i temple. This is a modern building in the southern suburbs which is often compared to the Sydney Opera House and with good reason – the Baha’i temple’s is in the shape of a lotus flower and is very impressive both from the approach on the metro system and from close up after you manage to get through several levels of security checks and work out which is the Indian queue and which is for non-Indians. From our brief trip (Ffion's second) we learnt that Baha'i is a religion that states there is one God, one humanity and one religion that has had many prophets. Mohammed and Jesus, they say, were early prophets of the same religion and in the mid 19th century a new prophet called Bahá'u'lláh brought new messages which added to their teaching but in reality his teachings established a new religion. Baha'i worship is similar to Quaker services in that it's based on the principle of quiet prayer and reflection with occasional readings from their holy scriptures. Before being allowed into the temple we were lined up outside and told several times in several languages that me must be quiet and not take photos whilst inside. There were volunteers from all over the world inside trying to enforce this with some success. We returned to Pahar Ganj via Connaught Place, another central roundabout, which currently has on it a touring display of Berlin’s giant bears, each painted by artists from every country in the world; the UK’s effort is particularly disappointing! We had another tasty tea at the same restaurant as the evening before, sampling some lamb kebab and a veg thali.
The following morning we packed our things for another southward journey, moving on to the remaining point of the golden triangle -Agra.