Monday, Jan 15, 2018
I’m continuing on with our look back in time. Our flight arrived from Munich, into Delhi, late last night. After a wait in customs, our driver met us at the airport. We arrived at the Hotel Sunstar Heritage, exhausted, and made it to bed around 2:30am. Despite our exhaustion, we still woke up around 6:30am. No matter what precautions you take, a 10.5-11.5 hour time change (depending on the time of the year) is difficult, and a bit disorienting. Our overnight in Munich mitigated the issue a bit, but it was still hard.
Upon waking, I decided a hot shower was in order, but no matter how long I waited, all that came out of the tap was, at best, lukewarm water. In India, hot water is not standard, and even though our hotel claimed to have it between 5AM and 10AM, there were either too many people using it at once, or it wasn’t heated to very warm. Expedia lists this hotel as 3.5 stars, so it really makes you appreciate the comforts of home. We also started questioning some of our other bookings, but more on this later.
After our interesting showers, we decided to find the breakfast room. Delicious! There was an amazing soup, a really nice curry and some tasty Indian bread. We split an omelet, and John opted to eat a couple of bananas.
At this point, we were picked again by our driver, Jay, from Ashok’s Taxi Tours. Overall, we were very pleased with this service and would highly recommend it. They were one of the higher rated agencies that we saw on TripAdvisor, and we went with one of their recommendations for a 2 week itinerary loop from Delhi. It was essentially him and the four of us in a van for about 2 weeks, and it was quite helpful for him to take us door-to-door, and deal with the sorts of surprises that might happen when westerners visit India.
One of this company’s selling points is that their drivers are not allowed to take you shopping or deviate from the itinerary unless you ask them to. Given that we avoid tour companies for precisely the shopping issue, this was a huge point in their favor. The driver did speak English, though his primary job was as a driver, rather than also as a guide. There were some smaller sites where he came in with us, but in the larger ones, we either got an audio guide, visited independently, or hired one of the local guides. In the end, we got the ease of a tour company with the freedom of an independent traveler.
On the way to our first stop, our driver told us that we were passing a park that had monkeys wandering around and that we should keep our eyes peeled. To the boys delight, we spotted our first monkey. That said, we wondered about all that we had read about rabies, and whether we should have skipped the rabies shots.
Our first stop was the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Hindu temple. As we wandered the grounds, we took the opportunity to explain to the boys that while we are Christian, other parts of the world have many different beliefs. While we are visiting, they are welcome to respectfully observe and ask questions, but we told them that we would not participate in any of the religious aspects. This was a problem several years ago in China when the boys saw people clapping, and ringing a super fun looking bell. At the time, it was difficult for them to understand why we wouldn’t let them do it. This time, we were a bit more prepared.
Next up was the Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple. We were prepared for me to cover my head, I had a lightweight scarf in my purse, but it was a surprise that men and boys also needed to cover their heads. The front office had scarf-like hats available, and while having visions of lice, the male portion of our group put them on. I loved the pond area, which we were told was filled with sacred water.
The main temple was also quite beautiful.
We then went by the presidential residence, where we got some nice pictures of the Jaipur Column. The smog in Delhi is really quite bad – the air tasted like “camp fire.” I have a lot of allergy problems, and between those and the jet lag, it was definitely getting to me. If we were in Beijing, we would have donned masks, but in Delhi, it really isn’t common, so we didn’t bring any. Maybe I should have.
Next up were the Lodi Gardens. Our driver dropped us off at one side and told us he would meet us at the other side. As it turns out, there were a lot of other exits, but we eventually found him. The stroll was lovely. There were nice ponds.
And some beautiful tombs with some really intricate stonework.
Next up was the Qutub Minar. This is where we discovered that guards love to help you find excellent picture spots for a tip. Fortunately the expected tips are quite low, but the number of people you are expected to tip and the number of people trying to get one is really quite exhausting. The guard could have done a better job with positioning us closer to the camera, but the angle was quite nice.
We had a ton of fun wandering the grounds and exploring the ruins.
At this point, it was getting to be mid-afternoon and we told our driver that we really needed to stop for food. He was going to bring us to a more westernized place (not at all what we wanted), but after we pushed back, he brought us to a place that had some nice curry.
After this, we went to Humayan’s Tomb, the tomb of a Mughal emperor, and also known as the “Little Taj Mahal.” They style is similar, but the Taj Mahal is definitely grander.
Again, we had a lot of fun wandering the grounds. The windows designed for either prayer purposes or in some cases for the women were interesting. When designed for the women, the holes were tiny so that the women could look out, but the people outside could not see the women’s faces. When used for religious purposes, I could see a similar purpose. Similarly to stained glass windows, it lets light in, but keeps you from getting distracted from the outside world.
At this point, we met the owner, Ashok, of Ashok’s Taxi Tours, where we started with a tuk-tuk tour that the boys enjoyed.
As we left the tuk-tuk and started a walking tour of the spice market, the kids got their first taste of the chaos of India’s traffic. Continuous honking, cars, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, pedestrians, and livestock all wandering the streets in haphazard manner that makes sense to the locals, but not to tourist children. The boys did not like exploring on foot and wanted to leave. Jeremy and I enjoyed the atmosphere until we passed by a spice stand that started some violent coughing on our part (from the intense smell of the spices). Fortunately, it is a short street, and we were out of it pretty quickly.
Our guide then took us to a sweet shop, where we got some incredible samosas, and a variety of sweets. I particularly like the almond fudge like candies that I think are called “Peda”. The Badam Burfi is also very good, but has a funny name. We got a variety, including the silver covered ones that John loved and which we later learned was actually silver (hopefully). The less reputable places use metals that are toxic to the human body, or pounded with things that you really, really don’t want in your food.
Our guide explained his expectations of his drivers and told us what to do if there was any problem with our driver or anything else on our trip. He was very adamant that he wanted to know immediately if the driver took us anywhere else than where he was supposed to and that his drivers drive in a manner that would be acceptable in America. If you have ever seen the traffic in India, or driven with someone that drives like a local, you might find this quite laughable, but to our surprise, our driver was very safe the entire time.
After this, we went to the Jama Masjid mosque. The guards told us that it was closing, but that if we paid a small fee, that they would take us in for a quick peek. We really should have said no. They threw a cape on me, that I later learned was a prayer garment, and I really wish I wouldn’t have taken it. Then they had us take off our shoes and whisked us through layers of bird droppings that crunched under my bare feet. Yuck! They had us pose for a couple of photos, then whisked us back out and demanded far more money than we agreed to before they would give us our shoes back. Ugh.
At this point, we had to stick our birdie doo feet back into our shoes. At least the boys had socks. Fortunately, I had hand sanitizer in my purse, which I used liberally on my feet, and I had brought my Rothy’s, so was able to thoroughly wash them with cold water and lots of soap back at the hotel.
Approaching sunset, we then went to Raj Ghat Samadhi, a memorial to Gandhi. The gardens were quite nice, but it was getting dark.
We also got our second experience with shoe guards. Our driver told us not to tip more than a fairly low amount for the guards to watch our shoes – I think he may have suggested a few rupees, or maybe 10 rupees (15 cents) together at most. Of course, when we went to pick them up, since we were foreigners, they refused to give us our shoes unless we paid 100 rupees ($1.50). While it wasn’t much money in the scheme of things, we noticed this pattern quite a bit.
Nobody was super hungry for dinner, so we asked to be taken back to the hotel. We weren’t able to book a family room, so John and I took one room and James and Jeremy took the other. Since this was something that was likely to repeat itself, I repacked the bags to help accommodate this. Too bad I hadn’t yet learned about packing cubes. The process would have been super simple if I had.
Jeremy decided he was a little hungry after all, wanted to go out for a bit, so he decided to see if he could find a sweet shop down the road. After bringing a couple of things back, we enjoyed a few before bed.
This was a very full day, but it put us well on our way to recovering from jet lag. There is no cure like busyness.