Our Last Days in India – Defense Colony and Laj Pat Nager Bazaar

July 5th

Yesterday Nicole and I didn’t do much of anything. We were both feeling a little under the weather on account of the constant traveling and heavy pollution in Delhi. We laid around our AirBnB and ate delicious curry from the vegetarian place around the corner. That evening, however, tragedy struck. The water in our apartment stopped working. This meant no showers, no sink, no toilet to flush. I won’t go into details, but a broken toilet and an all curry diet don’t mix. You can all be glad I didn’t take any pictures from that day.

July 6th, Our Last Day in India

Nicole and I woke up early as usual despite our room being pitch black all day, a feature I was a huge fan of. We were optimistic that the water might be working this morning and we could finally banish the mountain of feces in the toilet to the netherworld sewer labyrinth. Alas that was not the case. However, we didn’t let this minor poo setback ruin our day.

The Defense Colony

Riding to the Defense Colony
Riding to the Defense Colony

The two of us walked downstairs and hailed an autorickshaw to the defense colony. The defense colony is one of Delhi’s fancier neighborhoods, according to Nicole’s research. It took us about 30 minutes to arrive and once we got their we walked around the small market area of little shops. There were a few coffee shops and stationary stores, a pet shop, and an ice cream parlor.

Coffee lunch at the Defense Colony
Coffee lunch at the Defense Colony

Nicole and I stopped into the first coffee shop we saw and were greeted with a wall of icy air. I had forgotten the luxury of air conditioning until that moment. Nicole and I split a cronut (that’s a croissant donut for anyone unfamiliar) and a chicken sandwhich. We also got two coffees that came with miniature cookies, presumably for dunking in said coffee. The experience was fantastic.

Kent, my dad's name, and the name of a store in the defense colony
Kent, my dad’s name, and the name of a store in the defense colony

Laj Pat Nager Bazaar

After our breakfast/lunch the two of us hailed a real taxi to a local market and shopped for a bit. I won’t go into detail as we purchased gifts for our families and they are likely reading this (Hi family!).

Our taxi to the airport
Our taxi to the airport

Gifts in hand, we took an autorickshaw back to the apartment and had some curry for the last time. We packed the last of our things up and went downstairs to get into the cab Atul, our AirBnB host had booked for us.

Indian traffic
Indian traffic

Indira Gandhi International

It was perhaps 40 minutes later when we arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The airport is unique in the fact that you must show your ticket and passport to a security guard before they will let you into the airport. The whole airport seemed very security intensive, more than any airport I’ve ever been in. We had too answer a ton of questions when we checked in.

“Where are you going?”

“How long will you be there?”

“Can you show me your exit flight from your next country?”

“How much money do you have in your possession?”

In the security line I needed to empty out all of the electronics in my carry on into separate bins and after the metal detector, I had a full pat down. Nicole did as well, although her check was in a small boxed room.

Duty Free Mecca
Duty Free Mecca

Finally through all the security, we reached the terminal. India’s airport has a fantastically gaudy duty free section, Nicole and I spent our remaining 240INR ($4) on a chicken sandwich and a brownie before boarding our flight to Munich with a layover in Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Airways

Nicole on Etihad to Abu Dhabi
Nicole on Etihad to Abu Dhabi

This is by far the nicest airline I have ever been on. The food was incredible, the seats were really comfortable, and they had big TV screens in the backs of all of the seats, much bigger than other airline screens I’ve seen. I would definitely recommend them if you have the choice to fly any airline ever.

Airplane meal
Airplane meal

Landing in Abu Dhabi

We landed in Abu Dhabi around midnight. Abu Dhabi is a cool city to fly into at night because its so lit up. Its interesting to see from above because all of the city is condensed into a small habitable patch of earth. Aside from those dense little pockets of humanity, the country is just sand and salt water. When we landed at the airport, we had to take a bus to the terminal and go through security. At every airport I’ve ever been to, if you’re just flying through you don’t need to go through security. However, we had to take off our shoes and belts and put our bags through the metal detector all over again in Abu Dhabi. The process ended up taking a really long time because everyone had to go through this process and dozens of planes were all landing at the same time.

The bus to the terminal in Abu Dhabi
The bus to the terminal in Abu Dhabi

The airport was incredibly busy for midnight. Just about every single gate had a flight coming into it and flying out of it every few minutes. I was also surprised by the number of westerners in the airport. I saw very few arabs in the airport, maybe a family or two here or there, but mostly westerners. The airport was really cool, all the bathrooms had shower stalls, there was a massive food court and duty free area, and there was even a sleep egg area where presumably you could sleep in some sort of pod for a few hours before your flight. We didn’t partake in any sleeping pods since our layover was only two hours.

Landing in Munich, Germany

Landing in Munich
Landing in Munich

My TV was broken on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Munich. The flight attendants offered to move me to a different seat, still economy class unfortunately. However, our flight was from 2am to 6am so I just wanted to sleep. I stayed in my seat with Nicole and managed to sleep almost the entire flight, which is very unusual for me and a real testament to how tired I was.

Once we landed in Germany….well I’ll start a new post with our Germany adventures….to be continued.

India-ception – visiting Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal

Nicole and I woke up at the crack of dawn, or several hours before it, 5am to be exact and walked up the road to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal East Gate was a few minutes walking distance from our hotel. We were two of probably the first hundred guests into the complex. It was nice to be able to wander around the Taj Mahal without several thousand people also doing the same thing. The Taj Mahal was really impressive in person. I felt like the Statue of Liberty and several other monuments just don’t hold up in person. You see them and think “it looked bigger in pictures”. The Taj Mahal was not the case. It was as impressive in pictures as it was to behold in person.

Taj Mahal

Catching up on Sleep

Nicole and I walked back to the hotel to get some rest. Unfortunately, when we returned to our room, we realized that we had locked the key in the room and we couldn’t unlock the padlock on the door. Yes, the hotel rooms were padlocked shut, that was their security procedure. Luckily, one of the hotel employees broke the lock for us and were able to get in, get our stuff, and get some rest for awhile. We had a small bite to eat at the hotel restaurant before meeting our rickshaw driver from the night before. He drove us to our next stop, Agra Fort.

Agra Fort

The fort wasn’t too far from our hotel and it was a short ride. Our rickshaw driver dropped us off and said he’d come back in about two hours. We wandered the fort grounds and got some great photos. Some form of the fort has existed in its present location since the 11th century, although its been rebuilt and added on to several times since then.

 Next Stop Park and Lunch

I said yesterday was the hottest day in India, but today takes the cake. It was sweltering. The high was 102*F and it felt like it. Nicole and I chugged water all day as much as we could and still felt hot. After the fort, we just wanted a place to get out of the heat and get a bite to eat. We stopped into a restaurant between the fort and the Taj Mahal for a bite to eat. The restaurant was on the ground floor of a hostel and it was filled with tourists like us escaping the midday heat. We enjoyed some curry and naan, although it wasn’t as good as the curry and naan from the restaurant below our AirBnB in Agra. An hour or so later, refreshed and no longer at the point of heat exhaustion, we took the rickshaw to the North bank of the Yamuna River to a garden called Mehtab Bagh.

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah

Our last stop of the day was at Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, also known as the Baby Taj. The mausoleum is considered a draft of the Taj Mahal and represents the beginning of the second phase of Mughal architecture. It shows the transition from red sandstone in Humayun’s Tomb to white marble, best shown in the Taj Mahal.

Returning to Delhi

Nicole and I had an incredibly busy day of riding around in an autorickshaw seeing as much of Agra as one can see in a day. We woke and saw the Taj Mahal at sunrise, walked the grounds of the Agra Fort, relaxed on the North Bank of the Yamuna River with a secluded view of the Taj Mahal, and visted the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah. Now it was time to return to Delhi. We bid farewell to our autorickshaw driver and went into the train station to wait for our train. It showed up about 20 minutes late but otherwise our trip back was smooth sailing. We made it back to our apartment and got some curry and naan from the turbaned man and enjoyed a late night snack.

India-ception – New Delhi to Jaipur

Happy Fourth of July from India. Truth be told, I didn’t even realize it was the fourth of July until the day was half over. If it wasn’t for someone on Facebook, I might have forgotten about it entirely.

India-ception

Train breakfast, toast, cereal, and coffee
Train breakfast, toast, cereal, and coffee

Today marked the beginning of Nicole and my India trip with in a trip, India-ception! Nicole and I took a train from New Delhi to Jaipur that left at 6am. We traveled first class for $16 each. The seats were nice, the food was plentiful and the scenery was great outside of Delhi. The seats were really spacious, Nicole couldn’t even reach the foot rest in front of her because we had so much space. We had a filling breakfast of toast with honey, cereal, coffee, and a banana.

As we were leaving the Delhi train station we saw numerous shanty towns and Hoovervilles with locals pooing on the train tracks. It was bizarre. Presumably they knew everyone on the trains could see them. In most cases there were bushes and other things nearby that they could have gone behind and not been in plain site.

Nicole and I diverted our gaze and tried to enjoy our breakfast. Outside of Delhi, the scenery was much better. We saw little farms, soaring mountains, and the occasional little village or school here and there.

 Jaipur

Eventually we reached Jaipur and hired a cab for the day for about $8 each. The driver took us all over Jaipur and we had an incredible time. After a quick fill up at the gas station, our first stop was at the City Palace.

Jantar Mantar

Our next stop was Jantar Mantar, its right next to the City Palace. Jantar Mantar looks like a cross between a skate park and a Dr. Seuss book. The whole park is a series of astonomical tools used for things like predicting eclipses or the time of day. For anyone who has seen The Fall, several scenes from the movie were shot in and around Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal

After our visit to Jantar Mantar, we crossed the street and walked to Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of the Winds, is a palace in Jaipur within the old city walls. The palace’s name comes from the fact that its basically a giant screened lattice. It was built so the ladies of the royal household could look our over the commoners on the street without being seen. The palace was really cool to check out. All of the floors were completely open and as with other places in India we visited, everything was open to us. There were no rooms closed off or locked. We were free to wander everywhere.

Amber Palace

The Amber Palace was our last stop on our trip around Jaipur. Its a bit outside of town and kind of difficult to get to. You can rent a jeep or you can take a tourist taxi, like we had to the top.

The road to the top takes you through lots of small and winding city roads before it eventually opens up into a wider road that terminates before the palace.

The driver dropped us at the entrance to the palace. From there, we walked a zigzagging series of ramps to the gate.

Just inside the gate is an expansive courtyard and another series of ramps and stairs leading to the palace.

This was probably our hottest day in India. We drank about 2 liters of water just walking around the palace.

The Lake Palace

On our way back to the train station for our trip to Agra, our taxi driver stopped and showed up the Lake Palace in Jaipur. Its a really cool palace built on the water and its absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the palace. You can only take pictures from the shore of the lake. We took a few pictures and admired the palace as best we could from the shore.

The long train to Agra

Our train was supposed to last 4.5 hours, but we ended up traveling for 6 hours from Jaipur to Agra. Why? I’m not really sure. There was a lot of stopping going on and zero explanation for why. When we finally reached Agra we hailed an autorickshaw and rode to Hotel Sheela, our hotel directly beside the Taj Mahal, but more on that later.

Second Day in Delhi – Jama Masjid, Qutab Minar, and Lodi Gardens

More Shoes More Problems

We woke up and hailed a rickshaw to Jama Masjid a famous mosque in Old Delhi near to where we were staying. The mosque required that we leave our shoes, which was no problem, but they also required us to pay 300INR each as a picture fee. For me that wasn’t a problem, but Nicole didn’t even have her phone out and they wanted to charge her for it. We felt a bit uncomfortable with the experience so we left and wandered the quiet market streets of Old Delhi. The streets were just as crowded as they were the day before, but because it was only 10ish, everyone seemed to be quiet. It was a nice change from the day before. However, we received just as many stares as yesterday.

Sweets for my Sweet

Samosa
Samosa

We found a small sweet shop and bakery a few blocks away and stopped in for some vegetarian samosas and some sort of honey soaked donut.From the bakery, we made our way to the New Delhi Railway Station. The station was chaos. In front of the building for several blocks around were thousands of people, entering, exiting, loitering in and around the station. It looked like any movie about the apocalypse where everyone is trying to get out of town. Nicole and I waded into the crowd and found the entrance to the metro, New Delhi’s subway. The entrance was at the end of a long underground corridor in which we saw all walks of life from beggars in tattered clothing to business people in dress shirts and slacks. [divider_flat]

Thunderdome Subway System

We waited in a packed line for our subway tickets as a security guard kept careful watch over us. I think he was looking out for us because we were the only westerners in the subway. After we bought our tickets, we had to go through a metal detector and a pat down before we could board the subway.

Qutab Minar

Finally we made onto the subway and started our long trek to Qutab Minar, a tall monument in the south of Delhi. When we arrived at our stop, our trusty autorickshaw driver picked us up and drove us to the monument. We looked around for awhile and fortunately, stumbled across the one security guard at Qutab Minar who is a photography buff. He took a bunch of pictures of Nicole and I with my camera. I made a small gallery of them below.

Safdarjung’s Tomb

After Qutab MInar we took the rickshaw to Safdarjung’s tomb. Niether of us had heard of Sufdarjung’s tomb before our rickshaw guide took us there but we’re certainly glad we did. It had the feel of a smaller, more colorful Taj Mahal, and the best part was the grounds were almost entirely empty.  There were maybe 10 other people there. These are some of my favorite pics from the entire trip.

Lodi Gardens

Our next stop was Lodi Gardens, a beautiful garden in the heart of Delhi filled with plants, trees, beautiful bridges and several really amazing temples. We bought a water and took a leisurely stroll through the gardens. About 10 minutes into our walk it started to rain, not heavy, but a typical Florida sunshower. We took refuge in one of the temples, along with the rest of the parks guests, to wait out the storm.

 Be Our Guest

27 Icon, Lodhi Colony
27 Icon, Lodhi Colony

When we returned to our rickshaw, our driver took us to 27 Icon, a really fancy restaurant in one of the bougier parts of Delhi. I was initially concerned our meal would cost a ton of money, but the prices were really reasonable. For about $18, the two of us had appetizers, two entrées, an order of naan, an after dinner mocktail for digestion, and a small dessert. The food was amazing and well worth the price. [divider_flat]

India Gate

Our last stop of the day was at India Gate, a massive monument to Indian veterans. The monument itself looked like the Arc De Triumph, except maybe ten times larger. Our driver couldn’t go in, so he dropped us off at the entrance and we walked up to the monument. It was breathtaking to behold, but I found myself distracted by all the Indian vendors trying to sell Nicole and I friendship bracelets and colored pens. I really like the monuments and architecture of India’s historic buildings and monuments. However, many of the sites seem to be surrounded by an insurmountable wall of vendors aggressively hawking their wares.

Nicole and I had a heck of a day and we were able to see so much. Our guide wanted to keep showing us around to a few more monuments but it was getting late and we were beat. He took us back to our AirBnB and we settled in for the night with some delicious downstairs curry from the turbaned man.

First Day in Delhi – Humayun’s Tomb and Red Fort

Our AirBnB Residence

The entrance to our AIrBnB as seen by day
The entrance to our AIrBnB as seen by day

I glossed over our accommodations last night because I was in a rush to finish my last blog post, and planned to explore it further here. When Nicole and I arrived at our taxis’ destination, we were standing on a darkened street with a torn up sidewalk and a ton of homeless people sleeping on the ground. Our taxi driver was confused, as were we. We thought for sure we were in the wrong area. Our taxi driver called our AirBnB host who climbed onto the roof of the building and waved a flashlight to beckon us over to the right building.

We walked to where it appeared he’d been waving his flashlight only moments earlier and waited. A rolling aluminum gate lifted up between two shops with faded blue doors and a clean-cut Indian man in his 30s waved us over. He introduced himself as Atul and led us up a narrow staircase to an iron gate. Pushing aside the iron gate he unlocked a door and led us into a large bedroom with an adjoining bathroom that would be our residence in Delhi for the next week.

Atul asked if we were hungry and led me to the curry shop downstairs. Nicole inquired if she could come with us. Atul advised her that it would be best if she stayed indoors at night while we were in this neighborhood.[divider_flat]

Naan Stop

The Old Newspaper our Naan came Wrapped In...Matrimonial Section
The Old Newspaper our Naan came Wrapped In…Matrimonial Section

Downstairs, I ordered a cheese curry and two orders of naan, delicious bread similar to pita. A man in a turban whose name I never learned whipped up the curry in a matter of minutes. A very dirty man in tattered clothes pounded the naan dough into oblivion and stuck it to the wall of a small oven built into the counter. A few minutes later he fished it out with an iron hook and wrapped it in an old newspaper. The turbaned man poured the curry into a small bag and handed it to me along with the newspaper naan. The total cost: 120INR ($2).

I brought it upstairs to Nicole and we unwrapped the naan. We took turns ripping pieces of naan off and dunking them into the bag of curry. It was a delicious way to end the night and a pleasant welcome to India in an otherwise strange neighborhood. [divider_flat]

Our First Morning in India

We woke at around 8:30am, still not quite adjusted to the time change and readied ourselves for the day. I’d put together a Google Doc with Nicole of everything we were going to do/see in India and where/how we could do them. Before we could get started on anything, however, we needed some food. A short distance from our AirBnB was a small vegetarian restaurant that Atul recommended to us. Nicole and I stopped there for a bite to eat before making our way to the Red Fort, a red stone fort built in 1638. The fort was conveniently located just up the road from our AirBnB residence.

Red Fort

The walk to Red Fort was a new and chaotic experience. The streets of India are packed and crazy. People are selling their wares on blankets on the sidewalk while there is construction in the road and a traffic jam beside that. The closer we got to Red Fort, the more Indians in bicycle rickshaws tried to give us rides.

Finally we made it to Red Fort. Nicole and I picked up some audio guides and walked the fort grounds.  The grounds were beautiful and much calmer than the busy streets outside. Most of the other tourists in the fort were Indians, Nicole and I were 2 of only a handful of western tourists. For some Indian tourists, Nicole and I were as much of an attraction as the fort itself. Several of them asked to take photos with Nicole and myself.

 

RnR at the BnB

After the fort, Nicole and I walked back to our AirBnB for a rest. India in July is as hot as it sounds. The weather was sunny with a high of 102F and I’d guess 100% humidity, higher if it was scientifically possible. Several hours in the sun was enough to wear me out.

Humayun’s Tomb

Once I’d gotten my rest, Nicole and I took a cab to Humayun’s tomb and walked around for the afternoon. On our way out of Humayun’s tomb we met a friendly autorickshaw driver who offered to take us to the Lotus Temple, one of the world’s most famous Bahai Temples.

Lotus Temple

The temple is in the shape of a beautiful lotus, a symbol common to many religions. It looked a bit like the Sydney Opera House, but more symmetrical. The temple is laid out on a beautifully landscaped garden of rolling hills. As you approach the temple, there’s a small building ¾ submerged in the ground where you deposit your shoes and pick them up later. I dropped off our shoes and Nicole and I walked the rest of the way to the temple barefoot. Surrounding the temple are several tranquil pools of water. It took all of my will power to not hop into the pool on such a hot day.

Once we reached the temple we were admitted in small groups and instructed not to talk inside the temple.  Standing in such a large temple in complete silence was really calming. After a few minutes of walking around the inside, Nicole and I returned to the shoe building to reclaim our shoes and find our autorickshaw driver to get a ride home. We made plans with the driver to meet tomorrow and have him drive us around for the day for 1000INR or about $16. More about that tomorrow.

I walked Nicole back to the residence from where our driver dropped us off then went downstairs to get some more delicious curry for us for dinner.

India was definitely a sensory overload at times but the monuments, temples, and forts were fantastic.