Welcome to India is a saying we will get to hear a lot, sometimes it is a true greeting, but mostly used as a catch-all when things don’t quite go to plan.
Tomorrow we go to Jaipur for the night, getting back sometime the following evening, and the next day we fly to West Bengal, so this is our last full day in Delhi. We explore our local area and take coffee and pastries in a local café before getting back into a tut-tut to head to the Red Fort, but first we go to the adjacent Chandni Chowk for the authentic bazaar experience. Part way there we end up in a huge traffic jam, the tut-tut driver turns off the engine and says welcome to India.
Chandni Chowk has signs warning of scammers, pick pockets and false agents. Our wallets safe, we head into the melee. I don’t think we actually bought anything despite offers of spices, cloths, gold and bargains galore! We did enjoy the experience. This is the heart of Old Delhi, though 400 years ago it was the new Delhi and a very modern city at that. There are Mosques, Temples and Shrines on most corners, the roads are set out in a grid pattern, so navigation is quite easy. However the roads are one huge traffic jam, this is one part of Delhi where people choose to walk; it is the only way you can get around.
As a total contrast the Red Fort was peaceful and cool. You enter the Red Fort, or Lal Qila, through the Lahore Gate after going through metal detectors and frisking; an experience we will be well familiarised with in a short space of time, because it happens almost everywhere crowds gather in India. Immediately through the gate visitors enter Chhatta Chowk, the covered bazaar (one of the first in India). Now it is dedicated to tourist trinkets, but in its day it would have allowed visitors to purchase that crucial gift for the person they had an audience with to help secure the deal they were looking for.
Shah Jahan started construction of Lal Qila in 1638, with completion a decade later, this ran parallel with construction of the Taj Mahal, which, started in 1631 and took 14 years. At this point his son, Aurangzeb felt his father was squandering his inheritance so had him arrested and thrown into Agra Fort and took over the empire, immediately moving the capital from Agra to Old Delhi and Lal Qila. He was the first and last Moghal emperor to rule from Lal Qila.
The Red Fort gets its name from the huge red limestone walls, which dominate the area. It is big, the circumference of the walls is 2.4 km. Inside it houses a series of separate pavilions including the Drum House, the Hall of Public Audiences, the White Marble Hall of Private Audiences, the Pearl Mosque, Royal Baths and Palace of Colour and Tea House. Many of the separate pavilions share the same mosaic work as the Taj Mahal, with semi precious stones inlayed into white marble to create very similar patterns. The very low ticket price for locals means they take great advantage of it for getting out of the hustle and bustle of daily life by walking, talking, sitting and playing with the kids.
We braved rush hour in another tut-tut, as we got in a young Indian lady with excellent English said something to the driver, then turned to us and said ‘pay him 100 rupees and no more, hear me! We paid him 100 rupees each for his drive through hell! As a tourist one has to be careful you do not upset the fine balance of things where you travel. Paying $4 for a half hour ride in a tut-tut seems OK to a tourist, but that same ride for a local would be a quarter of that, and eventually the locals would be expected to compete with tourists for tut-tuts and end up paying more, an extra amount they simply cannot afford. For this reason I tried to de realistic in what I paid, not to save the couple of dollars but to not price the locals out of the market. I applied this across India, but on the other side tried to give beggars some cash, these people had wretched lives yet managed a smile of thanks for the small donations offered.
March is wedding month, just down the street from us is a wedding place, fully decked out, with one in progress, we took a peep through the gate but were ushered in and offered food and drinks. Apparently it is auspicious to have some strangers as guests. We stayed a while to enjoy the pageantry of gift giving and the family dynamics present at weddings across the globe. The couple looked to us like very nervous teenagers.
We are now getting the hang of Delhi, just as we are about to leave, so we again ate at the Hotel roof deck, packed our bags and were ready for our early morning tomorrow.