I visited the nation's capital, New Delhi, between 17th-22nd August, 2011. The trip wasn't the usual "touristy" one — the primary purpose was to spend some time with close friends who have made Delhi their base. We did manage to visit a couple of spots frequented by tourists. A goodish bit of the other time was spent in staying inside to avoid Delhi's hot and sticky weather (I kid you not, the amount of rain I experienced in Delhi over five days was less than what you get in Mumbai under five minutes. Much of the remaining other time was spent in hunting for "Spicy Treat" Uncle Chipps chips and for Wai Wai Chicken Noodles at the behest of my favorite (and only) niece. She has recently moved back to Mumbai from Delhi and was craving these two treats that remind her of the city in which she lived for over decade.
(In keeping with my recent bullet-point posts) More observations from the Trip:
- I had booked myself a return trip, with much enthusiasm, on the Mumbai-New Delhi Rajdhani Express. The Rajdhani Express experience is no longer what it was earlier. The journey from Mumbai started on a promising note. I had booked myself a "side-lower" berth (I prefer the seats on the sides — easiest way to avoid other pesky passengers) and the person with the seat opposite to me (side-upper) didn't turn up — a whole lot of leg space. On my return trip, that wasn't the case and I found that in the Rajdhani, the side seats are extremely cramped. That was not the case on the trains I took during my earlier trip a couple of weeks ago to my birth place. I feel the trains are newer and the compartments better designed on the Mumbai-Nagpur route. The service on the Rajdhani Express to Delhi was excellent. The food, apart from the pre-packaged stuff, was barely passable. On my return trip, the service was atrocious with the serving staff bordering on the rude. The food however was great. It is also amusing to find that despite announcements asking people to refrain from tipping the staff, the "cabin crew" still actively solicits tips.
- Delhi (I was visiting after a little more that 2 years) has in many ways changed for the better - good roads, much cleaner, a whole lot of greenery all around, and even better air quality. The traffic and the driving though is still atrocious. Cars jump red lights with impunity and there is no telling when a car ahead of you (or behind you) will change lanes. Most vehicles are on the road with a single purpose — getting ahead at over 100 KMPH.
- Delhi weather — Phew! I know it often seems like the rain never stops in Mumbai during the monsoon, but after experiencing Delhi's constipated attempts at rain (and the resultant sapping and sticky climate) I've new found appreciation for Mumbai's rain (which I know will dwindle the next time the local trains are bogged down due to a downpour). Note to myself: Visit Delhi in winter to experience what the locals claim is the city's best weather.
- Delhi Metro — Awesome!
- Delhi food — Awesomer! I think the overall quality of food (at least the non-vegetarian fare) in an average Delhi restaurant is far better than what we are accustomed to in Mumbai.
- The Lotus Temple, the Bahá'í House of Worship, is beautiful. This was my first proper visit (my earlier visit to the temple about 8 years ago was abortive — so thick were the crowds then that I turned back from the entrance to the temple). The lotus flower inspired design of 27 free-standing marble clad "petals" is truly divine. The jostling crowds are still a pain though. And it is amusing to see the people's expressions once they enter the central hall of the temple. There are no altars or images or statues (or anything to "worship") inside the temple and people look at the seats and the vaulted ceiling and wonder what to do next. Then it sinks in and the resultant silence is beautiful to hear. While the temple structure is awesome, I wish the the nine pools around the temple and the surrounding gardens are better maintained.
- The India Habitat Center (IHC) is wonderful. Artshows, concerts, lectures, and much more. Often free. We attended, for free, a wonderful concert as a part of the "World Flute Festival" (it being the Janmashtami weekend) organized by Raasrang and were enthralled by Mexico's Horacio Franco playing the recorder. Unfortunately we couldn't stay for the evening's highlight: Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.
- While I've already cribbed about the traffic on Delhi's roads, it is far better than that encountered on the NH2 to Agra. The highway itself is not in a great shape. I was amazed to find heavy, slow moving traffic monopolizing the right-hand side lane. And in the left hand lane, it is common (and by that I mean every minute or so) to find tractors and tempos and cars and bikes and cycles nonchalantly coming against the traffic. At good speeds. To top it all vehicles change lanes whimsically as do pedestrians. One such pedestrian required the application of sudden brakes if we were to not send him to a hospital. Of course the car that was much behind us thought that no braking was required even if the vehicle in front of it had stopped. Result: a Scorpio rammed into our vehicle. Thankfully none of us were hurt. My friend's brand new car however required a change of bumper and some metal work. The traffic in Agra — horrible. Mumbaikars will appreciate this: think of the peak time traffic at Saki Naka, Andheri. Without the discipline (yeah, it really is much disciplined) and a 100 times more chaos. Mind boggles?
- As always, Agra is filthy. It is only the area around the Taj Mahal that's relatively clean.
- The Taj Mahal is worth the trouble though. This was my third visit to the Taj Mahal, but I would willingly make the trip again purely for the first glimpse of the Taj. For that instant, when you walk in from the entrance and behold it for the first time, the Taj takes your breath away. The crowds however are as thick as you will find them anywhere in our country. It being a weekend plus with it being a long holiday it felt even more crowded this time. After taking in the press of the crowd I decided against stepping inside the Taj. My friends however braved the crowd and did the whole tour.
- The Yamuna behind the Taj — It is on my third visit that I discovered that the natural color of its waters is not black. Perhaps because the Yamuna was flooded, the river actually looked beautiful.
- The crowds continued to find us at the Akshardham Temple in Noida. I have visited the temple earlier and have been recommending it virtually anybody new to Delhi. It's is magnificent. This time we visited intending to take in the famous sound and light show. We saw the crowds and turned back. The metro ride to the temple and back was great.
- In all our driving around Delhi, the Anna Hazare and the Lokpal Bill issue seemed faraway. The media had hyped it way too much. Apart from a random person carrying a flag or teenagers wearing Anna T-shirts and caps, there was little evidence in New Delhi of the turmoil created by Anna Hazare's fast at the Ramlila Maidan.
- All in all a good trip. But I was glad to get back to Mumbai's rain-soaked weather. Reminder to self: Next visit to Delhi only in winter.