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13 January 2013 @ 07:55 pm
Indian Adventures - Part IIIb - The Golden Triangle - Delhi and departure  
Indian Adventures - Part IIIb - The Golden Triangle - Delhi and departure

We hired a car to take us from Jaipur to Delhi, since Owen and Flori were flying out that evening and I would be departing from Delhi on the 19th. The drive into Delhi occupied the morning and after some hot, sweaty adventures finding my hotel so we could drop off the bags, we headed out to the Red Fort. The fort had a HUGE line, but for once paying many times more than an Indian ticket paid off - there was a foreigner line that meant we could get in really quite quickly. The fort was interesting, but packed with people and the horrid little children (one of them tried to bite me in a museum!) were something of a put-off. However, the fort had a baoli, or step well, which was one of the things I was most excited to see in India. These wells are stories deep and the steps are surrounded by small shady rooms where ladies could congregate in the cool space and socialize. Many of them were very beautifully decorated and I was pleased to finally see one. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was a low wall and a high fence all the way along the road and all you could see were the first few steps. By standing on the wall, Owen was able to get a photo of the steps leading downward, which was better than nothing, but disappointing. After verifying with Owen and Flori that they were done there, I decided to perambulate the wall, since there was no sign saying that one could not do so, though it appeared that the back wall was part of the active military base. I snuck around and was rewarded - there was a break in the wall to one side and by sticking my camera on its monopod over the wall at the back, I was able to get a decent view of the step well. I did not venture into the well itself, though, since being alone in a place of dubious stability seemed unwise, even to me. 

Once Owen and Flori collected their bags, they set off to the airport to catch their flight and I set about exploring my new neighborhood. I didn not particularly care for the hotel I had chosen at random, so I made a few more inquiries and found a slightly more expensive, but nicer hotel up the road for the following day. I thought I might go see a movie, but en route to the theatre ran into an interesting fortuneteller, the story of which is recounted here. On the way back from that interesting experience, I found a tailor and stopped in to see if they could finish my saree and choli, They said I could and we set up an appointment for the morning. The shopkeeper also mentioned that they could make me a suit and, since I had been thinking about going into interview mode and the fortune teller seemed to be supporting that idea, I decided why the hell not? The suit was only going to run about $150, including jacket, skirt, trousers, and a shirt, and that is including materials! After that, I was pretty wrung out for the day and just went back to the hotel to repack and shower.

In the morning, I had a leisurely breakfast and then went to my fittings for the suit and choli, but the choli tailor never showed, since apparently the fellow making the suit was not the sort that would make a choli. In the late morning, I switched hotels to the new location before setting out for the day. I don't recall precisely what I did with the remainder of the morning, but I think I'd gone shopping. In the late afternoon, I headed out to see Humayun's Tomb. I got there and they sold me a ticket, sure enough, but I no sooner was there than they started shooing people out. I was not pleased, since it was not an inexpensive ticket and so appealed to the guard. He nodded and then pointedly turned his back to me and started shooing other people along, so I quickly snapped the shots I wanted before he was obligated to pay attention to me again. Luckily, it was pretty similar to Akbar's tomb and somehow not as nice, so I was not crushed by having to make it a hurried visit. From there, I proceeded to a mosque where there was supposed to be sufi singing in the evenings. Finding the place was an adventure and then, once inside after navigating what felt like miles of tunel-like alleys lined with shops selling items for the devotees, there was no singing. After some time, I was informed that due to there being some festival and no moon, there would be no singing. In the mean time, however, I had run into some British boys and they allowed me to join them for their evening plans, which was going out to one of the nicest restaurants in Delhi. It was a lot of fun and the food was excellent. We each had a main dish, a side dish, drinks, dessert, and a fancy coffee before heading back to the backpacker district.

First thing in the morning, I went to Qutb Minar - a complex to the south of town that includes a mosque, a really enormous pillar, and this strange pure iron pillar. The Qutb complex was interesting, but the area next door was even more important. The Archaeological Park has a number of historical features, including a step well. This one was actually open to the public and even had a class getting their picture taken on the steps when I showed up. A single white woman walking alone through the park was interesting enough that I acquired a posse of young boys on lunch break from the local Muslim school who followed me around the park and into the well. I also attracted the interest of a young man who spoke some English and who took it upon himself not only to show me around that step well, but around a variety of other temples and mosques in the area, including some that were guarded, but he was obviously known to the armed guards who let him pass. The tour was a little surreal, what with the crawling through walls and meeting people who actually live in an abandoned step well, but really interesting and I am sure I saw a lot of things that few if any tourists get to see.

In the afternoon, I went to the Folklore museum which was very interesting and had a great textile collection, but again did not allow photographs or have a decent catalog. The museum was very quiet and pleasant, however, and was a lovely place to while away the afternoon. I tried catching a autocab from the museum to the National Museum, which I thought would be easier than trying to find it on foot, since it was only about half a mile away but Indians don't seem to believe in street signs, however, it turned into an epic disaster. The driver claimed to know where we were going, but then despite asking for the National Museum in English and Hindi and giving the intersection of the two very major roads, he either had no idea where it was or he was messing with me. He stopped for directions repeatedly (and I mean no fewer than five times) and I tried to show him on the map or give him directions based on my GPS, but to no avail. I was sort of appalled that several of the people we stopped to consult did not seem to know where their National Museum was, despite being within two miles (yes, we had actually gotten further away). When we finally got within sight of the museum and he stopped AGAIN to ask directions, I simply got out and started to walk. I apparently was visibly angry, as a driver pulled over to ask if I was OK. I explained the issue and that I simply was going to walk the last block. The driver was appalled that it had taken half an hour to drive a few blocks and he backed up to yell at the autocab driver and apologized to me, offering a ride the rest of the way. I thanked him, but just finished walking the last bit, since it really was that close at that point.

Sadly, after all that drama, the National Museum was disappointing. In order to get an audio guide, they wanted me to surrender my passport. Um... NO. However, most of the signage was in English, so I just made do. Visiting the museum actually did not take very long, since many galleries were closed and padlocked shut and still the museum was largely empty - several times I found myself alone in a large gallery for some minutes at a time. What WAS actually open was in pretty sad shape. The walls were filthy and frequent signs requested no littering or spitting, although there was evidence that those signs were pretty routinely ignored. (One gallery on the second floor could also have used a "no public urination" sign from the smell of it...) The preservation techniques were somewhat better than most of the other Indian museums - some things were in cases and so protected from the few but very touchy Indian museum goers - but I still found myself desperately wishing for a Magic Eraser and a bucket of bleach. :P I had thought I would sneak in a visit to Jantar Mantar, but it was already getting overcast, so I instead went to some government shops that sell regional goods at a fixed price and then to a fancy-fancy tea at one of the nice hotels.
I rounded out the night with a very not-fancy dinner at McDonalds, but I can report that the Spicy McPaneer is actually quite good, if probably TERRIBLE for you, since it was essentially a giant fried cheese curd on a bun.

The last day in Delhi, set out to see the few sights I had still not gotten to, including the Feroz Shah Kotla - a ruined complex that includes a mosque, a ruined palace, and a step well (sadly walled off), as well as one of the Ashoka Pillars, a carved pillar of laws. Then it was on to Jantar Mantar, Delhi edition, before doing some more silks shopping and having a last minute fitting of the suit I had ordered a few days previous. The late afternoon was spent shopping and wandering about town and getting pretty quality lost at one point. Eventually I accepted that I was not able to find the Metro station in the unmarked warren of shops and that, it being after dark, I should not be wandering the streets alone, I grabbed a cab and went back to prepare for the flight out. I collected my suit and my bags and then had some mendhi done while I waited for my cab to take me to the airport.

The flight out was largely uneventful. I had my bags wrapped in saran wrap to protect the contents and because I didn't really trust the zippers on the bags I had bought. I don't recall much of the flights home (other than some nice conversation with a Mexican doctor as we approached Frankfurt) since I had come down with a terrible cold that last day and so, in violation of my usual policy, I pretty much slept from Bangalore to Chicago. Customs and immigration were likewise uneventful, other than my bags being late enough off the airplane to make me momentarily concerned. Scott was kind enough to collect me from the bus stop at Dutch Mills and, after a stop for the biggest, greenest salad Culvers would sell me, it was home and to bed for there was work in the morning!

Phase III photos:
akitrom: St. Radegund's Faireakitrom on January 14th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
Who took all the pictures that have you in them? Some of them are really well composed.
eithni: excellenteithni on January 15th, 2013 07:40 am (UTC)
Mostly random passers by. Indians are simply mad for photography, so it is harder to convince them that you do NOT want a photo taken than to get them to take as many photos as they can. Some were shots I composed and then asked a passerby to get me in the photo, others were the work of tour guides who clearly had done this before (see the one through the carved screen), and some were just to product of having more photos of me over those three weeks than in the previous thirteen years of my life!