Saturday, September 28, 2013

Delhi day two

It was lovely to greet Jennie and Wayne over breakfast yesterday morning, with lots of stories from their adventure filled two days in Khajuraho and Varanasi.

Back on the Delhi tourist trail our first stop was the Red Mosque, built by Shah Jahan in the sixteen hundreds, after he moved to Delhi from Agra, broken hearted after the death of his wife Mumtaz.

We were shoeless here once again and this time all the females (and boys in shorts) had to cover up in these charming floral robes.

The Mughul emperor Shah Jahan was very involved in the artistic life of his court, and we could appreciate the perfectly balanced design of this mosque with its lovely open, spacious courts and pavilions, built in the local red sandstone.

With old Delhi traffic gridlocked we walked the kilometre or so west of the mosque to Shah Jahan's Red Fort.

Behind the impregnable walls of the fort there were pavilions for official court business, accommodation for the family and their retainers, the harem and spaces for partying and bathing. Unfortunately a lot of this has been destroyed by subsequent invaders, including the fabulous Peacock Throne, plundered by the Persians, and the Koh-i-Nor diamond.

Then we were back on our rickshaws and into the crowded streets of old Delhi again.

I enjoyed this close up view of the "wedding street", crowded today with young women and their sisters, aunties and mothers and every kind of delivery vehicle imaginable.

We were quite overheated by now so the Havemore Hotel restaurant was a cool, clean, calming haven for us. We enjoyed a delicious lunch there with all our favourite Indian dishes: butter chicken, Rogan Josh (made with mutton), saffron rice, saag, and a few vegetarian dishes, delicious!

Shah Jahan's grandfather Humayan is buried in Delhi, and his most devoted wife had a beautiful tomb built for him, set in extensive, beautifully landscaped grounds to the south of old Delhi.

So much of this building was destroyed by subsequent invaders and then benign neglect. With world heritage listing has come much needed funding and efforts to restore the place.

As with all Muslim tombs the pavilion that houses the body is not meant to be seen from the entrance to the grounds. It is always hidden by a series of grand walls and gates.

I must confess I took this picture below so I could capture that elegantly dressed lady on the right in her great outfit! (I am enjoying the beautiful colours and stylish presentation of so many of the women and girls here in Delhi). They look beautiful!

We requested to be taken to a gallery of arts and crafts from Kashmir. With the political situation so dire in that country the traditional artisans are finding it increasingly difficult to market their amazing carpets and textiles (including fine quality pashminas).  Although the atmosphere was a bit too pressurising for our taste some significant sales did result from this visit.

It was after six by the time we arrived back at Amarya last night, hot and exhausted. We enjoyed cold beers and hot snacks prepared to order by the kitchen staff, in the villa's pink and orange lobby before calling it a night.

Delhi day one

With the four and a half hour time difference Rob and I woke early (by Delhi time) yesterday (Friday 27th September) on our first morning ever in India.  We're staying at Amarya Villa in the Safdarjung Enclave on the southern side of New Delhi so we thought we'd just have a wander before breakfast and get our bearings. This is a residential area - relatively middle class with two big schools just up the road so the street was busy with lots of kids and their families and nannies at drop off time.

Amarya Villa is a boutique hotel with lots of character and very personalised service. It's not 5 star but is very relaxed with stylish touches and very attentive staff (and yummy b'fasts!).

We're travelling in style with a car and driver and our own guide - thanks to the wonderful Mr Singh of Legends and Palaces - so our first day in Delhi was a very easy and gentle one - compared to some of the scenarios we had imagined.

In such a culturally and spiritually diverse country it's essential to know some basics about India's rich history and a bit about Hinduism, Islam, and the Sikhs (and the Jains). So our first stop was at the National Museum where in a fascinating hour we saw about .01% of the museum's collection of sculptures, paintings and vessels and pots (with no time for textiles unfortunately).

Then we visited the Hindu Laxminarayan Temple, built in 1938, leaving our shoes and preconceived ideas behind to learn more about the meaning of the Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, to their Hindu devotees.

Mahatma Gandhi is revered throughout modern India and we were very interested to visit Birla House in Delhi and see where he lived for the last 144 days of his life - and where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948.  It's very poignant to see his last steps marked on the pathway up to the point near the pavilion where he was shot on that fateful afternoon. Inside Birla House there was a fascinating photographic exhibition and plenty of text about the life and times of Gandhi. His simple living quarters have been left pretty much as they were when he lived there. Wonderful to see! 

Ravi our guide took us to lunch - at a busy restaurant in central Delhi, serving South Indian dishes. We kept it very light because we knew we had a big afternoon ahead. I really enjoyed the dosa and its sauces - especially the coriander.

After some toing and froing between our guides we met up with Rajeev and JD from Food Tour in Delhi at about 3.00pm.  Exuberant Rajeev and the quieter JD were to lead us through the most extraordinary NINE hour food adventure through some of the oldest (and scariest) parts of Delhi, introducing us to some of the most authentic food tastes and experiences we could never imagine. It's now almost 24 hours after we concluded the tour and no gastric upsets yet - so it proved to be a completely successful food experience in every sense!!

We set off in rickshaws through the crowded, gridlocked streets and laneways of heritage listed Old Delhi.

And the first stop was at the award winning Shyam Sweets (Watar Kachori Wale).

Chef Rajeev encouraged us to identify flavours and learn how combining sweeter flavours and pastry based "sides" can intensify and round out spicy flavoured dishes. We loved the lassi served in clay pots at this "joint". 

Deep in the laneways, next we found ourselves in the "Jain Coffee Shop". Because Jains practise non-violence towards all living things they do not eat any meat, fish, eggs or any vegetable grown below ground. We tried sliced mango, honey and paneer sandwiches at this joint and found them much more interesting and tasty than they sound.

The laneways of Delhi have every enterprise imaginable crammed into every available space. Like traders (hardware, cooking equipment, jewellery, dental supplies, shoes etc etc) are clustered together, but the food joints spill out onto the crowded narrow walkways, millimetres away from the passing traffic.

And overhead there are festoons of fearsome looking electrical cabling and colonies of (Rhesus) monkeys playing with death in amongst the wires.

This kulfi trader is renowned in Delhi & often travels overseas to provide desserts for rich people's parties - but you wouldn't think that from the location of his little trading space in this crowded laneway.

But his saffron and pistachio kulfi was just to die for (as was his berry and pomegranate seed flavoured kulfi).

These mangoes were filled with mango flavoured kulfi and topped with a hard biscuit mixture which you break open to reveal the treasure within - a very special treat.

Water buffalo milk is the basis for many yummy Indian desserts. These guys were boiling down cream made on buffalo milk, until the cream becomes so thick it sets hard and then they flavour it with spices - yum!

This guy sitting in his cooking pot hire shop looked very photogenic I thought!

The Delhi spice market is the largest in Asia. The chili fumes are so strong here it catches you in the throat. It was a hive of energy as the sun was setting over old Delhi.

The spice and tea shop of Mehar Chand and Sons was a haven of calm refinement in amongst the mayhem.

The most up market rickshaws offer fanciful lighting effects once the sun goes down. 

By now we'd made our way out of old Delhi into Connaught Place for vegetable puffs at the venerable Wengers and flavoured milk drinks around the corner from there.

The main Sikh Temple in Delhi, off Connaught Place, serves food to the poor people of Delhi - all day.  The massive kitchens of this luminous white, gold domed temple are the last word in efficiency and cleanliness.

Hundreds of volunteers come to the temple each day to help in the kitchens - to feed the poor.

I loved the atmosphere of this place - so purposeful, respectful and well organised and clean - and lots of women and girls around (unlike other places we've been in Delhi). The girls in this lovely family were very friendly to me and engaged me in quite a lively conversation. (We all had to have our heads covered in the Sikh temple - that's why I'm wearing the funny yellow cap.)

My camera ran out of battery life at this point so I missed out on pics of our kebab stand course and the huge banquet meal at Kake De Hotel (two of the more confronting food experiences of this tour, with the possible exception of the roadside chaat (snack) joint), but it was close to midnight before we were finished - without forgetting our stop off at the ice cream stand at the India Gate!  An amazing unforgettable Day 1 in Delhi!