The idea of Delhi scared me more than any previous destination we have visited. With the recent horrific gang rape, murder and the resulting controversial comments and political protests that ensued, I was nervous to spend any time in the city. It made me an awkward traveler…I was antsy, disagreeable and expecting the worst at every turn which is a difficult way to take in a new place. We didn’t have any problems, but we did see remnants: leftover barricades and an abnormally large presence of police forces. The tension in the city was palpable. Ella and I could especially feel it on the metro standing in the “mixed” carriage with the loads of male eyes watching our every move.
The rape case made me pay more attention to the dynamic between Indian males and females in Delhi. I noticed that, perhaps, some of the behavior is perpetuated by the systems in place. The “women only” carriage seems to be a prime example. It is lovely for women who want their space and a seat on the train or metro. However, when these women are traveling with a colleague, friend or relative and choose to ride in the normal train carriage they are surrounded by a heavily male populated car that is usually rather devoid of female company. Does the separation contribute to the bad behavior or prevent it? Honestly, I’m not sure. There is obviously something wrong if a survey given by YouGov determined that 47% of Indian respondents feel the victim (and her family) shared responsibility for the incident. On the brighter side, I was far more aware of the storekeepers who posted “Respect women” signs and the locations selling pepper spray.
Despite the dark clouds and freezing (like coldest in a 40 year period) temperatures, we danced around Delhi from one meal to the next. We found a sweet food tour (out of our budget) that generously published their route and recommended dishes online. After scribbling a few done, we decided to make our own Chandi Chowk food tour with another raj kachori, a kulfi falooda and a jalebi (see below). We hit three of the ten recommended places and were about to explode. Sadly, nothing compared to the deliciousness in Jaipur. Although who knew how great clarified butter mixed with a little flour and sugar drizzled into a deep fry pan could taste…or how fast it could kill you?
We used the time between snacks to see the Red Fort (disappointing and run down) and the Jama Masjid. At the mosque, we hit a breaking point. We were asked to pay 300 rupees each to enter (even though the mosque is free). We found out from the man asking for the money, he was charging for our cameras. He showed us a hand written receipt on a torn piece of white paper to prove it. We were curious why some people were walking in without paying, but he had only stopped our select group. Ella and I showed the man we were leaving our cameras with Joshua outside and went to see if it would be worth $6 each. Of course, we were stopped multiple times to pose for pictures from guests who were NOT asked to pay the 300 rupee charge. When we met Joshua outside, he had spoken to another employee who said the charge was bogus. So we felt we were being singled out unfairly to pay a scam fee (not unheard of). We decided to walk in anyways with our cameras and try our luck. We were quickly hassled, grabbed and thrown out by the money collector. As a group, we tried to understand who was being honest to us and who was lying. At that moment, a tourist couple made the remark, “pay it, it’s six bucks and you flew all the way here!” I almost chased them down the steps. The point was not the money. It was the fact that we had to pay a fee to some unofficial guy to go into the free mosque while others didn’t. Ella and I decided we should have charged 100 rupees per picture we posed for which would have paid our admission. Instead we left, upset and angry, without a photo or a good memory of Jama Masjid. So India, you can keep the sites for which you choose to profile unsuspecting tourists. Maybe a donation box would have been more successful…
There was one place in Delhi which we found through the help of an old college friend from UCLA, Nicolette, that was serene: Lodi Gardens. But, I have to be very careful how I say it…because pronouncing the word Lodi wrong and it becomes male genitalia gardens which the tuk-tuk driver absolutely loved when I asked him for a ride there. It was quiet, no honking. It was green, minimal trash. It was one of the only places in India that I could imagine outside of India, if that makes any sense. It was my favorite part of Delhi. Joshua and Ella were able to jump around a little and then we found REAL coffee and perfect pie nearby. Ah-mazing.
After only half completing the food tour, we went back to Chandi Chowk the following day for more! Instead of food, though, we found back alley stall after back alley stall of interesting wares that ranged from stationary to spices to used computer books from Windows 95. We loved discovering these hidden secrets in India where locals go and not just the tourists.
Because you get to see AWESOME things like this! (remember it was cold)
We spent our last evening in Delhi vising the Imperial Hotel (a recommendation from Ella’s family friend, Sarfraz) where drinks cost twice as much as our room EACH, so we bought one, ate as many free snacks as they would feed us, lathered on the lotion in the designer bathrooms and enjoyed the sweetest smelling hallways I’ve ever known.
No trip to Delhi would be complete without a ride home in a leg-powered rickshaw!