It has been thirteen years since we were in Delhi, and in that time, the city seems to have completely changed. It was the last point on our first India tour and it’s safe to say that by the time we arrived, we were thoroughly India’d out. We’ve started our India tour in Delhi this time, and it’s been an almost completely different experience. From the minute we stepped off the plane into the new and sparkling Indira Gandhi International Airport (winner of the 2014 Best Airports in the World competition – for the category 25 – 40 million passengers per annum, apparently), we could see that this was definitely different to the Delhi we remember.
There has clearly been a huge amount of change since we were last here. Even though today was officially a holiday, and also a “No Car Day”, the roads were way busier than anything than we remember. Kathmandu was busy, but it was a friendly sort of busy. You could cross the road confident in the knowledge that as long as you walk slowly and steadily, the traffic will dodge around you. Here, it’s much more of a full contact sport. The British Touring Car Championship is the closest thing I can think of to describe it. Goodness knows what it’ll be like on Monday when everyone gets back to work.
It’s also a fair bit cleaner than we remember, and way less smelly. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a massive city full of rubbish, cow poo and very, very poor people. Families sleep on the streets, trucks belch out clouds of black smoke, piles of rubbish line streets of market stalls, cows wander around unhindered, eating rubbish and discarded food on the roads. We haven’t seen a great deal of the city, because we’re only here for a couple of days, but the smell is still a vivid memory from our last visit. We went for a stroll tonight after some food (but no beer, again – sigh) and had an ace time looking around a night market. The sights, sounds and smells of the streets are amazing. We’re much fresher, and much more excited about everything than we were before, and this seems to make the place buzz and turns it all into a game.
We hired a driver to take us around some of the sights. The Red Fort was built in the 1640s and was still an Army barracks when we were last here so we spent a good few hours wandering around the palaces inside. It was only released from the army in 2003 and could do with a bit of restoration but the space inside is lovely after the streets of Delhi. Humayun’s Tomb (or Baby Taj) has been restored over the past few years and is just beautiful with its red sandstone and white marble finish. It was built in 1565, before the Taj Mahal, by the grieving widow of Emperor Humanayun. We could have stayed here all day.
Having the kids with us is just epic. They’re huge celebrities, and were mobbed at the Red Fort by hoards of school kids wanting to have their photo taken with them. People see the kids, and are massively positive about them being here. They’re having a ball, and it’s doing wonders for their confidence. They both chat away happily to strangers, taking it all in their stride. We often have to have the “What was he talking about” conversation afterwards, but they’re learning so much about people and how to deal with them. I just love standing back, and watching them get on with it.
The biggest difference though, is that we’ve got a new approach for the first couple of weeks we’re here. We’re throwing money at India in an effort to insulate ourselves from all of the frustrations that we experienced last time – unpredictable busses & trains, endless queueing, struggling to find a hotel, pointless haggling over the price of a rickshaw ride etc. We’re not quite sure how this has happened, as we didn’t arrive with this as a plan. But we’ve booked a tour, with a driver, some adventures and all of the hotels laid out in a neatly packaged 15 days. Well, we think that’s what we’ve booked. With hindsight, the circumstances that came to us handing over our credit card scream “scam”, and we should have known better, much better. We’ve lost a good deal of sleep over it, and only time will tell. But at the minute, we’re loving incredible India.