Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Sights of Old Delhi.


Original Post Date: June 20, 2017.

Avisit to Delhi cannot be complete without a visit to Old Delhi.  And you cannot see Old Delhi properly unless you either go on foot or by cycle rickshaw.  That's in my humble opinion.

Since Jama Masjid is located in Old Delhi, it made sense for us to hit the streets once we were finished with our time at the mosque.  Last night, I had already given Chantale and Ayşe a heads up on what the place is like.  Prepare for rundown buildings, narrow alleys, dirt and smell that are not nice, lots of people and at least a cow or two or more.   It's an urban hovel albeit I find a very interesting one.  I was certain Chantale would take to it like a bee to honey but I wasn't sure about how Ayşe would react as she's never set foot in a place like this.  By American standards, it would be described as a slum and for sure, many of the buildings located here would have been condemned for humans to live in.  But this is Old Delhi and it and the people who live here are to be respected.

I had arranged with Moin Ashraf (the owner and operator of Pioneer Holidays) to have a cycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi.   I also did a ride on my visit on 2007 but I thought it was too short a ride so I asked Moin to arrange for a longer one so we could see more of the old city.


I also wanted to take the girls to Paratha Alley aka Gali Paranthe Wali but the streets in that part of the neighborhood are too narrow to even accommodate for a cycle rickshaw so we would have to do it on foot. 

So, off we went!  We followed our guide.  Sorry, don't remember his name because surprisingly, I spent very little time with him.  More consumed by taking in my surroundings and shooting photos than chatting up with him.

We started out on foot until our guide spotted a pair of cycle rickshaw drivers who were looking out for passengers.  The first place we stopped briefly at was a school.  To say that Ayşe was stunned by the impoverished conditions of the school room is an understatement.  It's a poor neighborhood where people live to survive and they do it the best they can with whatever limited means they have.




Our guide told us that we would have to pay 750 rupees (about $12 USD) for each cycle rickshaw.  By western standards, that's very reasonable considering we would taken around for almost an hour.  It's expensive by Indian standards but it's not an easy job and these guys can use the money so even though we should have done some haggling, my heart just would not allow me to do it.  I always say that part of the reason why I keep our basic travel costs (accommodation and transportation) so low is so we have money to spend on moments like this.  I want my money to go straight into the hands of the people who work hard for it, not some middleman.  No offense to the hard working middlemen.

We all got up into the rickshaws.  I rode with Ayşe while Chantale rode with our guide.  They were in the lead rickshaw.  Of course, the first thing that you notice, in the backstreets of Old Delhi, are the jumble of utility lines.  I seriously don't know how this all works.  If you have an electrical issue in your house, how do they figure out which line you are tied to??




I asked Ayşe to narrate the video, in Turkish.  I wanted to record her first impressions of the place and of riding in a cycle rickshaw. The audio quality is not all that great but hopefully good enough to make out what she's saying.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that my lens hood was a bit askew so you can see the edges in upper right and lower left of the video.


The further we rode along, the narrower the lanes got.  Many of the shops were still shuttered up so we must have been here before opening time which in a way was good because I can only imagine the incredible mass of people and rickshaws clogging the streets when the shops are open for business.


Our driver was a bit of a guide too.  I wasn't sure how much English he spoke but he knew enough to point out certain landmarks to us.  Like this row of heritage homes.



Eventually, the lanes narrowed to the point where we had to proceed the rest of the way on foot.



In a small corner, where two lanes met at a dead end, were the restaurants that specialize in parathas.  This is Paratha Alley.


In 2007, I actually had a snack break here.  Looking at the places, I was trying to recall exactly which one I ate at but I couldn't pinpoint the exact one.  I would've taken a break today but neither Chantale nor Ayşe expressed any interest in having any parathas so when there wasn't a positive response to my suggestion, I dropped it.  I think the sight of the dough frying in vat of hot oil was a bit much to face in morning or maybe it was the places did not look all that inviting.  It's most definitely not about atmosphere and ambience here.  It's about those scrumptious parathas - made fresh and served with sides of your choice.  I absolutely love parathas so I would have plunged right into one.....simply served up with some channa dal.  I know what I like!




I had to pause to watch one of the vendors at work.  I shot a similar video back in 2007.  This time I'm using a better camera!


They sell plenty of other Indian snacks here too.  Again, I was tempted by the samosas.  I've not had a good one since my last trip to India which was in 2012.


Before we headed back out to the main road to meet back up with our cycle rickshaw drivers, Chantale took a quick break to do a bit of repair work on her imitation GoPro camera.  She's used that thing a lot of this trip so far and I just hope it holds up for the duration of the trip as she has fallen in love with it!  I have to admit, it is a nifty little thing.


It was back to the hustle and bustle of the main streets and all the car horns.  I hadn't noticed the relative peace and quiet of the lanes until I returned to the main road.  So noisy here!  From here, our next stop would take us to  Chadni Chowk, the original old market and to be honest, I don't know where the boundaries of the market are within Old Delhi but what's waiting for us in Chadni Chowk is the spice market. 


We meandered our way back through the back lanes.






And then we were back out on to a main road where we now had to dodge cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, pedestrians, and the occasional ox cart.  It's crazy but everyone seems to know how to make their way around without knocking into each other.  Our driver was exceptionally careful so I had not a single ounce of worry about our safety.  He continued to point out landmarks as we rode along.   In this part of the old city, there were buildings that were clear reminders of the country's British colonial past.




It was a short ride through the busy streets before our driver stopped in front of a row of shops.  We all got off and followed our guide to a small spice shop.  It was very obvious that this one catered to to tourists as we were not the only non-Indians around.  A very different shopping experience than the one we had with Jyoti yesterday where we were the ONLY non-Indians around.  The shop, though narrow, went back quite a bit so it was larger than I had expected.  They sold spices as well as tea.  Being a tea drinker, I always buy some when I'm in a country where the beverage is a popular one.  My eyes quickly settled on bags of Darjeeling tea - my favorite.  The girls were doing their fair bit of shopping too.  I ended up just buying the tea but Chantale bought a few more items.  I just popped by bag of tea in my backpack.  But for Chantale, they put them in a repurposed salad mix plastic bag and then heat sealed it.  I'm guessing that either overstock bags or bags for salad items no longer being offered are sold to companies in India who then resell them to shops to use.  It's a good thing!


With our purchases in hand, we continued our walk.  As I had expected, vendors here also sell plenty of dried fruits, nuts and other dried provisions like rice, dal, beans and pasta.




I love the spice market.  The wonderful smells of the spices tickling my nose are just intoxicating.  I often cannot resist bending down and getting a better whiff of something!




We followed our guide back into one of the narrow lanes.  Here is where we saw shops selling their dried products in large sacks.  Maybe this is the wholesale area?









I just love being in this place - the sights, the sounds, the smells....everything about it is like eye candy for me.  I think every time I come to Delhi, I will have to make a trip to visit the spice section of Chadni Chowk.


We made our way back to our rickshaws and hopped on board for a ride to Red Fort.




Before we got going, Chantale had a photo op.  The man behind her camera is our rickshaw driver.







On our way to Red Fort, we passed by Sis Ganj Sahib, the gurdwara that I visited on my 2007.  Today, we wouldn't have time to go there.  Located one block away from Sis Ganj Sahib is Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, the oldest and best-known Jain temple in Delhi, India.  I've never visited the temple and I've always wanted to go but it doesn't look like we'll have time to do it on this trip.  So....next trip to Delhi.

I have to admit that going by cycle rickshaw on the backstreets of Old Delhi is not a bad ride in terms of feeling safe, once you are on the streets near Red Fort, it's a different story because the roads here are wide enough to accommodate more cars and much larger vehicles like buses!!  It's like we went from kayaking in a stream to being in open ocean water.  None of these large, gas powered vehicles is moving at snail's pace so everyone is zipping by you and there is NOTHING to protect you from harm's way.  Your life is really in the hands of your driver.  Thankfully, we had a very skilled one.  Even so, I think my hands were gripping the rails tighter now as if that would somehow protect me from an accident.



I had readjusted our itinerary so that we could visit Red Fort today as it's a museum and so it's closed on Mondays.  But our guide told us that the place is undergoing quite a bit of renovation and many of the highlights are closed off to the public.  I was really disappointed because I wanted the girls to get a taste of the work of Shah Jahan before we visit the Taj Mahal which is undoubtedly his masterpiece.  You only do your best work when you're in love.....or so I would like to think.  So today, all we did was stand out front and take photos.  The girls will have to make their visit on their next trips back to Delhi.


From Red Fort, you have a nice view looking back towards Chadni Chowk.  The red pillared temple is the Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir aka the Jain temple.  The gold topped dome is the gurdwara - Sis Ganj Sahib.


Everyone has a job in India.  Even for children on summer break from school there is work to be done.





Where there are tourists, you will find cycle rickshaws.  These were lined up waiting for folks exiting Red Fort.



Our time with our rickshaw drivers was up as we would return to our car and driver for the rest of sightseeing.  We paid them, thanked them for taking us around and said our goodbyes.  I asked if I could take their photo and they kindly posed for me.  The man on the left is the one that drove Ayşe and I around.  I don't know about the man who ferried Chantale and our guide around but Ayşe's and my driver was a very good driver not to mention that he pointed out landmarks to us.  If I could recommend him to a fellow traveler, I would.  Just look for him if you are ever near Gate No. 3 of Jama Masjid!


On to Raj Ghat!