Stairs over stares

Sunday, 15 February.

Up early enough that we beat the breakfast crowds, we were able to try out the buffet (AND get omelets and pancakes made to order!) Some tasty things including savory mini doughnuts with a red broth, something like curry corn meal, and a porridge like cream of wheat. Tasty and filling.

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Stuffed silly, we set out for the lotus temple. We asked at the hotel how much a rickshaw should cost and then went out to flag one down. Unfortunately, none wanted to take us there for that price. A man walking by suggested we take a rickshaw to some city center and catch a tourist bus from there, but that sounded annoying, so after checking our notes, we decided to try the metro!

We walked back over to the train station and it was a complete zoo. Touts outside trying to tell us we needed to buy a ticket before we could go into the station (“I know that’s not true!” I said to one before brushing past him). Others tried to “help” us buy tickets but eventually actually pointed us in the direction of the pedestrian walkway over the tracks. So much more chaotic than Saturday had been. Turns out Delhi had given us a very gentle introduction on day 1!

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We made our way to the metro station and went down the stairs to find a mass of people standing around. None white, and very few women. We tried to buy tokens at a ticket machine but that option was greyed out so we waited in line at the counter instead. Took only mental pictures as it didn’t seem like the place to be pulling out an iPhone. After getting our tokens, we went through a security check (accidentally missing the sign for the ladies line, and being redirected accordingly). On the platform, we were trying to find a good place to wait (ideally near other women) but didn’t see many. We almost followed a woman who was walking purposefully down the platform, but we weren’t sure if she was heading for an exit or what, so we just waited near a family. Upon boarding the train, 2 young men sitting in a 2-seat section immediately stood up and let us sit down together. There are definitely benefits to traveling with a senior citizen! One of the guys was charging his phone from a plug above the seats and another helped hold the cord out of the way so it didn’t hit us. Despite all that we’d read about the metro, once we got inside, we felt quite safe (and maybe even a bit protected by these young gentlemen). We went just a few stops before getting out to transfer to another line. On the next platform, we saw signs for a ladies only car at the far end of the platform (aha!), so we decided to check that out. We were both able to get seats, and settled in for the fairly long ride. Eventually the train went above ground and we could see the lotus temple and another interesting structure nearby.

The station where we got out (Kalkaji Mandir) was much emptier than the station where we’d boarded. We walked down the stairs, out the doors, and (after a quick check of the map) followed people along a path and through a gate chained to be mostly closed, but with a gap about 2 feet wide to let pedestrians through. Then along a paved street to a metal arm gate that we ducked under. We turned and followed the street to the entrance to the temple.

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There were a couple of tour buses there, and one had a heavily armed guard, but he stayed with the bus. He probably wouldn’t have gotten through the temple gate’s metal detectors with his “big toy.”

Inside, there were streams of (mostly Indian) people walking through the garden path, to and from the temple. Beautiful colorful clothes, some people walking with bare feet, and family photo ops all around. I didn’t see anyone taking selfies.

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About 3/4 of the way to the temple, a guard was handing bags to people and had everyone take off their shoes. We then took them down a half flight of stairs and bent down to hand them through an open window to some guys who gave us a token in return. A shoe check!

Bare/sock footed, we slowly walked the rest of the way up to the temple. We followed the crowds to a line to go inside. No pictures or talking allowed inside, so we just enjoyed the quiet and the cool marble bench seats. After we went back outside, we sat on a bench and enjoyed the view. Quite a few people stared at us, and a teenage girl asked if she could have her picture taken with me. Um, okay, sure! A couple of her friends had to get in on the action, and J thought to snap a picture of us, as well.

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A few minutes later, another young woman asked to get a picture with me as well. Her English was pretty good, so I asked her why she wanted a picture with me (I was curious if it was my short hair, pale skin, height, weight, circus freak nature, or stunning beauty!) “To show my friends” she said. Alrighty then.

We looked up the information for the other (red) structure we saw and took a rickshaw there. Turned out to be a Hare Krishna place. After going through the ladies security line, we looked around a bit. They had big signs advertising their Vedic Expo, which apparently is the “world’s no. 1 spiritual adventure.” I was intrigued by the “robot show” aspect of it, but at 300 rupees (about $5) per person it was ridiculously expensive, so we passed. We also opted not to go inside the temple (didn’t want to deal with the taking off of shoes & washing of feet and hands) so we just walked through.

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Outside, we sat on a bench and tried to figure out how to get back up to the Red Fort (the other end of town). We eventually asked for directions to the nearest metro station.

On our way, we walked by a dusty park with people sleeping, and then a bit further came upon some fairly nice hotels and shops. At one hotel, we saw (and heard!) a wedding party, complete with brass band, flowers, and horses. The security guards saw us looking and invited us inside the hotel parking gates so we could have a better look. We realized that we’d probably ridden the metro earlier with one of the band members (the uniforms and French horn carrier/case were the same).

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We eventually got to the Nehru place metro (another quiet and easy to navigate station!), found the ladies only car, transferred to another line where we needed to, and exited the Kashmere Gate station like pros. At this point, we realized, we had spent less than a dollar each, all day!

By this time we were quite hungry and also a little tired from all the walking, so we didn’t want to just get street food. We wanted to sit. Unfortunately, we weren’t seeing any restaurants with seating areas. We walked for awhile toward the red fort but it wasn’t looking promising. We decided to flag down a rickshaw to take us the rest of the way. When the driver was trying to quote us far too much for the short ride, we kept going and another driver (an older Sikh gentleman) swooped in and took care of us. He dropped us at the red fort in short order, and it was crazy.

Tons of tourists and streetside venders. Chaotic traffic (which we had to dodge when we realized that the other side seemed more likely to have restaurants). Walking, walking, walking. Lots of stuff to buy but no sit-down restaurants to be seen. A woman who was asking us for money (which we didn’t give) then kindly pointed us in the direction of where we might find another rickshaw, anyway. The second time that day we’d been helped by people who we’d been in the process of rebuffing. Kinda made me feel like a heel.

Back to the hotel and a late lunch at the nearby cafe that had been recommended by the English women at breakfast the other day. Quite decent pizza, but significantly more expensive than the other meals we’d had.

Back at the hotel, we caught up on email and decompressed for a while. Around 5, I had the hotel front desk call the tailor to see if they could deliver my new clothes (something they had offered to do). They were short handed, though, so we got into the nicest (newest) rickshaw yet, driven by a sharply dressed young man. When we got close, he asked for the business card again and called the tailor/shop guy to ask for specific directions. He had stopped the rickshaw while he was on the phone, and after a minute or so, the tailor came out with my new clothes in hand and delivered them right to us! We confirmed they were the right pieces, I paid him the balance due, and he signed off on the talley on the back of his business card, which was effectively my receipt.

We’d thought of having dinner in that area (Karol Bagh), but decided to take advantage of our nice rickshaw & driver, so just had him take us back to the hotel. My new pants make me giggle each time I see them!

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We walked back near the railway station and selected a different vegetarian restaurant to try. This one had an upstairs, and when we got up there, we were all alone. Not a good sign for a restaurant but we decided to give it a try. And if nothing else, we wouldn’t be stared at! The food was super tasty (perhaps the best yet) and super reasonably priced. Yay!

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