Friday, January 18, 2013

A Rickshaw Ride in Delhi One Lazy Morning

Plans don't always turn out the way you want them to. This is even more glaring during travels because a lot of the elements are not in your control. A day after my (2nd) arrival in Delhi, I was left with a whole morning to burn. I didn't plan much, but I wanted to visit Humayun's Tomb before my 2 PM train leaves for Mumbai. I wasn't being ambitious which was unusual. Most days, I'd have a full morning's itinerary. This was my moment to, sort of, "smell the flowers". And it had its share of disappointments and rewards.


It was 8 AM when I made it out of my hotel, hair still damp from shower. I hardly comb them when I am on the road. Since my hair's short, the strands easily groom themselves even with just a run of my fingers. But why am I talking about hair? :) I hailed an autorickshaw (which some locals call "CNG" because they run on the environment-friendly "compressed natural gas"). After a few haggling, we settled with 150 rupees, a reasonable rate from Paharganj to Humayun's Tomb. I half expected 300 or 400, but it was relatively early so drivers weren't in the mood for greed. Of course, it'd have been easier to head down to the nearest fixed rate counters called Prepaid Booths, but these counters are few and limited. Besides, I didn't feel like walking down to the train station's.

Sir Edward Lutyen

The road to the tomb was relatively long as it is located in Nizamuddin East, near Purana Qila (Old Fort). The advantage of such distance is that we had to pass through major landmarks. The ride itself felt like a day tour without the stop. I was in awe as we glided through the 81 year old "India Gate" - the country's national monument, majestic as it stands in the center of a park. It might as well be the sister arch of Paris' Arch de Triomphe, but why not? Sir Edward Lutyen's design was patterned after and inspired by the French landmark. Nearby was the tall "Canopy". I knew I had to take a closer look, but this wasn't the time. There will be one, I promised myself.


When my CNG reached Humayun's Tomb, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, I was baffled by the almost abandoned scenario. This wouldn't be an Indian landmark without the crowd. No queues of CNG's and taxis were there as well. Like a slap on the face, it slowly dawned on me that this Mughal tomb was closed for the day. Now how lucky could I get? With nothing much to do but sigh and accept what fate handed me, I roamed the surrounding garden grounds in front of the tomb; something that most people completely ignore when visiting this place.

Humayun, the "Fortunate"
But this opportunity offered a chance to examine the surroundings, like some inspired perspective. Meanwhile, the guards at the entrance waved at me not to take photos. This was of course a bit off putting, if a tad unusual. I couldn't get inside the emperor's resting place - and I could not take photos of its outside premises? What gives? Were there gold around the abandoned gardens? I walked away from the gate and took photos anyway. They'd have to stop me if they wanted to, but all rules have to be within reason. It was unreasonable disallowing me to take pictures "outside" the heavily walled tomb, and I have never heard of such a ridiculous thing.

So I snapped away. :)


Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught.
I hopped into another CNG for a 100-rupee ride back to Connaught's Place, one of Delhi's biggest commercial, financial, and business centers. Named after an English Duke, it was designed as a center piece for Architect Lutyen's Delhi, constructed for four years between 1929 to 1933. It's easily one of my favorite spots in the capital and touted as the world's fifth most expensive office destination in the world, according to CBRE group, a global property consultant. I shop here; mail my postcards; watch movies; take my McDonald's breakfasts and KFC lunches; buy Bollywood soundtracks - and chill! Mostly, the graceful curve of the white posts keep reminding me of a similarly designed London district - the Strand! If this isn't enough to drive visitors to Connaught's, then there are the cinemas which date back to the 1930's. These days, they look as grand and aristocratic as they were before. Yes, most of these theatre halls survived the new millennium.


I wanted to check out "Palika Bazaar" which my friend Junaid kept nagging me to visit. I saw the almost-barren space of green field with a dome-shaped, glass-and-concrete structure on middle ground. Under this domes is the underground arcade that constitutes Palika Bazaar, an underground market situated between the inner and the outer circle of Connaught's Place. What's more interesting is, it was named after another bazaar in Mumbai. Inside the arcade are rows of shops that  looked, well, uninteresting; the stalls are small, if a bit rundown. It reminded me of a bigger version of the underground gateway connecting Quiapo's Plaza Miranda/Quiapo Church and the Muslim Barter at the other side of the road. 

Palika Bazaar hosts some 390 shops selling diverse items, dominated by clothing and electronic gadgets. It's also known for bargains, but if you're a foreign tourist, you might as well dig yourself a cave if you expect the same bargains here. :) Meanwhile, Palika, rapidly in a state of decay, is also known for contraband: knock off designer products and bags, stolen goods, pirated CD's. Didn't I say Quiapo? These days, customers are a dwindling lot owing to the construction of more modern shops in the vicinity.

After buying a soundtrack of a Bollywood film, I hastily left and scoured for food. Most shops were still close. But I finally found a McDonald's at Block P-14 (the separate blocks of Connaught's are labelled alphabetically and numerically to facilitate orientation); ordered a Big Maharajah Mac (India's retooled version of the Big Mac, with a hint of spice at 120 rupees). This order included an SSF Masala, whatever that stood for. Curiously, India's McDonald's doesn't serve "fried chicken" in their menu.

I sat beside a window and saw hundreds of pigeons lazing outside. Kinda like London's Trafalgar's Square, I thought. The British influence nags obviously all over the capital, and I was told to expect the same in Mumbai. After breakfast, I scribbled a few notes to a couple of postcards I needed to send for my mother, then went to the post office.

I took a walk and tried to orient myself in every block, but I needed more time for that. I was here before for a quick lunch with my friend Junaid who, then, was having a tantrum so it wasn't the most pleasant of visits. Looking back, I couldn't help but smile with amusement. A lot of things have changed. Now, I am the one having tantrums whenever I get to see my friend. Ha-ha! So while I reminisce, allow me to digest the meal and the memories.

This is the Eye in the Sky!  

The Canopy

Former Indian Emperor George V's statue once stood under the canopy but this was later removed during the country's independence. 

India Gate: inspired by Paris' Arch de Triomphe.

From the parking area, this is the entrance to the outside gardens of Humayun's Tomb, just before  the entrance gate where you get your tickets.

Garden grounds

Garden grounds just outside Humayun's Tomb.

Thick gate walls.

Early morning just overground the Palika Bazaar.

Picture 18 - The open field at Connaught's Place. The dome represents the central portion of Palika Bazaar underground.

Connaught's Place

Connaught's Place

Central Park of Connaught's Place. Underground is the city's Metro, the local/city trains. Guess what? Photography is once again prohibited here.

McDonald's for the early birds. While most shops are still close, this is open for business.

Add captionMcDonald's Big Maharajah Mac at 120 rupees.

One of the earliest "shops" to open in Connaught's Place is the Post Office.

Palika Bazaar.  The dome from underground. See Picture 18 for the structure outside.

Arriving in Delhi

View from a High Rise Restaurant


Mom with a Dot said...

I like Delhi best early in the mornings - Glad you got to see it then!

I hope you are able to browse my blog now? Yeah it was down for almost half a day once during this week :(

eye in the sky said...

Thank heavens I can read your posts now. And yes, I love Delhi in the early morning. It's very serene. :)

Twin said...

The arch reminds me of Paris.

eye in the sky said...

@ Twin:

Yes, it was designed after the Parisian landmark after all. :)