Monday, 29 October 2012

Delightful Delhi, becoming more "Indianised" and Mussoorie's Winterline

Listening to an awful audio guide at Qutub Minar
Delightful Delhi

I went down to Delhi a few weeks ago for some work meetings, and was able to "do a bit of tourism" in the Indian capital for the first time.

My first impressions of Delhi were not particularly positive, as I passed through it on the way up to Mussoorie. On my first trip to India last year I only travelled from the airport to New Delhi station, which is a harrowing experience for the most seasoned of travellers, as you negotiate your way through crazy traffic, and hundreds of people at the station being hassled and harangued. Delhi can be overwhelming at first, with its hustle and bustle, and people everywhere.

Taj Mahal-esque: Safdarjung's Tomb
However, it's fair to say that I pre-judged the capital, which has many magnificent historical monuments scattered around it. My first tourist stop was the amazing Qutub Minar, a UNESCO heritage site containing India's tallest minaret, with beautiful stone carvings, dating from the 12th century.

I also popped in to see Safdarjung's Tomb, a Taj Mahal-like masoleum built in 1754 in the late Mughal Empire style, which was absolutely deserted and an oasis of serenity in the middle of the busy city.

My host recommended the Hauz Kauz Village area, a trendy, bustling part of town with small alleyways of shops and cool cafes, which reminded me a bit of Brighton's Lanes area in the UK. I was able to pick up some nice presents in one of the many antique shops there.

Finally I went and looked at India Gate, the impressive monument at the heart of the city which sits on Delhi's equivalent of the Champs Elysees, which winds its way down to the Parliament buildings.

Inspired by Paris' Arc de Triomphe, it was designed by British architect Sir Edwin Luytens and built in the early 1930s. It is India's national monument and also known as the All India War Memorial, commemorating the 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost thier lives in World War I and the third Anglo Afghan War in 1919.

The inscription on it reads: "To the dead of the Indian armies who fell honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the near and the far-east, and in sacred memory also of those whose names are recorded and who fell in India or the north-west frontier and during the Third Afghan war."

The inscription on India Gate commemorating Indian soldiers who died in WWI and Afghanistan
It is very poignant and an important memorial and reminder of these Indian troops who sacrficed their lives fighting for the British Raj, an aspect of 20th century history which shamefully seems to have been airbrushed from most British classrooms, certainly from personal experience.

Arc de Triomphe-esque: India Gate

A view of a three wheeler from a three wheeler
I travelled around Delhi in auto rickshaws, the green and yellow three wheeled vehicles which are ubiquitous in the capital. Unfortunately being white you are always charged a foreigner's rate, often two or three times what a local would be charged for a ride, which means you are constantly haggling with the drivers to get a reasonable rate. It can get a bit wearing, and annoying, but then on the other hand I guess we can afford to pay a bit more than most people. Throwing in a bit of Hindi can help with negotiations (don't laugh Mark Bradby donyervard!).

I also used the impressive Delhi Metro system (map here for all you fellow public transport geeks), which is cheap as chips (ten rupees a journey), and far more clean and efficient than London's creaking system. It even has air conditioning! Sadly I didn't make it to my favourite station this time, Dwarka Sector 21.

Pristine and clean: The Delhi Metro

I'm glad I've got to see more of the capital and look forward to exploring more of its many monuments in future trips.

Becoming more "Indianised"

Mussoorie really feels like home now, I'm pleased to say. On this theme, I received a birthday card from my aunt the other week, which contained a rhyme in which she said I was becoming more "Indianised", which I think is true. How do I know this?

i) I no longer double take when I see a man driving a scooter with a broken arm / lorries driving towards me on the wrong side of the road with the horn blaring / taxi drivers overtaking on a blind bend / or when I see whole families including a new-born baby riding on a single motorbike
ii) I say certain words with an Indian accent eg no (although I've yet to adopt the famous head wobble!)

Mussoorie's wonderful Winterline

Last week temperatures really dropped and it seems winter has arrived in earnest. During the winter months, a beautiful phenomenon occurs here in Mussoorie, called the Winterline (see photo below), a false horizon in the west when the sun sets, creating stunning orange and mauve hues. Apparently it only occurs here and in certain parts of Switzerland.

The view from our house looks west so we see this amazing scene every night...yet another reason for you to come and visit us if you're ever passing through this neck of the woods.

Many thanks to my colleague and neighbour Owen Fidler for the excellent photo below.

Photo: Our beautiful nightly light show, the Winterline now showing nightly in Mussoorie!
Wonderful Winterline: the view from our house at sunset PHOTO: OWEN FIDLER

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