Yeah, I know I promised myself I would post regularly, but somehow things out of my control did keep me away from blogging. It was at the back of my mind though. So, things have settled down and here I am!
In the midst of all the cacophony, I did manage to sneak in a biz come pleasure trip to our very own Delhi. New or Old, what have you. Constrained for time, I had to travel by the mode i prefer the least, by air! From grumpy check-in counter ladies(the ones at kingfisher are real sweet, and pretty too!!), to the organic goo they serve as airline food, I have an aversion to it and try to stick to trains(None better than Indian Railways I tell you, TGV can rot in speedy whatever).
Ok so I landed in Delhi, checked into Hotel Garden View, Karol Bagh. Its a decent budget hotel, good comfortable beds, spacious rooms, food that's pretty alright(no! i am not franchising for them!!) et. al, at 800 a night. In Delhi, that's quite a deal.
Oh yeah! I have to groove on how wonderful the Airport Express Metro is that takes you from IGI T3 to New Delhi station in just about 15 mins (here's their website: http://www.delhiairportexpress.com/home/index.html) The whole thing is really well designed, super cool seats, luggage racks and all. Who wants to ride in those dusty cabs that charge a bomb when you can spend just 80 bucks, 15 mins in business class type travel?!
Next day, work done by noon and I have about 2 and a half days to just roam, eat, roam eat thats that. Make very discreet enquiries about which place is located where and all that. I am shown pretty glossy package tours brochures but I dont have none of it. I wanna travel on my own and cheap. I ask for a delhi metro map(yeah, the old fashioned paper map reading, boy scout you see :)) and mark out places I can visit and figure out the nearest metro stations next to them.
Delhi is very well connected by the Metro at present and is only expanding to comprehensively cover all possible places. So as a backpacker, I find it a real boon. Anyways, the places I had in mind to visit was:
1. The Red Fort
2. Qutb Minar
3. Metro Museum
4. Akshardham Temple
5. Birla Mandir
6. Rail Museum
7. Jantar Mantar
Point to note: Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal are closed on Fridays and I learnt it the hard way.
Other than Rail Museum and Birla Mandir, others are just a 5-10 min walk from metro stations and it turned out to be pretty cheap for me. I did not have to hanker with autorikshaw wallahs and cab drivers on how much I'd pay. Not much queues in metro stations for tickets, or tokens as they are called so its pretty easy. If you intend to stay long, there are smart cards available, that reduce the cost to a place by about 10% compared to the token.
The other places are about 20-25 mins of walk from metro stations, but one good result of Delhi hosting the commonwealth games is that the roads and pathways have turned out pretty awesome. So walking is not as notorious at it was. With the dreaded blue-lines off the roads of Delhi, it actually feels pretty tame.
I don't think I am going to tell you what each place is all about, hey! whats wikipedia and google for? What I am going to tell you is some lesser known aspects of the places I saw:
To start with, the Red Fort:
- Initially was called ShahJahanabad for obvious reasons, named after its creator, Shah Jahan
- It was apparently the 7th City of Delhi, assuming it is the 7th avatar of this historic city.
- Tourists enter, and for that matter the Prime Minister addresses the nation from a place interestingly called, the Lahore Gate. There is a Delhi Gate too, but it is its poorer and lesser known cousin. No less well crafted and grand, it is at the left side of the fort when you enter through the Lahore Gate. Most people miss it, but its worth a look. Interesting observation, the tricolor flutters atop the Lahore Gate :)
- Aurangazeb's private place of Worship, is the moti masjid, make sure you read the information stones, they're quite interesting!
- The buildings East India Company built inside the fort was where, armed forces officers who defected to the Indian National Army were tried, courtmarshalled and sentenced.
The Qutb Minar:
- It might be the world's largest brick minaret, but its about 5 feet shorter than the Taj Mahal (Qutb Minar:238 ft, Taj Mahal:243 ft)
- Though entry inside the minar to the top is banned now, owing to a stampede that took place years ago (sigh!), it actually has 379 steps to the top, quite a bit aint it?
- The Qutb Complex houses the maqbara(tomb) of Allah-ud-din Khilji, who also built the Alai Darwaza, Iltutmish and Imam Zamin
- The Alai Minar was supposed to be taller than the Qutb Minar, but due to the death of its creator(Allah-ud-din Khilji at it again) and the indifference of his successors, it never reached more than a storey.
The Metro Museum:
- Located inside Patel Chowk Metro Station
- World's first metro museum to be located inside a working metro station
- A showcase of the hardships, the challenges, the solutions they came up with, the awards can be seen here. A huge source of info if you're interested in the railway system, rail engineering et al.
- Photography is strictly, I mean STRICTLY prohibited, cams and men are watching you constantly. So no pics of what I saw.
- You get good memorabilia here if you're a big fan of the Metro.
Swaminarayan Akshardham complex:
- World's Largest comprehensive Hindu Temple.
- It preaches a way of life called Swaminarayan Hinduism
- The musical fountain show, also called the Yagnapurush Kund, is a perfect embodiment of the Hindu trinity(Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma) [a personal opinion this]
- No gadgets are permitted inside, with a capital NO (you are frisked worse than what u can be in the airports)
- The place is built as per a section in the Vedas called Sthapathya Shastra, dealing with the creation and consecration of buildings/temples
- Swaminarayan's life history is brought to life using talking robots in the Sahajanand Pradarshan hall.
- The water complex that surrounds the swaminarayan temple has water mixed from all the 108 holy rivers of India. Water pours through gaumukhs, with each gaumukh signifying a river.
I'll skip Birla Mandir and the Rail Museum for they don't seem to have any Did you know? or lesser known interesting facts.
Coming to the Jantar Mantar :
- It consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments, built by Maharaja Jai Singh the 2nd of Jaipur. Interestingly, a similar complex is present in Jaipur as well.
- It seamlessly combines astronomy and astrology.
- The instruments have predicted distance from us to the sun to an accuracy of 10kms
- It can very accurately calculate what sun-sign the day is under.
- Unfortunately people seem to find it funny to inscribe their love on such precious monuments. Yeah, pure sarcasm I know. But its a sad fact.
- One good thing is, this very precious monument has come under a private partnership with ASI and a 5-star hotel nearby.