Written October 19, 2012
This morning we started in Old Delhi. What a contrast from New Delhi. This is the India I had imagined – narrow streets crammed with masses of people, cars and bicycles.
We first stop at the Jama Masjid mosque. Built in the mid 17th century it’s India’s largest mosque. Ready to pull out our scarves after taking off our shoes we are instead dressed by the men at the entrance in a bright colored long loose gown that covers us from the neck down. Surprisingly they are unconcerned by our bare heads. Empty at this hour only a handful of tourists and devotees occupy the large square in front of the temple that can hold an impressive 25,000 people.
Next the Red Fort. Although this is one of Delhi’s top sights, I’m not terribly impressed with the small collection of crumbly buildings that need a “good imagination” to bring them to life. Built in the heyday of the Mughal empire, mid 17th century, it was never finished, only to be further assaulted in the mid 19th century by the Brits who dismantled many of the remaining structures making room for military garrison within the Fort’s walls.
I’m more interested in the busy streets of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s market area just across from the Fort. Packed with all sorts of small shops, their goods spilling out into the narrow lanes already congested with rickshaws and pedestrians. We try to make our way down to the spice market, but discover that the distance is much longer than it looks on the map.
Meeting up again with our driver we ask him if he can get us closer to the spice market. He explains that it is not possible but he will take us to another spice market. Turns out to be another one of those sterile “stores” with a smooth talking salesman, not the assembly of sights and smells along crowded narrow alleys I was hoping to find at the spice market.
For lunch he takes us to a respectable small establishment that served an assortment of typical Indian dishes. A reasonable lunch at a reasonable price, I still wouldn’t doubt that the driver isn’t somehow related to the owner.
Qutb Minar, the site of the first mosque to be built in India, 1193, the complex is most known for the Qutb Minar (tower) itself. The tower originally built as a victory tower is the tallest minaret in India.
One of my favorite sights in Delhi for the pageantry of Indians and tourists out in their finest, getting their pictures taken against the orange stone in the late afternoon glow.
Lotus Temple, the Bahai House of Worship again is worth seeing for the people watching as much as for the structure itself. Sure, it’s a giant lotus-flower-shaped domed structure (1986), but it’s the experience that makes the visit worthwhile -standing in line with the believers and other visitors, listening to the welcoming speech and invitation to receive more information given by the young volunteer with a glazed look in her eye, and retrieving your shoes from the subterranean shoe rack.
Eating in Connaught Place
Embassy is next door to the Palace Heights Hotel. A quirky long standing establishment with friendly service that doesn’t quite seem to understand English. The food is reasonably good with prices to match.
Q’BA, a delightful place to dine outside when the weather is nice with a romantic low lit terrace overlooking Connaught Place. Dishes are pricey but well executed and portions generous. The Q’BA Raan is a platter of well-seasoned tender lamb. They may call this an appetizer, (we were told because it was not prepared in a sauce), but truly this serving for 2 could feed 3-4.