Passage To India: Part 1 - Delhi and Mumbai

Following a great three days in Dubai I continued my journey on to India. Some thought I was mad to go India within turmoil that had ensued since the Mumbai attacks not least as Mumbai was one of my destinations! However, I was still determined to go whatever the situation and I had heard that security had been stepped up to a very high level at all the airports.

My first destination was India's capital city, Delhi, in the north of India. A visit there had been on my to-do list for a long time so I was very happy to finally get the chance to go there.

As soon as I landed at the airport I felt the Indian heat and culture hit me like a wave. Delhi is so different to any city I have visited. There is so much going on the same time, so many people and crazy traffic. I had four days there before moving on to Mumbai so I decided to get as much touristy escapades in as possible. My first stop was India Gate which is a monument not unlike the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Like it's French counter-part it commemorates the soldiers who fought in the World Wars as well as Indian Independence from Britain.

While admiring the monument, I could not help noticing the strong security and police presence. There were check-points set up all around the monument and soldiers patrolling with large automatic weapons! They were obviously concerned that it could also become a target.

Next on my list was Qutb Minar which is one of the first examples of Islamic architecture in India. It is a finely decorated tower which apparently took almost 200 years to build. It was built by the first muslim rulers of India and was finished in the 1300s.

I found myself spending a lot of time exploring the grounds of Qutb Minar as there were many other buildings around with equally beautiful architecture.

As I was leaving I noticed something else about sightseeing in India. If you are tourist it is almost inevitable that you are going to get surrounded by street salesmen, rickshaw drivers, and other people trying to sell you all manner of things. I was partially prepared for this but at one point I was approached by what could only be described as a mob of them all shouting at the same time. I think they must have all competing for my custom! I tried to evade them but to no avail - there didn't seem to be any side streets I could duck down. I eventually out-ran them and jumped into my cab driver's car and we were off. Phew!!

Following that I was on to Red Fort and Mahatma Gandhi's Memorial. The Red Fort is a giant structure which is yest another example of early Islamic architecture in India (see photo below). Within it are gardens and other buildings with intricate and complex designs.

I was happy that I got a chance to see Gandhi's memorial as I very much admire his message and what he stood for. I feel the struggle he had to go through for India's Independence and what he believed about non-violent protest is especially poignant in the world we live in now. Maybe politicians around the world should take some time to review his teachings and see how they apply to their situations.

The monument is visited but people from all over the world and this was certainly my experience when I visited it. It was evident to me that Gandhi's message was still important to those outside India as it was to Indians themselves. I walked around the memorial several times before going in (see photo below). I felt honoured to have the priviledge to be there. After paying my respects I made my way back to my cab after a really hectic day!

I was quite exhausted when I got back to my friends' appartment but they convinced me to go out with them to sample some authentic Delhi cusine. It was the first time I was going to a restaurant in Delhi and by gosh did I enjoy it! I fell in love with the Butter Chicken and Naans and this soon became regular dish I ordered everywhere.

Unfortunately my body didn't feel the same way about the food and after a couple of days of the rich cuisine I was suffering a serious case of the renowned 'Delhi Belly'. It was really annoying as I only had one more day in Delhi and I still had to see India's most famous sight, the Taj Mahal in Agra.

I woke the next morning feeling very under the weather but decided to soldier on to Agra. I jumped in the cab and just hoped for the best as it was a three hour journey to get there. The drive itself out of Delhi was something of an experience I felt like I was getting in touch with sights, sounds, and general vibe of India. It was like another world to me and was quite overwhelming in places though well worth it.

I finally arrived at the Taj Mahal to meet by the usual barrage of street salesmen. I even had people coming up to me claiming to be official tour guides and wanting 200 ruppees up-front. I was like 'yeah whatever mate!' When I finally got in it was a real sight as you can see from the picture below. Like most people I had seen India's Wonder of the World many times in photos or on the TV but actually being there was feeling I couldn't describe. I feel glad looking back that I had made the effort to go there even though I wasn't feeling 100%.

The next day I was still not great but had a flight to catch to Mumbai. Having reached Delhi airport, it was obvious that the security had been stepped up signicantly as it felt more something you would go through for an international flight not a domestic one.

I have to say I was a little apprehensive about travelling to Mumbai considering what had happened the previous month. Then again Mumbai is massive city and I was going to be staying with family who knew it very well so I wasn't too worried. On arriving Mumbai I found city to be very welcoming! I was staying my cousins place so I made my way to her place in a taxi. I must say that felt more of a connection to Mumbai than I had to Delhi. I also kept hearing about a certain Danny Boyle film which was set in Mumbai. I think it was called Slumdog Millionaire or something!

I only spent one night in Mumbai though I wish I could have spent longer there. It truly is a city which is an explosion of colour, movement, people, culture, music and so much more. Most the time I spent there was spent seeing family and friends so I didn't have time really explore the city. I felt that I had barely scratched the surface and will definitely make a trip back there in the near future.

The next day I was travelling on to Goa for Xmas '08 and New Year's ('08-'09) so stay tuned for part 2 of this post. To be continued.....