San Jose to Delhi, India
Days 1 - 3
March 7 – 9, 2013
The van picked us up from our house at 5:30 AM (yawn!). We were ready to get going on our long journey so we gave the cats one last hug and locked the door. We arrived at the San Francisco airport after picking up two more people and waited for our flight – San Francisco is one of the most comfortable airports for waiting. Our first flight was three hours to Dallas followed by a nine hour flight to London and lastly a seven-hour flight to Delhi, all with the few-hour lay-overs in between. After leaving home about 28 hours before, we finally made it in Delhi at 1:30 AM, local time. We managed to get a couple naps on the flights, but no real sleep so we were dead tired. As usual, we were on “pins and needles” with eyes glued on the luggage carousel to see if our bags were next to pop out. Sure enough, Murphy’s Law hasn’t caught up with us yet! Both our bags showed up.
We changed some dollars into rupees and made our way out of customs without a hitch to find a long line of men holding signs with names. Luck was still with us as we found the taxi driver with our name and greeted him. It is very comforting to have someone meet you at the airport, avoiding all stress of finding a taxi driver and hoping they won’t kidnap or rip you off.
The taxi took us immediately to our hotel, the very fancy Radisson Blu, just outside the airport. We checked in and found our way to our room then tiredly fell into bed at about 3:30 AM. I think we were both asleep before our heads hit the pillows. The first of our group to make it to Delhi, we knew the others were soon to follow over the next day.
I awoke at 10 AM and work Steve, and we forced ourselves to get up even though we could have slept a couple more hours – breakfast service was waiting and we needed to get on this time zone. In the dining room we “bumped into” Dennis and Alice, with whom we traveled before and looked forward to catching up on news. The breakfast buffet contained a large assortment of Indian food that both Steve and I really like.
There were no plans for the day, so we went back to our room to reorganize our luggage. Steve and I always split our clothes and gear and divide it between the two suitcases on the way to a vacation so if one suitcase is lost we each have half our things. Now our task was to un-jumble and repack everything. With a bit more time to spare, we went to the pool and lounged on chairs, the hotel personal taking good care of us. We read our books and relaxed trying hard not to nod-off – a “no-no” if you want to get over jet lag. It was warm, about 80, sunny and humid. Even though we are in Delhi a huge city of 17 million (!!) people, I found our first wild mammals – Assam Macaque monkeys climbing on the trees in next to the hotel and some unidentified parrots. The locals don’t like the macaques since they are very intelligent, mischievous and destructive at times.
Dinner time arrived and we met Doug and Gail, Dennis and Alice for dinner and enjoyed good Indian food again, we now predicted that we will eat too much on this trip. Doug and Gail are our wonderful tour leaders and owners of Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris, who I work for and we traveled with for over twenty years! Right after dinner we went to bed.
We met our group for breakfast at 8 AM, greeting Lyall and Judy, and Mary and Jerry, and Pat and Tim who all arrived at varying times during the night. We traveled with everyone previously and it was nice to get reacquainted. After our meal, we grabbed our gear from our room and joined everyone in the lobby, including our three guides, Rajveer, Babloo, and Sunil, plus our city tour guide for the day, Meela. We headed out in our comfortable and happily air-conditioned tour bus for a tour of Old and New Delhi – it was shaping up to be a hot day. Old and New Delhi are really one city with two parts, the newer portion was built by the British during their occupation.
We drove by government buildings – the parliament and court buildings, plus diplomat residences in the upscale tree-lined neighborhoods. Meela gave us many details of the city, government, and history along the way. Our first stop was the India Gate – the Arc de Triomphe” of New Delhi. It is quite an impressive tribute to the many wars that India has fought against invaders throughout history. Next we visited Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, marking the spot of his cremation. It is a very serene and simple memorial with a slab of black marble surrounded by a railing – a fitting tribute to the peaceful man.
The next stop was Jama Mas Jid Mosque, the principal mosque of Old Delhi that was built between 1650 and 1656. India is mainly Hindu, but there are many Muslims too, with Christians and Buddhists pulling up the rear. We took off our shoes (I brought my slippers for just this purpose) and the women had to cover their bodies with long robes to show respect. We walked around the huge courtyard that can hold 25,000 people admiring the architecture.
After exiting the Mosque, our guide arranged for rickshaw rides around the market and shop areas of Old Delhi. The rickshaws were two-seater covered carriages powered by a bike attached in the front. The roads were very narrow and lined with shops topped by two stories of living spaces. The electric wiring ran overhead and looked like a spider-web mish-mash of amateur installed wires – it’s a wonder that the whole place didn’t burn down. The narrow roads were clogged with people, dogs, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, and even small cars trying to squeeze through with horns blaring. It was a wonder that people didn’t run into each other more. Our driver took us all up and down many streets, I felt a bit sorry for our driver since he was a small man peddling two large people, but he was probably happy to have a fare. Different neighborhoods were concentrated on a particular product, like shoes, spices, fabric, vegetables, etc. After about an hour tour we found ourselves back at the Mosque where we made our way back to the bus.
The next stop was the ornate 240-foot tower Qutb Minar, the tallest minaret (a tall spire typically part of a mosque that is used as a visual cue and a vantage point for the call to prayer) in India, built in 1192. We walked all around the adjacent grounds and mosque ruins. It was very crowded and Meela told us this is the second most popular historic site in India after the Taj Mahal. It was quite hot by now, maybe in the high 80’s. Our city tour complete at 3:30 PM, we made our way back across town to our hotel. They told us the traffic wasn’t bad since it was Sunday, but during the week it was very clogged and impassible. It looked like total chaos to me.
The air pollution in Delhi is quite bad, looking like a constant gray fog in the air. I imagine that it has a big affect on the health of the people who live here. Each time I travel to a second- or third-world city, I appreciate our Clean Air Act that keeps our skies blue even in our biggest cities clogged with traffic.
Back at the hotel, we went to our room and took showers. Then met back in the lobby at 6 PM where Gail described what to expect for the next few weeks. We were all still pretty full from lunch, but we ate anyway, settling on a two small dishes. At about 9 PM we made our way back to the room and crashed to rest for our early day tomorrow.