“The best way to see Delhi is by car”. That’s what my hotel advised me, and with this being my first day in India, and having only one full day in the city, I took their advice.
Vishod the driver, appeared in a matter of minutes asking me where I wanted to go. It didn’t seem to make much difference though, so a top tip is if you have somewhere in particular to visit, make sure you go there first. Traffic is very heavy in rush hour. Rush hour seems to last all day, and this meant that I never made it to the craft museum. I did see the important sights, that every tourist wants to tick off, but when I go back, I definitely want to make it to the toilet museum too!
As with most cities there are lots of monuments and important buildings to visit; and a lot of people visiting these monuments. I think you can do a good job without a guide, but if you have a little bit of knowledge and specific questions then you might want one. I can’t provide any guarantees about their level of English or knowledge of the monument.
First on my itinerary was Hamayam’s Tomb, which was also my favourite of the day. There weren’t so many people, no-one trying to hassle me and it was a really pretty building.
From there we moved on to Qutb Minar – one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. There’s a big tower here, with something of a mysterious heritage – nobody quite seems to know who built it and why – defence, religion, astronomy; perhaps a convenient combination of all three? It’s more of a complex than a single monument and the surrounding land is where the locals go for a bit of peace and quiet and greenery in the gardens.
I think that was almost enough for one day, especially a first day trying to shrug off the effects of jet lag and to take in a different culture. There was more traffic jams, lunch in a modern air-conditioned restaurant (veg biryani to be safe!) and more monuments including a rush round the Red Fort.
It was good to see the change from day to night, to have some time in the traffic to hear Vishod’s story. Naively I asked him where he lived and at first I thought there was a communication issue. After another explanation he told me he lived in his car. Parked up outside the hotel, waiting for guests who wanted to go somewhere. And he wasn’t even a local. He had moved to the city, after studying at university, to live in his car, because it earned him money. It felt so wrong to my norms, but if you learn one thing from travelling, it’s not to judge.
Living outside the hotel, meant it was very convenient for him to give me a ride tot he station at some early hour of the day. I think I woke up the majority of the hotel staff, as well as Vishod to get my train.
An early start lets you see the city in its true light, without what feels like the tourist veneer: people living on the streets, people cleaning the streets. It’s so much more real in the morning light, especially when you get to the station. Another facet revealed: the smells, the coolies, the announcements, the uniforms, the organisation masquerading as chaos.
And most of all, the people. If you find any interest in people watching, then you can do a lot worse than an Indian station.