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Delhi sunset

Posted in Delhi, India by folkestonejack on February 14, 2020

In mid afternoon I set out for a spot of sightseeing using public transport, taking the Delhi Airport Express from aerocity to New Delhi railway station (a bargain at just 50 rupees for a single journey token) then switching to the yellow line to Jorbagh. A walk of about 10 minutes from the metro station brought me to the gates of the Lodhi Gardens, a favourite place for many families in the city, particularly in the run up to sunset.

Spring blooms in the Lodhi Gardens

The utter charm and liveliness of the Lodhi Gardens was something to behold. The transformation of the royal burial ground for the Lodi dynasty (who ruled Delhi from 1451 to 1526) into a landscaped park took place in 1936, followed by a redesign in 1968. The monuments in the grounds are quite splendid in their own right, but when you come across a group of kids using this as the backdrop to practice a Bollywood routine the ruins take on a different character altogether. I probably spent far too long wandering the gardens, enjoying the sights and the accompanying spring blooms.

A poster at the entrance helpfully presents some of the birds that you might see in the gardens, but didn’t mention the red-naped ibis, which I saw wandering round the borders (identification thanks to the Merlin Bird ID app). There are superb information boards at each of the monuments that provide you with a quick run down of what you are seeing and the World Monuments Fund have produced a terrific A Walk Around Lodi Garden leaflet to help you navigate around them.

The sun was getting lower and lower as I made my way down Rajpath to the India Gate, originally commissioned by the Imperial War Graves Commission to remember the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died between 1914–1921. The design by Sir Edwin Lutyens evokes memories of the other memorials he designed and iconic sights like the Arc de Triomphe. I made it with around 15 minutes of light left in the day.

The India Gate draws the crowds at sunset

The monument is still a potent symbol in India today, drawing huge crowds, so security is tight with a one way system in place with screening at the entrance. I threaded my way through the crowd, dodging a political demonstration circling the monument, to get a closer look and take a photograph or two. Once I had the shots I headed towards the exit, where a pool of auto-rickshaw drivers were waiting to pounce.

I didn’t have much left over from my day, but it was enough to buy me the most terrifying ride of my life. To start with the driver pulled out in front of five lanes of fast-moving traffic and then proceeded to demonstrate some of the most aggressive and borderline insane driving that I have ever seen. I frequently closed my eyes, fearing a side-impact that wouldn’t be pretty. Somehow we ended up at New Delhi Railway station in one piece. Stepping inside from the chaos of the street felt like moving between two different Indias. Time to go home!


24 hours in Delhi

Posted in Delhi, India by folkestonejack on February 14, 2020

A one day stay in Delhi was always going to be a challenge. At the outset I knew that it would be impossible to adjust to the pace of life in this busy metropolis and see even a fraction of what Delhi has to offer, but it’s surprising how much you can pack in with a little planning.

Isa Khan’s tomb

I decided that throwing myself into the crush of the Delhi rush hour might not be the best introduction to the wonders of the city. Instead, I booked a car and driver through my hotel in New Delhi Aerocity for a morning of sightseeing. Our drive took in four sights – Qutub Minar, Safdarjung’s Tomb, Humayun’s Tomb and the fortress of Purana Qila – with a view of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Lutyen’s Delhi.

In the afternoon, following a spot of lunch, I headed back out on the airport express and metro. A wander around Lodhi Gardens and along Rajpath to India Gate took me up to sunset.

Qutub Minar

The Qutb Minar complex presents a remarkable accumulation of history in one place, amply illustrated by the Quwwat-ul-Islam (‘Might of Islam’) Mosque which was constructed in the 12th century from the remains of Hindu and Jain temples from much earlier times. The iron pillar at the centre of the complex is the oldest element, dating back to the 4th century, while the more recent additions include thankfully shortlived British ‘improvements’ from the 1820s.

Qutub Minar

The minaret at the heart of the complex, the Qutub Minar, was built in the early thirteenth century, by the sultans Qutbuddin Aibak and Iltutmish as a monument of conquest (it is too tall to be used in the conventional sense for the call to prayer). Nothing I had read prepared me for how absolutely extraordinary this structure was. The photos you see in the guide books give you no sense of the immense scale of the minaret (as much the circumference of the base as its 239 foot height).

It is quite something to think that Sultan Alauddin Khalji intended to better this by building a minaret twice as tall. The base of the unfinished second minaret (Alai Minar) clearly demonstrates the seriousness of the plan, which only stopped with the death of the sultan in 1316. So many extraordinary buildings in such a compact area. My personal favourite among the many buildings was the tomb of Iltutmish (1235) with its beautifully decorated interior.

I would have to say that the Qutub Minar was the absolute highlight of my day in Delhi and I only regret that I didn’t have any time in my schedule to explore the Mehrauli archaeologcal park that surrounds the site. The site was really well maintained and a pleasure to wander round, armed with a copy of the wonderful leaflet A Walk Around the Qutb Complex from the World Monuments Fund.

Safdarjung’s Tomb

Next up was a very short stop-off at the picturesque tomb of the Mughal nobleman Safdarjung, built in 1753-4 with questionably re-purposed marble and red sandstone. It marks an end to the major garden-tombs of Mughal Delhi and has been described as ‘the last dying flicker of Mughal architecture’.

Safdarjung’s Tomb

For me it was all about the view through the entrance arch really, with all its photographic potential, but I still had time to take a wander through the tranquil gardens and get a quick look inside.

Humayun’s Tomb

In contrast, the vast Humayun’s Tomb complex demanded a good bit of exploration to make the most of a visit. Aside from the star attraction of Humayun’s Tomb the 30 acres of gardens that surround it are home to a number of other monuments, such as the marvelously restored octagonal tomb of the nobleman Isa Khan (1547-8). There are some side attractions too, such as the excellent view of the railway line into Delhi from the northern boundary for the railway geeks among us!

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb (1564-73) is an impressive sight from the moment you pass through the arches of the Bu Halima Gateway and find yourself square onto the massive 12,000 square metre platform. It doesn’t get any less impressive as you get closer, though the interior is quite plain by comparison. Many members of the Mughal royal family have been laid to rest here (leading to its nickname of the ‘Dormitory of the Mughals’) and there are apparently over a hundred graves in the crypt.

Once again a couple of wonderful leaflets from the World Monuments Fund, A Walk Around Humayun’s Tomb and Humayun’s Tomb and its surroundings, provided a good way to navigate the site and understand what I was looking at. For example, looking at the perfectly maintained lawns of Isa Khan’s Tomb Complex I would have never have guessed that an entire village had made its home inside the enclosure up to the early 1900s.

Purana Qila

The final stop on my morning’s sightseeing brought me to Purana Qila, an old fortress built in the 1530s that seems to be undergoing quite a bit of work right now. I didn’t have much time to play with but managed to wander the inner perimeter from my entry point at the Bada Darwaza (the ‘large gate’) to the Talaaqi Darwaza (‘the forbidden gate’), then take the central pathway to the Sher Mandal.

Purana Qila

The Sher Mandal, the two storey octagonal tower at the centre of the site, was built in 1541 but converted into a library by Humayun in 1555. Unfortunately, Humayun didn’t have much time to enjoy his new library, falling to his death down the stairs here in 1556 while carrying an armful of books.

A short walk on from here is the Khairul Manazil mosque, a later addition dating to 1561–1562 which proved an unexpected delight with its beautiful decoration. Needless to say, the World Monuments Fund came up trumps again with their A Walk Around Purana Qila and Purana Qila and its surroundings leaflets.

Once my visit was complete I returned to my car for the drive back to the hotel. Traffic was pretty terrible at times, seemingly exacerbated by some extensive construction works taking place in the area, but I was pleased to have fitted in all that I wanted to see. It was a help to have purchased and printed e-tickets before I set off, though I didn’t see much in the way of queues at any of the sights I visited.


Colombo to Jaipur

Posted in Delhi, India, Jaipur by folkestonejack on February 11, 2020

My travels have taken me from Colombo to Delhi with SriLankan airlines, where I continued my journey on a domestic flight to Jaipur with the low cost carrier IndiGo.

Security is still tight in Colombo. There were no fewer than four security screens between my arrival at the airport and walking down the airbridge to the plane (an A320). In the light of the Corona Virus all the cabin crew were wearing masks. I’d like to be able to say that my first experience of SriLankan airlines was a good one, but instead it was rather chaotic at every stage.

The apron at Colombo airport

In contrast the IndiGo flight from Delhi to Jaipur was a model of efficiency. It’s really striking to see how smoothly their operation works at Delhi Terminal 1. Buses take all passengers to their planes – there are no air bridges at all. The best way I can think to describe it is that they operate what looks like a bus station at the terminal with buses lined up at 20+ gates.

Tickets are checked before taking the escalator down to the bus gates, before boarding the bus and again at the foot of the ramp leading to the plane. It’s a slightly strange experience stepping on board an IndiGo plane as it’s all rather dark – they keep all the window blinds down whilst at a stand to help keep the interior cool. At the end of a flight they ask all passengers to lower the blinds.

It’s only a short hop from Delhi to Jaipur and in no time at all I was on my way to the Trident hotel, just across the road from a remarkable 300 year old water palace. The water palace is five storeys tall, with all but one of these hidden underwater. It is at its most spectacular in the run up to sunset with its sandstone walls glowing in the last light of the day.

The Jal Mahal on Man Sagar Lake

There are some very flash and luxurious hotels in Jaipur that can easily set you back £600 a night, whereas a half-board stay at the Trident was very reasonably priced at £125 per night with a dash of luxury. It is no exaggeration to say that I would rate the Trident among the very best places I have stayed in the world, which is in no small part down to the incredible staff.

Odds and ends

In my pre-holiday research I had read that the processing of e-Visas at Indian immigration could take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours. I can only think that the longer times reflect early morning long-haul arrivals as I got through immigration in 5 minutes (including the mandatory recording of fingerprints).

As I purchased my IndiGo ticket with a non-Indian credit card I could not check in online and the credit card I used for the booking had to be shown on check-in. The modest add-on charge for express check-in was worth every penny as the queues in Delhi T1 for check in/bag drop were absolutely massive.