For our first full day in Delhi our tour guide, Melanie, had a light day planned for us. Our first activity was a late morning visit to the Delhi classrooms of SIT (School for International Training) where Melanie spent a good deal of her time on her Semester abroad in the fall of 2015. We had a leisurely morning and after our “fancy” coffee and snacks for breakfast at the Moolchand Cafe Coffee Day we took an auto-rickshaw ride to the Saket metro station. Even though we were traveling between metro stations these two stations were not on the same line so Melanie insisted the rickshaw was the way to go. [More on that experience in another post.]
We arrived at Saket and Melanie easily led us the short distance to the SIT offices noting her favorite cow on the way, who she seemed pleased to see laying in its usual spot on the sidewalk. We entered the offices and after introductions we were offered some delicious Samosas and chai, which everyone tried and I think enjoyed – I know I did. We sat around talking with the program director, mostly about her attempt to inseminate her cows and her glee when exposing her friends’ children to severe culture shock, and eventually Melanie gave us a tour of the building. It wasn’t a large facility but most of the rooms seemed spacious and open – especially the rooftop patio. We talked for a little bit more and then Melanie said her goodbyes. When we left the house that morning we had plans to visit the school and to go to old Delhi for a food tour, but that left a hole of several hours in the middle of the day. Lodi Gardens was recommended by the folks at SIT and Melanie knew how to get there so we headed that way.
Lodi gardens was just a few train stops away from Saket so we headed back to the metro station and took our first ride on the Delhi Metro as a family. We had already experienced bag checks and metal detectors as part of the metro in Shanghai, but India added the new twist of separate lines for men and women when going through security. This allowed them to frisk each rider before they got to the turnstile. We then walked down to the end of the platform at Melanie’s recommendation so she, Kira and Sarah could ride in the women’s only car. Michael and I rode one car away and were able to see Melanie signal when we getting close to our stop. We came out of the metro station into the sun and without GPS navigation started going the wrong direction, but Melanie corrected us quickly and got us walking toward the gardens. It was a longer walk than I had pictured and I was regretting not bringing more water.
When discussing the park earlier it was described as being in the nice part of New Delhi and Melanie confirmed this. It was nicer than the neighborhood we were residing in, but it still wasn’t what I had pictured. The streets were dirty and while the area around the park was very residential it didn’t conform to my idea of a nice area. There were a few houses behind high walls that looked very lavish, but the sidewalks in front of them were often disintegrating. Lodi gardens was an enjoyable place to visit with some great Mughal style buildings and large open fields, but it wasn’t clean. There were pieces of garbage everywhere and there was a distinct lack of gardens with most of the attempts at garden spaces seeming half dead and neglected. Don’t get me wrong we had a great time at the garden and there were some nice green spaces, but I wanted to try to convey my initial impressions. I still kept thinking there would be a section of town that fit my perceptions of modern and safe.
Since the trip to the park was meant to kill time before our food tour later that night we wandered around and then sat in one of the lawns that had a little shade. Melanie had been to Lodi gardens before, but it is a large place and she didn’t remember seeing the part of the park we were in. We wandered back to the metro station around 3:30 so that we could view Jama Masjid (one of the largest mosques in India) before our food tour started in Old Delhi.
We ran to catch the metro and as a result Melanie road in a mixed gender train car on the most packed train she’d ever been on in India. Glad we could get her some new experiences. Luckily it was a fairly short trip from New Delhi to Old Delhi, just seven stops on the yellow line. Seven stops and about one hundred years. There is a sign on the escalator as you come out of the Chowri Bazar metro station that labels the station the “Time Traveler Station” because you have come from the modern metro up into the turbulent, chaotic streets of Old Delhi as you probably would have seen them a century ago.. I’ve written about so many first impressions, but this is the one I need to get right. Nothing I’ve experienced in my life so far prepared me for the twenty minute walk from the metro to the mosque. The only frame of reference I had were images I’d seen in movies. The street was packed with motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, ox-drawn carts, man-drawn carts and people spilling out from the over capacity sidewalks. In my mind’s eye the roads are made of dirt, but it may have just been a layer of dust. The street we walked on (the wrong street at first) was packed on both sides with shops of all kinds and food stalls with large open flames. If you looked up you saw a web of electrical wires just out of reach. I know I’ve failed to paint the right picture and the few pictures I have don’t do it justice, but that is all I have in me right now.
We rushed to get to the mosque because women are not allowed in after sunset. We made it with plenty of time and even had to wait for the 4:00 prayers to be over before we could go in. The women in our group had to wear a covering to hide their form. Proving that Michael needs a haircut, the guy handing out the robe-like dresses jokingly asked if he wanted one. I’m going to let the pictures of the mosque speak for themselves. Melanie, Sarah, and I paid a little extra to climb to the top of one of the towers. It was a little crowded at the top, but worth it.
Next post is the food tour. Don’t read it if you are hungry.