Friday, 1 March 2013

Thursday 28th - Indian GDP receives boost

The area of South New Delhi around Lutyens Bungalow is like nowhere else that we have been in India. The neighbouring properties are all large and gated with impressive plates on the gateposts announcing senior military men, politicians or embassies. The gardens are well tended, the pavements immaculately surfaced and the cars large and shiny. Come to think of it we don't know too many places in Scotland that are as ritzy as this.

After a leisurely breakfast we stroll along to the metro station to take a ride south to see Qutub Minar, site of the capital of the of the Delhi Sultans in the middle ages and the tallest minaret in India. We took the audio guide , which was very interesting but sometimes hard to follow on the ground. The tower itself is the main attraction, standing 238 feet high. but there are many other interesting buildings in the immediate area as well as an iron pillar dating back to the 4th century AD.

The tower used to be a bit taller for a few years as the Brits added a cupola to the top which was later removed and now stands in a corner of the site. It was erected by a Major Smith, not as far as we know, a relative of R. The structure is now known as Smith's Folly.

A couple of hours was all we could really spare here as we have serious shopping to do. The metro takes us back into town where our first requirement is a bookshop. The one that we want has moved but we soon find another where Salim Ali's "Book of Indian Birds" is in stock. this is the book that we decided in Kolkata woulde be too heavy to carry all round India. The assistant spots that R is in retail mode and quickly recommends a cookbook "Complete Indian Cooking". This weighs even more. Our next planned stop is the State Emporiums but as we skirt the edge of Connaugt Place (CP), trying to avoid the touts, a youth tries to sell us a trolley bag. We need something for the loot but his is too big. The price descends from 1100 to 300 in no time flat as we say no thanks, a great lesson in negotiating.

We take a turn around the Palika Bazaar, a sort of converted underground car park that makes In-Shops look like Harrods. The traders here are desperate to sell, although not at the prices that D is prepared to pay. The banter and disinterested haggling is good fun although R finds it all a bit overwhelming and we soon move on to the soporific atmosphere of the State run shops, staffed by public sector employees who get paid regardless so most make little effort to sell. This makes for a much more relaxing experience.

The Spice Market is a must visit for us when we go to Delhi even if it is a bit of a scrum, with laden porters seeking a way through with their huge loads. R's tactic is to walk the length of the bazaar then pick a stall that she likes the look of. Usually you are invited in for a seat away from the traffic and can buy at leisure. Every time that R gets to the end of her list the man suggests something else essential and the list grows. This is where the extra 10 Kg baggage allowance with Emirates will come in handy.

A cycle rickshaw ride along Chandi Chowk takes us to Haldiram's for a cold drink and a spell in an A/C environment. They also sell the most wonderful looking cakes but we don't weaken. We are saving ourselves for a meal at Karim's. D manages to find his regular shoe shine man for a quick buff up then it is time to hit Kinari Bazaar .

This narrow alley full of haberdashers and wedding accessory shops is R's favourite, even if you have to fend off passing motorbikes and cycle rickshaws. The temptation to buy everything on display is enormous and it is a good job that R has only brought a small bag with her. By now hunger is calling and we head for Karim's, a legendary restaurant in Old Delhi. The food is good although the service could have been a little better. This is our third visit and we finally get to sample their kebabs but we do have to remind our waiter that we ordered them. D is still a little peckish so we stop off at a food stall for gulab jamuns. Don't worry  -  we ate there last year on our food tour of Old Delhi and lived to tell the tale.

Our final task for the day is to find a mehendi artist. D eventually finds the right street and we locate a row of three or four shops all offering hand painting, R picks one and negotiates a price - £2. The man with the henna tube is very skillful and produces a very intricate design. It is still wet so all we have to do now is get it home safely on the metro. To this end R is banished to the somewhat less crowded Ladies Only coach. She does manage to get off at the right stop, so mission accomplished.

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