Hello from as far east as i have ever been (John)! I write this from Chandagarh, 4:30hrs (by train) north of Delhi, and 5 days after our arrival there. As the Lonely Planet puts it, "with its tenacious touts and crush of mechanical and human traffic, Delhi can be downright confronting and confounding for the first time visitor". This i think we can agree on.
We were staying in the Paharganj area of Delhi (in the very regal Hotel Namaskar), which I'm led to believe is the most bonkers and intense area for a visitor to be in, but a good start for backpackers to congregate. That said, with our Tangier bootcamp training back in June, we now walk tall (well, as tall as we can being 5 ft somethings...) and avoid eye contact and thereby pretty much avoid all hassles. It doesnt stop you being approached, but it avoids most shennanigans.
We were picked up from the airport by a Mr Sanjay, a fine fellow who drove as if we were banger racing and going for gold. We even hit a motorbike on our left side (Woa! wa was that? he said with a head turn). He should get some bloody wing mirrors then we thought. All together, It was a fun, bracing, and enjoyable introduction to semi structured chaos. (Laura disagrees and was totally terrified by the whole experience). The traffic is absolutely fascinating to just watch. A roundabout seems to have very different rules. I havnt seen any accidents though so something must be working, and i sort of admire the carefree spirit on show, where a honking horn is rarely in anger, its just an announcement that theyre coming up fast from behind so you better brace yourself.
The smells, the noise, the heat, and all of the other environmental senses and feelings were quite overpowering. So what with jetlag and all that, we slept quite a bit. "Delhi is a good place for that", a nice American lady from Maine we shared a lunch with said. Two nights there and some not so intrepid exploring later, we took a train northwards, to Chandigarh, a logical stop on our route north.
I've only been on one so far, but the train was excellent. There's a man to sell you samosas, another to
sell you veg byryani, one more to sell you a sandwich, one with crisps, another to offer tea and coffee around, another to mop the ailse floor, and another to check your ticket. Jobs for everyone! I saw a long freight train pass by with open sided trailer carriages, hauling what must have been about 500 tractors, all neatly facing sideways with their head lamps for eyes. I've just seen on telly 5 minutes ago (from our poshy hotel with AC) an advert for a tractor! Their campaign must be working!
We also rode past a lot of slums coming out of Delhi, huge areas of coloured tarpaulin tented housing, makeshift shelter and head high rubbish piles with children playing ontop, which was a more sobering sight.
We're getting more and more used to things now, as would happen, and feel on the whole more comfortable Chandagarh seems a fascinating place, being designed bottom up in the 50's / 60's by French architect Le Corbusier and is "an expression of the nations faith in the future". Its laid out, ominously, into Sectors (we are staying in Sector 22, Sector 17 is shopping etc), grid like, with a lot of concrete but also a huge ammount of park land and leisure areas. A 40 acre rose garden for example. It is apparently Indias cleanest and greenest city. We've found some fantastic food, and covered some ground in the autorickshaws.
It has a very famous rock garden, made entirely of waste product and recycled bits of anything you can name, looking absolutely incredible and is truly inspiring. Started by a Nepalese man in 1958, his single handed vision and creation now attracts 5000 people a DAY. So many, that the government thought, 'hey, what he's doing is on stolen land, but its bloody amazing. instead of tearing it down, lets give him 50 guys to help him finish it off'. He is 80 something now, and still designing. Laura says its the best attraction she has ever visited, and also the best 20p entree fee!! I agreed.
The most bizarre and funny thing was that we were like minor celebrities for the day - at least 10 different groups of people wanted their photos taken with us! All felt very strange but we were happy to oblige where we could.
So...next stop Amritsar and the Golden Temple - a very holy place in the Punjab for Sikhs with apparently over 750kg of gold in it! (I'm a sucker for facts) As usual, more photos available here on flickr: PHOTOS! Catch you then!!!!