A Case of the Mondays in Delhi
Usually when I head to a new city, I have some idea of what I want to see. A famous monument, museum, or temple – some sort of destination to give shape to the day.
With New Delhi, it was different. I had no plans at all, except to survive it.
Just being in India seemed like adventure enough; we hadn’t actually worked out what we were going to do once we got here. So I scoped out the Lonely Planet from our ‘hotel’ room and decided on the red fort.
But it was Monday.
On Monday, many of Delhi’s tourist destinations are closed.
I had read about a shop, ‘The People Tree’, that sounded up my alley, so we walked to Connaught Place.
Connaught Place is a huge series of concentric roundabouts lined with government emporiums selling fixed-price clothes and knicknacks. People Tree was a bust, full of overpriced, ill-fitting screenprint t-shirts, so we were once again without an objective.
According to our map, there was a ‘point of interest’ just down the road called Jantar Mantar. The entry fee was only 100 rupees ($2), so we were interested.
Jantar Mantar is an old observatory built by a Maharajah in 1725, but you can’t tell by looking at it. It reminded me of a computer game I used to play called Myst. The whole complex is made up of odd structures that climb towards the sky, twist into themselves, then end without warning.
Every section seemed to have an obscure, secret purpose, as if you could unlock the mysteries of the universe if you concentrated hard enough.
But then I read the information boards, which said it was really just a sundial and some other astronomy-related stuff. Not quite as ethereal as I’d initially thought, but still pretty cool.
After that surprise success, we took the Metro to JLN Stadium to see Humayun’s Tomb. I rode in the women-only car, which was easily the most pleasant subway experience I’ve ever had. It was also the most colorful, full of women in glittering sarees and shiny jewelry.
I’m not going to lie: I don’t know who Humayun was, and after visiting his tomb I still don’t, but the LP listed it as a top choice, it was close, and it was open on Mondays.
That fit all of my criteria, so we went.
What the guidebook doesn’t tell you is that you have to walk down a really sketchy strip of road once you exit the Metro.
People had established makeshift homes in the wasteland along the sidewalks, sharing the space with mangy dogs and piles of rubbish. Kids swarmed around us, holding out their palms and pointing at their open mouths.
Jared gave the last mouthful of our water bottle to a legless guy on a blanket. I’m kind of hard-hearted in these situations and had tried to pretend I hadn’t seen him straining for the water. Jared, thankfully, still has a conscience.
I relaxed a bit once we entered the tourist zone beyond the iron gates of the tomb. Then I felt bad for feeling such paranoia and fear towards these people who have it so much worse than I can ever imagine.
They don’t have proper shelter or access to water, yet they’re living metres away from a fenced-off collection of extravagant buildings that were constructed to house a dead man.
Despite this incongruency, of which there is so much in India, the tomb was fairly spectacular. It was my first real taste of Indian architecture, and got me fired up to see the Taj Mahal the next day.
Neither of us wanted to brave the walk back to the Metro, so we caught an auto-rickshaw back to the Main Bazaar, did some shopping, and called it a day.
I’m still not sure what people ‘do’ when they visit Delhi – maybe the same thing we did. Wander around in a surreal daze until the exotic chaos of India starts to feel a little less intimidating.
Which, eventually, it does.