Our plan for today was to get to Delhi and the hotel from which our tour begins on Monday. Anything else we might do by way of sightseeing would be a bonus.
We were both awake just before my alarms were due to go at 5:30 am. By 6:20 am we were showered, packed, checked out, and on our way to the airport in the hotel shuttle.
Before checking in at the airport it was necessary to have our checked bags screened by X-ray and taped. Once that was done we were able to queue to checkin and wonder why the queue was so slow. We discovered that the man on the desk was selling upgrades to premium economy which took time to process. We fell for the offered deal for priority baggage and better meals but probably paid too much.
Security was tight. Culture requires separate queues for men and women so we had to go separately. Every electronic item had to be placed in a tray, everything had to be removed from pockets, and watches and belts needed to be put in the tray. Indians seem to treat queues like traffic so pushing through gaps to get a head is fair play. Once past the all over hand security scan everything had to be put back in place.
We found each other beyond security and headed upstairs toward our gate. We had more than an hour to wait but decided that we might as well sit in the right place. We bought a toasted sandwich and coffees so that we could take our anti-malarial pills with food and then sat to wait. After a while I wandered off to see if I could find lozenges of some sort for the throat irritation we had both been experiencing, hopefully as a result of all the dust and smoke rather than any infection. I managed to find a store with some Swiss Ricola lozenges that seemed to help a bit.
Our flight to Delhi was uneventful. Breakfast was served – potato stir fry for Majella and Mexican omelette for me. Both included a small container of fruit pieces and a croissant with butter accompanied by coffee.
The upgrade with priority baggage did result in our baggage appearing sooner than usual on the carousel. Once we had it we headed out looking for some indication of our transfer to the hotel arranged through GAdventures but saw nothing. We looked in all directions with the same result. When I looked at the voucher it suggested instructions were on the second page which I had evidently not printed. I checked my PDF copy and it was not there either. I logged in to the GAdventures website and downloaded the voucher again but still there was no page 2. I used the chat feature on the website to ask and was provided 2 phone numbers to call. Having tried to call over data on arrival in Ahmedabad with no luck I had to think again and turned to Skype. Microsoft needed to verify that it was me since I was using Skype from an unusual device or location. Several steps and 2 Skype calls later, the first went to messages, I got a response and eventually somebody appeared to take us to our transfer.
Our Women with Wheels driver took us to our hotel without incident. We thought that trip was quieter than some we have had in India. Majella thinks that it was because our driver was not using her horn so others did not need to respond.
There was a short wait at the hotel because our room was not ready but we were in not long after midday. We did not stay long but headed back downstairs with the intention of exploring the local area for a post office and then doing some sightseeing. The young man at reception caught us going out and suggested that he arrange a taxi to take us to a list of tourist sights. We thought for a moment and then agreed to the 2600 rupees for a four hour tour to four locations. The money was payable in cash to him so we assumed that he had a good deal going with the taxi that he called and set up for us.
Our taxi driver took us first to Sri Laxmi Narayan Mandir, a Hindu temple. He parked in the back of the temple grounds and allowed us time to wander. It took us a while to realise that we needed to go out the front to the street entrance and then come back in the main entrance to actually see the temple. That required removing shoes and depositing cameras or phones in a locker since photographs are not permitted inside. There were separate points for men and women to do that and another space for foreign tourists. We deposited shoes and cameras and spent a little time inside to see an impressive, though relatively new (1933), building. Majella noticed the large number of swastikas in the decorations. I was aware they were a Hindu symbol and some material we were given noted that they had been used for several thousand years before the Nazis appropriated and reversed the symbol.
Next stop was the Red Fort, a World Heritage site. Again our driver parked and waited for us to see what we wanted. We decided that we should pay the admission charge to get inside the fort. There were separate lines for men and women and another for foreign tourists. Oddly the price was reduced by 50 rupees for credit card payments rather than cash. We collected our tokens and walked toward the entrance which was half the length of the fort away, a few hundred metres. As we approached a man offered to guide us for a price but we did not think we had time for such a complete tour and declined his offer. Entry was segregated but there were no distinctions beyond the security barrier. The Red Fort was built in 1639 by the Mughal Emperor when he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi. It has been fought over at various times and was looted by the British who still retain items they took. Just beyond the entrance we walked down a long corridor of merchants selling all manner of things. Beyond that we stepped into a large grassed area with several other buildings. We walked around part of the space but could easily have spent much more time if we had it.
From there our driver took us to the Baháʼí Lotus Temple which was dedicated in 1986. It is a very modern building with shell shapes reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. We arrived just before closing time and were among the last to be admitted to walk through the spacious grounds and around the building. We could see inside but were not able to enter. By that time the sun was getting low and was visible as a red ball through the smoke haze.
We almost did not go into the Qutub Minar complex, another World Heritage site. We arrived after 5:00 pm and I had seen something suggesting it was closed by that time and we were thinking our time with the driver was about done. As we considered our options a man approached and urged us not to miss the chance. He assured us it was open until 9:00 pm and offered to guide us – with no mention of a fee. The foreigner line was short so we bought our tokens, cash only this time, and went in. Our guide was good. He provided history about the 70+ metre stone minaret tower which was built progressively from 1199 and the other buildings in the complex. Originally there was a Hindu temple which was demolished for a Muslim mosque and there was also a Buddhist temple on the site. The various religions coexisted in harmony for centuries. He showed where Koranic verses and Hindu symbols appeared on the same wall of a ruined mosque and where there were figures depicting scenes from the Kama Sutra carved in the wall of a ruined mosque. He knew exactly where to take photographs for the best effect. When that was done and he had ascertained that we were Australians he suggested we should pay the equivalent of $20 which we did happily enough. Without his guidance we should have seen and appreciated little and he was worth it for the entertainment value.
Our driver did try to encourage some shopping on our way back to the hotel but we declined. It was just after 7:00 pm when we arrived back at the hotel. I thought the driver might expect a tip but he did not hang around long enough for that. He must be getting a fair cut of the fee we paid up front. He did an excellent job of weaving through heavy traffic with just a few near misses. Majella thinks that might have topped our 2001 ride from Newark to New York City,
Some information in the hotel suggested there was a rooftop restaurant but when we checked there was nothing happening up there. Our man at reception suggested Club Boheme on the corner. Thinking we might need cash that was now in short supply we asked about an ATM. There was one next door but it was not working so the doorman/guard accompanied us to another about 100 m away but it refused my card. We will have to chase cash tomorrow.
Fortunately Club Boheme said they would accept a card. Majella had a margarita, I had a Kingfisher beer, and we shared a chicken tikka pizza. That was all good and as much dinner as we needed. For some reason their system declined my main card which has worked everywhere else. It did accept another card so we paid and headed back to the hotel. It had been a bigger day than we expected.