India Day 2: Jama Masjid, the Red Fort & a Hair-Raising Rickshaw Ride Through Chandni Chowk

If you missed my post about Day 1 in India, you can catch up here.

View from my room – you can’t imagine the ruckus these cars made with their horns!

Normally I’m not the kind of gal to be up at 6:30 AM, but that was when my internal clock decided to wake me up this morning. Good thing, too, because the famous Delhi honking symphony was just starting and it would’ve been tough to fall asleep with all of that going on. While my mum went for a swim, my dad and I decided to scope out the hotel’s breakfast buffet, which had everything from vegetable curry to croissants to mini quiches. The freshly-made puris and dosas were so addictive! But it was surprising to see so many guests fill their plates with fresh fruit, which the three of us had been told to avoid in India.

Our half-day tour of Old Delhi started at 9:30 AM (kudos to my dad for finding a reputable Indian travel agency and organizing a personalized tour for us). We stepped outside and were hit with an intense wave of heat – it was 36C today, which is at least 10 degrees hotter than what we’re used to in Toronto. Our guide, Vikas, and driver, Rajesh, explained that we would start our day at Jama Masjid, one of the largest and most revered mosques in the country. On the way there, we passed by Chandni Chowk, a busy outdoor market filled with clothing stores, fruit stalls, firecracker shops, and vendors selling one-of-a-kind accessories. Vikas said we’d be taking a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk’s tiny, crowded alleyways after the Masjid tour, so naturally my first reaction was to shout, “Those things are death traps!” while running in the opposite direction. Just kidding, but I did repeatedly ask Vikas about the safety of the rickshaws and he repeatedly assured me that nothing bad would happen.

At the Masjid, we removed our shoes and I donned a patterned wrap dress (see the picture below) to cover my leggings. A few Indian children near us held out their hands for money, which was kind of heartbreaking to see, but they went away when we simply smiled at them and continued on our way. Vikas gave us some history (the structure is roughly 375 years old!) and then we walked around the stunning site, taking pictures and enjoying the calm atmosphere. A number of men were praying inside, but they didn’t seem to mind that all of us tourists were snapping photos.

As instructed by Vikas, on our way out, we paid 200 rupees (roughly $4 CAD) to the person who was guarding everyone’s shoes. Then it was time for the event I’d been dreading: that darn rickshaw ride. I expected to get into one of the green, automated vehicles that we had seen darting between cars on the roads, but we were greeted with one of these old, rickety things instead:

Would you climb aboard one of these things? Source: http://www.shutterstock.com

Oh, and there was no top to our rickshaw, meaning we were totally exposed on every side! At first I was hanging on for dear life, but the driver knew what he was doing and it actually became an exciting ride past hundreds of little shops with people selling their wares. I’m pretty sure we only knocked into 4 or 5 people. (The funny thing is that those people barely seemed to notice the metal bars jostling them as we flew by.) Part of the fun of a rickshaw ride is watching how the driver maneuvers his or her way through the traffic, and this guy’s skill was pretty impressive. He weaved between cars and took every bump and lurch in stride, no matter how often it made his bike waver or come to a sudden halt. It was an authentically Indian experience, and I’ll be a bit sore tomorrow!

From there, we went to Delhi’s Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 1630s. There were armed security guards at the entrance as well as separate lines for women and men – it reminded me of getting frisked at an airport. Vikas was full of interesting facts about the Fort’s inception, architecture, and intricate designs on the walls, like the fact that the bright colours of those designs were often created using the colourful dust from precious gemstones that were found inside the Fort. Creative, right? Then we spent some time walking through the site’s various gardens and museums as well as an indoor bazaar, which had purses, jewellery, and arts and crafts for sale.

Next up was Rajghat, a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi. We were all looking forward to seeing the place where he was cremated, but at this point the heat was really getting to me so I had to wait on a shaded bench while Vikas showed my parents around. Our final destination was a rug and clothing emporium called Central Cottage – found in the shopping district of Connaught Place – where we were able to look around for a while thanks to the air conditioning. None of us bought anything as Central Cottage was pricier than we expected ($85+ for kurtas that you could find for $10 at a street bazaar), but the handmade rugs were lovely to look at. We got a couple of mean stares after looking but not buying, but we brushed it off. You can’t please everybody!

We finished the tour around 1:30 PM and immediately went back to the hotel to rest and rehydrate. Our next tour starts at 9 tomorrow morning, so I’m off to bed now!

One thought on “India Day 2: Jama Masjid, the Red Fort & a Hair-Raising Rickshaw Ride Through Chandni Chowk

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