Sheela and I left for the airport Friday morning at 9:30. Just as we were getting under way, she asked me if I had my ticket. No, I never print it out, I just show them my ID and they find it online. Oops! Not so in India. Turns out you need the ticket to even get into the airport. So glad she asked me!
We made it to the airport in good time, with enough time to read the paper while we were waiting. The flight itself was uneventful, lasting about 3 hours. It was quite misty when we landed in New Delhi, and cold compared to Chennai. I was glad I had brought a sweater!
Sheela is an experienced business traveler, so in no time at all we were in a cab headed to our hotel. As usual, the traffic was crazy. But the feel of New Delhi is different, and it isn't just the weather. The roads seem to be in better shape, and we drove past some beautiful big buildings in park like settings. Of course, this is the capital of India and here is where foreign dignitaries are received and entertained. But there are really two New Delhis. The other one, for the rest of us, is like the rest of India. To quote a line from a novel set in New Delhi, "Delhi is a city where civilization can appear and disappear within five minutes."
We stayed at the Hotel Southern in the city. It is a nice hotel, primarily targeted at Indian business travelers. It is in a very busy part of the city, close to the Karol Bagh market where the streets are full of vendors selling everything! We settled in and then went out to find a bite to eat. The hotel staff recommended Sandoz, just a few blocks down. It didn't look like much, but the food was good. Then we headed to the market, of course! It was overwhelming! So many people! So many vendors! And they were all determined to sell us something. The traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, was incredible. Even where there were sidewalks, it was necessary to walk in the streets, dodging the traffic. Sheela believes people in the north tend to be more aggressive, and their driving style seemed to confirm that. We bought a few things and headed back to the hotel.
Saturday Sheela had a business meeting in the morning. I opted not to head out on the street, since I didn't have a specific destination. I would have liked to walk the streets taking pictures, but I saw no other non-Indians in the area. Besides that, I realized that I saw very few women in the streets! It really surprised me, because in Chennai there are as many women as men out and about. Maybe it was just that particular area, but it seemed to be true in other parts as well. In Chennai it is common to see women dressed in bright colors driving motorcycles through the streets side by side with the men. In Delhi, I saw few women even riding motorcycles.
I spent part of the morning looking out my second story window, which looked out on the intersection below. Sometimes I opened the window and took pictures. The morning passed quickly. The hotel had been kind enough to allow me late checkout, so when Sheela arrived in the afternoon we checked out, found the car and driver we had hired to take us to Agra, stopped to buy some snacks, and hit the road.
Hiring a car and driver is more expensive than taking a bus, but it is also safer and more comfortable, and I believe is worth the extra money. Even then, Sheela says one has to be careful to use a reputable service. We hired the car and driver for the whole trip to Agra and back for a little over $100.
The ride to Agra was quite interesting. New Delhi is in the state of Delhi, which is mostly comprised of Old and New Delhi. Agra is in the state of Utter Pradesh. The road to Agra is the nicest road I've been on here and rivals US expressways. Good pavement, three lanes, limited access. Even so there were plenty of motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. But I don't think I saw a bullock cart on this road.
We drove through farm land with field after field of wheat. To an old country girl like me, it was beautiful! And we also drove through an area that was devoted to brick making. Very interesting.
We arrived in Agra after dark, after about a 3 1/2 hour ride. The driver took us to our hotel and warned us not to go out, because it wasn't safe to out after dark, especially for women. We stopped to buy some fruit from a street vendor and headed straight to the Hotel Deviram Palace. We had a few problems with the hotel - dirty sheets, cold water. But Sheela dealt with each of these challenges, and we finally were able to take hot showers and climb into beds with clean sheets. Thank goodness she speaks Hindi, which is the language spoken here. Each state has its own language, so it can be a real challenge! (I plan to do a whole blog on languages one of these days.)
We set the alarm for 5 AM, and I fell asleep with visions of the Taj Mahal dancing in my head!
The style of dress in North India has more bling, as you can see from these dresses. I decided to stick with more traditional South Indian dress.
We stopped in at a sweet shop to buy a treat to take home to Ravi and the girls. No, none of these translates to "dark chocolate." Most Indian sweets seem to be coconut, nut or seed based, often made with jaggery, a traditional unrefined sugar that is a concentrated product of date, cane juice or palm sap. Very tasty, but not dark chocolate.....
A very nice road.