Exploring India wasn’t something I had ever given much thought to, more so because I haven’t even explored China (unless, of course if you consider Hong Kong as part of China). Nonetheless, the opportunity to arose when hubby was supposed to attend the World Congress of Echocardiography in New Delhi some time ago. Well, everything (flight, food and accommodation) was paid for by his institution, so what was left was just my flight ticket, which was reasonably priced. Malaysia Airlines was our preferred airlines for obvious reasons. We weren’t planning to explore India alone so we invited my parents-in-law to join our party. So far, this was probably the only time we had ever travelled overseas with them.
There’re two important things every Malaysian (and most other nationalities as well) need to know, should you plan a visit to India – VISA and VACCINE. Yes, you heard me right! I know you must be thinking why the need for a visa since India is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (Malaysia too). Well, I don’t have an explanation to that, tit-for-tat perhaps? Anyway, we just had to accept the regulation that had been imposed.
Back then, applying for an Indian tourist visa wasn’t easy as compared to the Australian visa (the US visa application was the most tedious of course). Firstly, you need to get a 2″x2″ photographs of yourself, then fill up an online form and get it printed. Thereafter, you need to submit that form together with your passport to the Indian Visa Centre, pay the visa fee (we paid RM189.56 each) and wait for 3 days to collect it again. Good news – no interviews and almost always it’ll be approved. Today, you can apply for the e-Tourist Visa which makes the entire process hassle-free. Even simpler and if you don’t mind paying extra, you can get a tour agency to do it for you.
Next important thing is the vaccinations you’ll need to protect yourself from various infectious diseases that are prevalent in India. The list is long but we only took the typhoid vaccine as food hygiene in India worried us a lot.
Our itinerary was only for 4 days and 3 nights (well, we all couldn’t afford to take a longer leave from work). As such, we couldn’t explore all of what is known as the Golden Triangle (tourist circuit connecting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). After much deliberation, we settled for just Delhi and Agra. Hubby did some homework and booked a day tour to Agra on the third day of our trip via Expedia. If you have time on your side, be sure to include Jaipur in your itinerary.
The flight only took 5 and a half hours and we arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport around 9:30pm. It was a pretty impressive and modern-looking airport. There wasn’t much to complain about except at its immigration check. Strangely, this was by far the only airport in the world I’d ever come across, which immigration desks had a clear demarcation for passengers of different classes (business, first and economy). My parents-in-law were on the business class and they got through the immigration check in less than 5 minutes, whereas hubby and I were held up for close to 2 hours at the lanes for economy class. At that time, the only passengers at the immigration check were from our flight. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you only 3 officers were present and each of them spent about 15 minutes flipping back and forth the pages of each passenger’s passport. We were just the sixth and seventh in line and it took forever to reach our turns. Then all of a sudden, one of its old-fashioned computers malfunctioned and the officers had to call someone in to fix it (down to 2 officers). Halfway through, another officer conveniently closed his desk and walked off (down to 1 officer) before another officer appeared 15 minutes later to replace him. By that time, the crowd had already swelled to almost 200 people, some of them were heard swearing and cursing. This was indeed the ugliest part of our Indian adventure – so much for that.
we only took the typhoid vaccine as food hygiene in India worried us a lot.
It was almost 11:30pm when we finally passed the immigration. Fortunately, my parents-in-law had already retrieved our luggage for us. We quickly hailed a cab and headed for The Leela Ambience Gurgaon Hotel, where hubby’s congress was taking place. The ride to the hotel took almost an hour as the traffic was still very bad at that hour and every driver was just honking away (common culture among Indian drivers). There was total chaos on the road, in that nobody obeyed the traffic lights and vehicles were crisscrossing each other. Even hubby admitted that he didn’t dare drive in India.
Got ourselves check into the Deluxe Room and added 2 extra beds for ourselves (₹1000 per extra bed). Though this room was fully paid for by hubby’s institution, a quick check revealed that it was priced at ₹13377 (RM813.70) inclusive of tax. Well, believe it! It was in the month of October and the temperature was pleasant at around 14°C at night. We eventually hit the sack after shower.
Breakfast at the hotel was awesome, probably the best among all the hotels I’d ever stayed in. It had a wide variety of cuisines that could easily accommodate guests of any cultures. We spent close to 2 hours enjoying all the food there was on display, to the point we could even skip lunch. Well, we were particularly paranoid about where we ate in India, after hearing and reading about the unpleasant experiences many tourists had with the food and drinks they consumed. Thus, we resolved to dine only in 5 star hotels or very reputable restaurants as advised by some friends (Tip: don’t attempt to save a couple of dollars on food and compromise your health – really not worth it!).
There weren’t really many places of interest around our hotel except for the Ambience Mall right next to our hotel, where we had some of our meals. We had to travel out a bit to the more popular tourist attractions. The first place we went to was Dilli Haat, the biggest and most renowned market that a platform for artisans to come and sell their wares. Transportation was in fact quite convenient in Delhi. We took the auto-rickshaw (similar to the tuk tuk in Bangkok) for US$2 (RM8.20) to the nearest metro station – Sikandarpur (yellow line). Oh yes, the auto-rickshaw drivers do accept US dollars.
Delhi has a very extensive metro rail system and I’d suggest that you seriously consider this form of transportation if you don’t wish to get stuck in hours of traffic jam. We purchased a 1-day tourist card at the station’s customer care centre, which only costed ₹100 (RM6.10) and we still got back ₹50 (RM3.05) of refundable deposit, upon returning the card at the end of our trip. The only negative bit about the metro was the disorderly passengers, who couldn’t care less about lining up. We were the first in line, but had to wait for 3 trains to pass before we could get in. Each time a train stopped, people would just push their way through on both our sides and the train was always packed with civic-mindedness at its lowest.
INA on the yellow line was the nearest metro station to Dilli Haat. It took us almost 40 minutes to arrive there. Along the way, if you were to look out the window as soon as the train approaches Qutab Minar station, you’ll be able to see the world’s tallest brick minaret – Qutb Minar, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore this piece of gem. We spent an hour and a half walking through all the stalls in Dilli Haat. If offered an astonishing range of merchandise, very impressive I must admit.
Up next on the itinerary was Gandhi Smriti, a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. This was where Gandhi spent his last 144 days before his assassination. If you’re into Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence, you’re sure to get a lot of information here. There’s no entrance fee, if you’re wondering.
After spending about an hour here, we took the auto-rickshaw to Safdarjang’s Tomb. It was actually kinda fun to have all 4 of us crammed into a small auto-rickshaw. Our driver spoke reasonably good English and was very conversant with Indian history. He offered to drive us anywhere within the city centre for US$10 (RM41), which we gladly took. What more could we ask for someone who doubled up as an excellent tourist guide?
Roughly 10 minutes down Lodhi Road away from Safdarjang’s Tomb, is located Humayun’s Tomb. Both tombs were designed with not only similar but also magnificent Mughal architecture, which speaks volumes about the grandeur of the great Mughal empire. Along that same road would be Lodi Gardens, which was built during the Lodi dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. Mohammed Shah’s Tomb and Sikandar Lodi’s Tomb were among the structures of great antiquity in this garden. You need not feel that morbid about exploring the various tombs, as almost all of them were built with beautiful surrounding gardens and today they function just like any parks within the city.
As it was getting dark then, we quickly proceeded to India Gate, a war memorial located at one end of Rajpath (King’s Way). It looked pretty much like the Arc de Triomphe. On the other end of Rajpath is Raisina Hill, the seat of the Indian government when the capital of British India was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. This administrative centre is where the Parliament House, President’s official residence and Prime Minister’s Office are located.
There was one more attraction before we called it a day – The Red Fort. This fort was constructed with red sandstones by Shah Jahan, fifth emperor of the Mughal empire and served as his residence. Upon knowing our intention to visit the Red Fort, our rickshaw driver dropped us at the Central Secretariat metro station and suggested that we take the metro instead. Apparently he could get stuck in the jam for hours, if he tried to take us in and we might just miss the Sound and Light Show at 9pm. The nearest station to the Red Fort would be Chandni Chowk, a 15-minute journey from Central Secretariat.
We had to face our biggest nightmare when we exited the metro station, which opened up at Chandni Chowk Road (part of Old Delhi aka Shahjahanabad). My goodness, it was the first time in my life seeing a road so jam-packed with not only vehicles and people, but also animals! Naturally, being in a foreign country and experiencing such a culture shock, we were quite fearful. Be that as it may, interestingly there were so many places of worship of various religions along this road. The most outstanding among them was Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, the oldest Jain temple in Delhi. We still had to walk down that road for another 2km before arriving at the Red Fort, which we ultimately achieved with much persistence (Tip: try to avoid anything along this road at all cost).
The entrance fee to the Red Fort was ₹500 (RM30.40) and the fee to the Sound and Light Show which lasted an hour was ₹80 (RM4.90). Incidentally, there was a group within earshot which had a guide giving running commentaries to them and we managed to learn a little bit about the fort’s history. The Sound and Light Show narrated the rest of it to us. Well, I have to apologise as back then I didn’t have a camera good enough to take nice pictures at night.
When we were eventually done with the Red Fort, it was already 10pm and we had to walk another 3km along the dark and scary Lothian Road to Kashmere Gate metro station. It took us roughly half an hour to accomplish that feat, but we were extremely delighted the moment we stepped into the station. The only thing on our minds then was to get back to our hotel. The journey on the metro took us an hour and we arrived closed to midnight, by which time we were all exhausted. If you’re wondering why we didn’t bother taking the cab – the truth is, we might never get out of the city till the wee hours of the next morning. The next day would see us exploring Agra – home of the Taj Mahal.
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