Beware of strangers trying to poison you, Lil starts speaking French, and watch out for mushy cow pats.

Day 105: New Delhi & Alwar, India. We left our hotel in Delhi around midday to head to Delhi Cantt station, about 9km south west of the city.

We were hoping to get train tickets at the station to travel to Alwar, given our online booking attempts failed dismally due to local different payment systems. All we needed were two seats in an air conditioned carriage, which sounded fairly straight forward (the class is called AC Chair Car).

We arrived at Delhi Cantt, which is a much smaller station than Old Delhi, and thankfully not as chaotic. The lady at the booking desk said she could only give us tickets for the lowest class service (Second Sitting), as their booking systems don’t allow them to see ticket availability for other classes.

We bought the tickets on offer, then went to have a chat with the Station Superintendent, who had his own roomy office on the platform, to see if we had any other options. He said “You must get on air conditioned carriage, talk to train guard, ask if any seats available. If not, you must get off at next station and sit in Second Sitting”. Which all sounded fairly simple, except when the train arrived an hour later, it was massive, and we couldn’t spot where the air conditioned carriages were – and none were marked AC Chair Car.

It turns out we were at the wrong end of the platform, and as we walked along confused, the train started moving out of the station. Jim said “quick, jump on anyway” but Lil refused point blank to do so. She could see behind the barred windows of the Second Sitting carriages that there weren’t just more people than seats, there were more people than space, (in fact some people were hanging off the rails in the entrance ways) and a three hour journey in amongst that madness, along with two backpacks, wasn’t going to be a good one.

The next train wasn’t for two hours, so we sat and waited on the station seats. A guy came up and startled hassling us, and much to Jim’s surprise – and amusement – Lil broke into her best school class French, which got rid of him pretty quickly. It worked a second time when a girl came and sat next to us and started asking questions. Lil says she knew her efforts at learning French would come in handy one day, though admittedly it’s taken a while.

While we were waiting on the platform, we spotted a notice ‘Safety Instructions for Foreign Tourists’ on the wall. It had the usual warnings about not accepting offers of tickets from anyone, including taxi drivers, but the last warning on the list was a little ominous, saying “Do not eat/drink anything offered by any co-passenger or any stranger during the journey of trains. It may contain poisonous substances. The person who offers eatable/drink/water may steal your belongings after drugging you.” Alrighty. No repeat warning needed on that one.

When the next train arrived, we were at the right end of the platform and we spotted there was a carriage on this one saying ‘AC Chair Car’ so we climbed on board, and found two free seats. All the seats were numbered, so anyone who was lucky enough to book seats in advance was clambering into their allocated seats. Thankfully, no one claimed the ones that we were sitting in.

The train left the station, and after about an hour the train guard came through to check tickets. His name badge said Rajesh Kumar. Lil was going to ask if he’d heard of the TV show The Kumars, but thought better of it. It took a little while to explain about tickets and the Station Superintendent and what he said, and that what we really wanted was to stay sitting where we were, and pay extra money. The guard stared at this reservation list for a bit, then took our money, sat down in another free seat and spent ages creating a very detailed handwritten receipt and ticket.

And so we were able to sit back and relax and enjoy the three hour journey to Alwar. We couldn’t see much out the windows as they were badly fogged up with condensation, but we were just happy to have seats and a little space, and not to be hassled by anyone – or poisoned for that matter.

We arrived at Alwar and made our way out to the front of the station. There were lots of beggars, a few taxi and tuk tuk drivers, and a handful of cows lounging around. As we walked towards the town, which was about 2km away (we were happy to walk rather than get local transport), a smiling family pulled in a car and offered us a ride into the town. They were doubtless just being extremely nice and kind, however our protective instincts kicked in and we said thanks, we’re fine walking. They waved and smiled as they drove off.

Alwar isn’t on the tourist beaten path, which became very obvious as we walked along the road into town and every single head turned to stare, with people nudging each other to look at the foreigners. There were lots of cheery ‘hellos’ and ‘hello sir and madam, how are you?’ – others just stared like we were aliens (which in many respects, to these people we probably are).

We also saw a great ad for ‘India’s first scented vest’, which Lil reckons Jim should try out. He’s not convinced.

The cow situation got worse as we got closer to town – they were everywhere. We had to keep veering out onto the busy road to avoid them – and even more carefully, we had to keep stepping over heaps of mushy cow pats.

We reached our accommodation and after our disastrous Delhi dive, we were very happy to find that the hotel is lovely. There was some confusion about our booking (they couldn’t find it in the system, despite Lil having a confirmation email on her phone), but before long we were settled in our room and very ready for a beer.

We asked the guy at the front desk where we could go for a beer – he pointed to the second building of the hotel across the square, and said there’s a bar on the first floor. So we walked over there, and it was great, if a little dark – the dimmed lights to evoke atmosphere meant we had to use our phone torches to see what drinks were on the menu. The waiter who looked after us was fabulous – an elderly guy who ran back and forth looking after everyone and opening beer after beer. He brought us plates of fresh cucumber with a curry and salt dip, and some hard savoury crackers (which unfortunately chipped one of Lil’s teeth) and every time we finished a plate of cucumber and dip (which was awesome), he scurried off to bring us another one. We got stared at by the other customers in the place (though ‘squinted at’ may be a better term, giving the lighting situation), but it wasn’t intimidating, they just seemed curious at the out-of-town strangers.

After a few beers and many plates of cucumber, dip and crackers, we weren’t hungry anymore, so we skipped dinner and headed back to the hotel for a long sleep in a very comfy mossie-free room, with a toilet that works as it should, and no leaking pipes.

Tomorrow we’re planning to snooze on for a bit, then we’ll head out to explore Alwar. And lots of stepping over cow pats.

More then.

Rambling around some ancient tombs, ducking to avoid some big birds, and a romantic phone-lit dinner.

Day 104: New Delhi, India. We woke to our last full day in Delhi – assuming Lil’s replacement credit card showed up today as planned.

After a lazy breakfast and catching up on some reading, we headed out to spend the afternoon doing some final sightseeing at Humayun’s Tomb, about 8km south of the city.

The tomb was commissioned in 1569 by Humayun’s first wife, Empress Bega Begum. It was designed by Persian architects and was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent, and the first structure to use mainly red sandstone and marble (it was built some 70 years before the Red Fort, also constructed in red sandstone and marble, which we visited earlier this week).

In 1993 the tomb was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site, and since then it’s undergone extensive restoration. The main attraction is the 47 metre high marble and sandstone tomb, with a 6 metre dome, set in extensive gardens. Visitors can go inside the tomb, which still houses the bodies of over 150 members of the Humayun dynasty. Today there’s little left of the original decoration, though the sandstone fretwork windows are still beautiful. Scattered throughout the grounds are other smaller tombs, including that of the Emperor’s favourite barber. In 1947 the grounds were used as a refugee camp for muslims on their way to newly formed Pakistan.

After a couple of hours of walking around the spectacular grounds, and ducking several times when huge Black Kites flew too close to our heads, we walked to another more recently opened tourist attraction close by, called Sunder Nursery.

Sunder Nursery is a 16th century heritage park with fifteen heritage monuments, six of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. It fell into a sad state of disrepair, and after renovations started in 2007, it opened again to the public in early 2018. It’s a beautifully laid out formal garden with lots of walkways and water features – some kites were having a great time paddling and splashing in the fountains. The park has ambitions to become Delhi’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, however it’s outside the city, and there’s an entry fee payable, rather than being an open-to-everyone public park. Still, it’s good to see the city has ambitions to compete with international landmarks.

When we’d had our fill of gardens, peacocks, kites and squirrels, we caught an Uber back to the Old Indian Coffee House near Connaught Square, for some chill time and a couple of coffees. We watched a monkey scrambling over the roofs outside the window, praying it wouldn’t come inside to keep us company.

Dinner was at Biryani Blues again – a nice easy, relaxed venue for a simple dinner of good biryani. Half way through our meal the lights went out – a power cut which was caused by building work at the shop next door. The waiter said it would ‘probably only be a few minutes’ before the lights came back on. A few minutes later, there was no sign of anything happening, so two lovely waiters balanced their phones on two upturned glasses, with phone torches turned on, so we could finish our dinner. By the time we left 20 minutes later, the place was still in darkness.

We had a post-dinner beer at a bar at Connaught Place, then headed home. We were happy to find Lil’s replacement credit card waiting for us when we got back to the hotel, so we’re good to get packed up and head out of Delhi tomorrow.

We spent a while booking accommodation and trying to book train travel. It turns out that while Indian Railways accept about 15 different forms of payment, none of them match anything we use in Australia – they’re all local payment systems, or cards linked to local banks. So we’ll just have to turn up at the train station tomorrow, and hope we can get tickets on the spot.

Our first stop in Rajasthan is at a town called Alwar, half way between Delhi and Jaipur, with a history dating back to 1000 AD. There are a number of old forts, temples and havelis, plus a lake and tiger reserve (which sadly won’t be open while we’re there). So assuming we manage to get train tickets at the station, we’ll be heading to Alwar tomorrow.

More then.

A deflating parking sign, getting our travel ducks in a row, and deciphering some baffling railway jargon.

Day 103: New Delhi, India. We woke to yet another hot and noisy Delhi day. Given we’re grounded here until Lil’s replacement credit card arrives, we decided to have a chilled travel planning day, to start getting our ducks in a row for our jaunt through Rajasthan.

We had a late breakfast then set off in search of a change of scenery, and some decent coffee. The easiest option was to go back to the cutesy chilled out cafe we visited at Hauz Khas on Saturday – the Tea Room – which we both loved.

Haus Khas village was noticeably less busy on a weekday – it was relaxing to walk around the narrow streets and poke our heads into shops. There’s a very cool butterfly sculpture in the village, that’s made from old chip packets and other discarded items.

Parking in the village is clearly at a premium, regardless of what day of the week it is. A sign on one of the walls spells out ‘Parking for villagers only – others’ tyres will be deflated’. You’ve been warned.

We spent a chunk of the day at the Tea Room with laptop and phones, awesome coffee and home make cookies, followed by a late afternoon lunch/dinner. People came and went with their laptops and books and at times it felt more like a co-working space than a cafe. Such a great space.

Our itinerary for Rajasthan is starting to take shape, though as always we’re trying to have a sketched out plan, but leave the detail fairly loose so we don’t have to chase rigid timelines. We’re planning to travel by train where we can, and fill in any gaps with other local transport or private drivers.

The Rajasthan train network is extensive and should be a fairly easy way to get around, and a good way to see the countryside in between towns too. Though booking seats on Indian Railways is baffling – there are about 10 different train seat and sleep options plus all sorts of train codes, ticket booking options, confirmation probability settings and goodness knows what else. Thankfully we found a good article online that explains the different types of seats, so at least that part is becoming a little clearer. And the rest we’ll just to have to sift through as we go along.

When we’d finished at the Tea Room, we packed up and headed back to the city in the crazy early evening traffic. The traffic never seems to ease off, but then in a city of 29 million people, it’s not really surprising. That’s Australia plus a bit packed into one city. Drivers honk their horns incessantly too – which is likely why we saw a row of shops specialising in horn replacement the other day.

On the way home we passed Gyarah Murti, an impressive stone sculpture outside President House. The sculpture depicts the famous Dandi March led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, against the oppressive salt taxes which had been imposed by the British regime. It’s dedicated to the millions of Indians who participated in the struggle for freedom. We’ve seen the sculpture before in daylight, but it was even more impressive at night time, lit up in the Indian flag colours of saffron, white and green.

After a late evening snack at the hotel, and another glass of the bottle of Indian wine that tastes like wine (thankfully it’s now finished), we headed to bed for a long night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we’re hoping Lil’s replacement credit card will be delivered, so we can leave Delhi on Friday. Which means we’d better finish deciphering the intricacies of the Delhi railway system tomorrow.

More then.

Rambling around a big red fort, scoffing piping hot parathas, and Lil considers buying a monkey.

Day 102: New Delhi, India. We woke to an email saying Lil’s request for an emergency replacement credit card hadn’t been approved, but with no explanation why. Sigh.

Another lengthy call with Visa International indicated that someone their end had typed Lil’s name incorrectly, so St.George in Sydney subsequently declined the request. A very helpful guy straightened things out and resubmitted the report.

We had breakfast at our hotel again – it’s the easiest option as there are no obvious cafes near our hotel (none that we would want to venture into anyway). Lil says she is going to buy a monkey to feed her breakfast chapatis to, if she’s forced to eat many more.

We headed out into another hot sunny day, to check out the Red Fort which tops the list of historical landmarks in Delhi. The traffic was insane and it took an age to get there in an Uber, with a series of very near misses along the way. Our driver and a tuk tuk collided at one point with a loud crunching noise, but neither seemed bothered and just kept driving.

While we were standing in a lengthy queue outside the Red Fort, a guy came up and told us we were in the Indian queue, and foreigners have a separate queue downstairs. We followed him and discovered he was right, there was a foreigners-only area in the ticketing area downstairs, with no one queuing at all. The guy started rattling on about being our tour guide for the Red Fort, lots of experience and good price etc. We shook our heads, but he said ‘don’t worry, we can discuss further once you have paid for your tickets’. Which meant he wasn’t going away any time soon. When we’d paid for our tickets, which cost over 17 times higher than tickets for locals, we thanked him for helping us and told him we were absolutely fine looking around ourselves. He kept persisting and persisting and eventually we just had to be rude and walk away, waving goodbye and thank you and turning our backs on him.

The Red Fort is an astounding set of buildings and grounds – it was designed by the same architect as the Taj Mahal and was built, using white marble and red sandstone, in the 1640s as the centrepiece of today’s Old Delhi. It was plundered many times in the 18th century and all of the riches were removed. It was taken over by the British in 1803 and used as a garrison. Many remaining artifacts were removed to London museums where they remain. Today it is a symbol of Indian independence.

There are also a series of museums (not included in our tickets!) covering the Indian people and Indian independence. We were allowed in to one section by a nice security guard (who started trying to explain our ticket didn’t cover the museum, then just waved us through) where there was an exhibit about the Amritsar massacre in April 1919. British soldiers opened fire on a group of unarmed civilians who were protesting for Indian independence. Like the Thai/Burma Death Railway museum in Kanchanaburi, it left us both a little emotional.

Having walked around for over two hours, we decided it was time for food, so headed for Paranthe Wali Gali – ‘lane of flatbread makers’. It’s a very narrow street in the old town, lined with a series of shops selling paratha flat breads in all sorts of flavours. We chose a restaurant called Kanhaiya, which has been in the family for six generations and serves over a dozen types of flatbread, all strictly vegetarian and with no onions or garlic, which some Hindus choose not to eat (one article we read said onions and garlic are thought to increase passion and ignorance).

We ordered four types of paratha – ladyfinger, cheese, cashew and tomato, which came served searing hot from the stove by the door, along with a thali comprising aloo gravy, mixed vegetable curry, pickled vegetables, and a spicy sweet banana chutney. The food was sensational.

Afterwards we went on a wander-about through the tiny laneways of the old town. We passed hundreds of shops selling brightly coloured saris and fabric, beads and other decorations – lots of store owners invited us in to take a look around, but saris aren’t really our thing.

We walked through some more streets towards the Red Fort again, which seemed like a reasonable place to order an Uber. The last street we wandered along was filled with publishers and book sellers, selling mostly text books and stationery.

Something caught our eyes overhead, and we looked up to see a lone monkey sitting on the electric wires – just a little out of place in the chaotic old town.

We dropped our backpacks into our hotel, responded to a message from Visa International (good news – Lil’s emergency card has been approved and will be delivered in a couple of days) then walked a couple of blocks to a local bar – the only bar we could find nearby on Google Maps. It didn’t look open from the outside, but inside was a hive of activity and again Lil was the only female there. We found a table and chose two beers from the fridge. We asked the guy who was serving us how much the beers were – he said 180 Rupees, just as the guy behind him said 150 Rupees.

The serving guy then pestered us big time to order food. We said we’d eaten recently and weren’t hungry. He said we must order food, as we are ‘his customer’. We said no thanks. He said the snacks are small sized and we can surely fit those in. We said no thanks. He said there is no way we can’t buy at least some small snacks. We said no thanks. He said, there is no option, you must order some food. Lil, in a bit of a fury, and in a last ditch attempt to get the guy to go away, said fine, ordered one snack from the menu and told the guy it was a total waste, as we weren’t hungry. So we paid for our beers and the snack, and perhaps not surprisingly, the snack never arrived.

We headed home after one beer, did some more travel planning for Rajasthan, and had another glass of our recently purchased Indian wine that tastes a bit like wine.

Tomorrow we might pack in a couple more sights, or check out a bird sanctuary, or see if anyone wants to sell Lil a monkey so she can offload her breakfast chapatis.

More then.

Paying our respects to Gandhi, providing details of our ‘tring tring’, and wine that tastes a bit like wine.

Day 101: New Delhi, India. The first chunk of our day was taken up trying to sort out Lil’s credit card. Having only used the card twice so far in India, a fraudulent activity has already popped up – so the card was stopped, then cancelled, by the bank in Sydney.

After lengthy calls with St.George then with Visa International, they’re now processing an emergency card, which will hopefully get turned around over the next couple of days. Let’s see how that goes.

With credit card shenanigans and breakfast out of the way, we headed out for another spot of sightseeing. Lots of places are closed in Delhi on Mondays (it’s their cleaning day apparently), so our options were pretty limited. We decided to go and take a look at Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, and the place where his last rites were performed in January 1948.

A black marble platform with Gandhi’s last words ‘Hey Ram’ (translation ‘Oh Ram’ or ‘Oh God’) marks the spot of his cremation. The area is roped off so visitors can’t get too close – and if anyone dares to try, one of the nearby security guards is ready to nab them.

We had to take our shoes off and walk along a boiling hot plastic runner to get to the memorial – then retrieve our shoes, where we were hassled big time by the shoe handler to hand over some money for his shoe storing service, which we did (to be honest, we were just happy our shoes were still there when we got back).

We thought Monday at the memorial park would be nice and quiet, but as luck would have it there were bus loads of school kids arriving as we got there, so we had to push our way through mobs of noisy kids at the entrance gate and inside the park, who seemed more interested in selfies than paying any respects to Gandhi.

Afterwards we went for a walk around the wooded park, sheltering under a tree while we waited for a rain shower to pass. We gave up after about half an hour as there were gangs of young guys hanging about the place that were either hassling us, or hanging back watching us, which was pretty unnerving.

So we caught an Uber to the Indian Coffee House, which Lil had read about online. It’s a legendary old cafe, and judging by the online pictures of waiters dressed up in British Empire-era waiter uniforms, we assumed it was a fairly upmarket affair, a little ‘Raffles-esque’ perhaps. It turned out to be pretty daggy – a run down room on the second floor of an old dark shopping centre. It’s still popular, still has lots of history, the coffee was fine and it was a good place to chill out and get away the noisy chaotic streets for a bit – it just wasn’t what we were expecting to find.

At a bit of a loss on what to do next, we decided to try and find The Irish House for a beer. We walked up and down Connaught Place, but it didn’t seem to be where it should be (which is surprising, given it only opened last year).

Two guys stopped to ask what we were looking for, and then started hassling us mercilessly, asking all sorts of questions about where we’re from and what we’re doing and where we’re going next, and what we think of Delhi. And then they tried to get us to go to the tourist information office, just like the guy did the other day. We said our thanks and goodbyes and managed to wrestle ourselves away – but they weren’t happy.

After the tourist office incident the other day, we had a look online to see if there were any other stories similar to ours. Online articles state there’s only one official tourist office in Delhi, all the others are unofficial (including the one we went to) and some reports say that tourists going there regularly get scammed when they book tours and transport services.

We had dinner this evening at a small restaurant called Biryani Blues. We stopped where we expected the restaurant to be, but it looked more like a bar than anything else. So we asked at the door if this was Biryani Blues. The manager said ‘yes, come in!’ opening the door to what was definitely a bar, the security guard said ‘no, it’s over there’, and pointed over the road. The manager scowled at the security guard as we left – doubtless he’ll get a clip around the ear for being helpful.

We had some really good chicken and mutton biryani at Biryani Blues – it’s a nice down to earth cafe-style eatery. They asked us to fill out a feedback form, which we did – though we spent a while wondering what on earth the field headed ‘tring tring’ meant – apparently it’s ‘phone’.

We spotted some Indian wine in a store on the way home, and thought it might be fun to buy a bottle and try it out. We had a small glass each when we got back to the hotel, and Jim’s insightful review of the Indian drop was “Hmmm, it does taste a bit like wine”.

Lil also scored a new paperback novel at a street side book stall, ‘Turtles all the way down’ – one of only two John Green novels she has yet to read. The sign at the book stall said ‘Fixed price. All books 100 Rupees.’. But of course when she handed over a 100 rupee note, she was told that this one was 150 because it was one of their new selection (it was still only a few dollars though). It’s turning out to be a challenging read as there are ink splodges on some of the pages (which look a little like editor’s mark ups), and you have to tilt your head to the right on at least half of the pages as the print runs downwards at a slant. All good fun.

Tomorrow we’ll see if there’s any progress on Lil’s visa card situation, and then take a look at Delhi’s main tourist attraction – the Red Fort, in the old town. And we may even treat ourselves to another glass of Indian wine that tastes a bit like wine.

More then.

Hungry monkeys scoffing chapatis, a queue scrum at the railway museum, and dinner at the home of tandoori cuisine.

Day 100: New Delhi, India. We reached another milestone today – 100 days of Asian Rambles. The days are notching up, flying past and we’re having a lot of fun.

We had a late breakfast at the hotel again this morning. Lil’s starting to struggle a little with puris and chapatis and curries and pickles and curds for breakfast, and is craving a good old bowl of cornflakes with skimmed milk. Jim, meanwhile, reckons paratha and lime pickle is a far better breakfast option than boring old toast and marmalade. We agree to differ. 🙂

Around midday we headed out to catch an Uber to the National Railway Museum, about 8km south of the city. The museum captures India’s railway heritage dating back over 160 years. While stopped in traffic, we spotted a guy and his family pulling up in a tuk tuk to feed a large bag of chapatis to a bunch of monkeys by the roadside. While the chapatis probably rate pretty low on the monkeys’ daily nutritional needs, they seemed to be enjoying them far more than Lil does, when she gets served them for breakfast.

We reached the railway museum and joined the queue for tickets. We use the word queue lightly here, as it was more akin to a rugby scrum. For the next 15 minutes we got forcibly pushed and shoved forward and sideways (and occasionally backwards as more people queue jumped in front), and at one point Lil said she felt her feet leave the ground. A scrap broke out between a guy behind us and another guy who was trying to push his way in. Lil turned around and applied her best Paddington stare at the pair of them, and when they’d finished screaming at each other, got an apology from the non-queue jumping guy behind us.

Queue dramas aside, the museum was excellent. The indoor exhibition presents the history of Indian railways, with lots of train models and interactive displays of signalling equipment (Jim got to play being a signal master for a minute before he got pushed aside by a bossy kid), telecommunications systems, builder plates from local and overseas companies and antique railway furniture.

However the real highlight of the museum is the large impressive collection of original steam, diesel and electric locomotives in the railway yard outside. Many of the engines were built overseas in the UK, Germany, USA and Japan, and some of them ran in continuous service for nearly 100 years.

There were signs everywhere saying ‘no climbing on the exhibits – fine Rs500’, which had minimal effect – we seemed to be the only two people who weren’t climbing and crawling all over the trains to pose for pics and snap selfies.

After we’d had our fill of train spotting, we caught an Uber to India Gate in the city, to check out the monument and have a walk around the surrounding grounds. As we got out of the car, a tropical rainstorm hit and we got totally and utterly soaked. There were no canopies or trees left to hide under, so we walked around in the rain, watching kids and adults messing around in the puddles and lakes that were quickly forming.

Soaked to the skin, we headed off and walked down a tree lined avenue to a cafe we spotted on Google Maps, however it was closed and there was a large pack of dogs milling about on the pavement outside which weren’t overly friendly, so we jumped in yet another Uber and headed for dinner at Moti Mahal – another long standing Delhi restaurant. Moti Mahal was established in 1947 and was the first restaurant to introduce tandoori cuisine in India. The restaurant went on to invent butter chicken and dal makhan, a hearty dish of black lentils, kidney beans, butter and cream.

The interior of the restaurant is pretty bland, with baby pink walls, a large central display of artificial plants, beaten up furniture and rattling fans that look like they have been in service since the restaurant opened. It’s real draw is its food though, having attracted big names locally and abroad including Indira Ghandi, the Shah of Iran, Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy. Gordon Ramsay visited a few years back and spent time behind the scenes in the kitchen, claiming it was his most memorable meal in Delhi, and the butter chicken was unlike any he’d tasted. The food was good, but personally we thought Karim’s (which we visited yesterday) was streets ahead on food quality and taste.

Image copyright

After dinner we stopped for a quick beer at MRP cafe in Connaught Place (still leaving puddles of rain water behind us), then headed home to dry out and get a long night’s sleep. It was a dreary grey evening, and local kids were still splashing about in the rain falling from roofs as we waited for our Uber to arrive.

Tomorrow we’re planning to do something, we’re just not sure what yet. Doubtless it will involve another bunch of Uber rides, and perhaps Lil will find some monkeys to give her breakfast chapatis to.

More then.

A sickly uber car and driver, enjoying chill time in Hauz Khas, and a walk through a bizarre bazaar.

Day 99: New Delhi, India. After a bumpy day yesterday, we woke determined to have a better one today – and we did.

We had breakfast at the hotel (more Indian food), changed rooms again and then headed out just after midday. We caught an Uber from the hotel to Hauz Khas, a small village about 10km south of the city, keen to escape the hubbub of the city for a bit.

We’re guessing Uber cars don’t have to undergo the same stringent checks as they do in Sydney – the one that picked us up was a beaten up old wreck that looked way past its use-by date. It coughed and spluttered its way out of the city, then half way to Hauz Khas, the driver pulled over to the side of the road, and gestured ‘one minute’ to us. Still feeling a little rattled from the happenings of yesterday, Lil demanded to know what what happening. He gestured ‘one minute’ again, then ran around the back of the car and threw up in the gutter. He bought a bottle of water from a street stall to rinse his mouth and his shirt, then got back in and continued driving – with no apology.

We arrived at Hauz Khas and fought our way through the melee of waiting taxi drivers who, despite us only having arrived, wanted to know if they could take us home again.

Hauz Khas is an arty pedestrianized village with an eclectic mix of art galleries, fashion boutiques, vintage shops, and trendy cafes and bars. It’s a pretty hip destination for young Delhiites, and turns into a bit of a party town from late afternoon on weekends.

The village is named after an ancient water reservoir by the same name, which was originally in the late 13th century. Hauz means ‘water tank’ or ‘lake’ and Khas means ‘royal’, giving it a meaning of the Royal Tank. There are large grounds surrounding the lake, including a deer park and a number of religious tombs and monuments.

We walked around the village for a bit, then climbed a few flights of steps for coffee at the ‘Tea Room by Blossom Kochhar’, a cutesy arty cafe with white walls, shelves full of books and a seriously great vibe. We sat sipping coffees for nearly an hour, loving the peace and quiet.

Then we went for a wander around the park and lake, checked out the historic buildings and spotted a bunch of wildlife including some super-tame striped palm squirrels, monkeys and fruit bats.

Afterwards we headed back to the village, and had beers in a hip upstairs bar called The Garage, before ordering an Uber back to the city.

This evening we had dinner at Karim’s, a famous old Indian restaurant in Old Delhi, dating back to 1913. It serves Mughlai-style food from huge metal pots, including a butter chicken dish made to an old family recipe that is to die for. We also had mutton quorma with rice, and the best naan bread ever. There were guys sitting cross legged in an open fronted room outside the restaurant, whipping up different breads.

As we waited for our food to arrive, the couple sharing our table insisted we try their mutton kebab with basmati rice. After yesterday’s shenanigans, we were a little suspicious, however it turns out they were just being lovely. We also had a great chat with a French couple who’ve been travelling around India and are heading back home tonight. So perhaps it’s ok to talk to strangers after all – we just need to pick the good ones.

Karim’s is tucked down busy back streets, so we had to find our way to a main road to order an Uber. We made our way through Chandni Chowk bizarre, one of the oldest and business markets in Delhi. It’s a chaotic long narrow street lined with shops selling all sorts of goods and food, with tiny lanes running off either side – an awesome and quite bizarre experience to walk through.

The street was jammed with people, bikes and rickshaws and it took about 15 minutes for us to slowly make our way from one end to the other. We’ve been to heaps of markets over time, but this one is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced – a massive feast for the senses.

Tomorrow we’re planning to do some more city exploring, to check out some old historical landmarks and museums, and doubtless pack in lots more Indian food. And we might even talk to a few (good) strangers along the way.

More then.

A terminated airport terminal, a serious sensory overload, and don’t talk to strangers.

Day 98: New Delhi, India. We woke early today, got packed up and walked across to the airport – a quick 15 minute stroll along busy roads. Pavements don’t exist, so it was the two of us and the cars vying for space in the crazy early morning traffic.

We got to Terminal 2 unscathed – only to find that Terminal 2 has been terminated. It was boarded up and a lone and bored security guard pointed us to Terminal 1.

We flew with Vistara today, an airline we’d never heard of before we booked our tickets. It’s a joint venture between Tata and Singapore Airlines, receiving very good reviews and awards. Despite never flying with them before (or perhaps because we’ve never flown with them before), they unexpectedly stamped our boarding passes ‘priority boarding’.

After security screening (Lil got to go into the curtained ladies room for her security check), we went through to the departure lounge to sit and wait in the rows of comfy plush armchairs, reminiscent of Sunday trips to Granny’s house.

Lil went off for a wander and came back with a pile of free newspapers to catch up on the local happenings.

The ‘priority boarding’ stamps on our boarding passes turned out to be useless, as there was no priority queue when we got to the boarding gate, and certainly no way of manoeuvring past the overly-keen bunch of passengers shoving each other towards the plane.

The flight with Vistara was great – a new plane with comfy leather seats, decent legroom for economy, and very friendly flight attendants. A lovely old Indian guy next to Lil struck up conversation two minutes into the flight, asking “Good morning ma’am, please may I ask where you are coming from?”. He’s a Jesuit Priest who lives in New Delhi, and had just been to Kochi to visit his brother in intensive care, and his sister who has just got out of intensive care. A lovely guy who had some good tips on stuff to see and transport around New Delhi.

We arrived at Delhi airport, and headed for the metro. Lil was a bit peeved at being continuously jostled and queue-jumped, but that’s just how things are here. The metro is fabulous – clean and fast – the airport express line only takes 20 minutes into the city, and only costs around $1.20. We had seats and space to put our backpacks, and it was a very comfortable trip (disclaimer – we weren’t travelling in rush hour, which may be a very different experience).

And then we walked outside New Delhi station. Holy moly. The chaos and the noise and the stench made us want to run back inside again. A seething mess of people and cars and bikes and dogs and cows, a serious sensory overload.

We’d already checked out maps, and decided to walk across to our hotel, which was about 2km west of the station. Big mistake. The 2km walk was an absolute nightmare. Some people say that Delhi is one large rubbish dump, and that seemed like a fair summation as we scurried along the streets. There was rubbish piled everywhere, beggars on every piece of pavement, and the smell of rotting rubbish and urine was overwhelming. Lil commented that the city smelt like one big public toilet – just as we found ourselves walking past some open mens’ toilet cubicles, a sight we’d rather not have to see. Further along, we walked past other guys weeing openly on the street. It’s going to take a bit of time to adjust to what is everyday behaviour around here.

We were too taken aback to snap any pictures, so tomorrow we’ll make up for it.

We had to steer around a fight on the street at one point – it looked like a guy had stolen something, and a shop keeper was whacking him with her rubber flip flop, while guys kicked him repeatedly on the ground. Scary stuff.

We got to our hotel, and after checking in, headed upstairs to our room. As we’re travelling long term, we tend to stay in budget hotels and guesthouses, but usually they’re pretty decent and clean, if a little basic. Not this one. We changed rooms three times today (and will be changing again tomorrow). The first ‘no-smoking’ room reeked of smoke, and there was a dirty ashtray sitting on the small table next to the bed. The next one was pretty dire, and in need of some major renovation. The third one was better, but has no natural light, so we feel like we’re staying in a cave. We also discovered the toilet didn’t flush, so one of the staff had to come up and after some major banging and destruction noises in the bathroom, he eventually came out and said “Ok!”.

We ventured out to get local SIMs and have a look around. The streets are chaotic, and we were getting hassled, so we decided to walk to the nearest metro. While we were standing outside a hotel, working out which way to go, a guy asked if he could help. We said we were just trying to find the metro station, and he said he was walking home that way, so could point it out along the way. We followed him along busy streets (his tactic of crossing busy streets was to walk straight out into the traffic), and while we were chatting, he asked what our plans were after Delhi, and whether we’d booked our travel. He warned us against booking anything online, as scams are common, and said it’s best to go to the public tourist office, who can advise on the best options and organise travel for us, which is much safer. Good advice indeed.

A few minutes later, we found ourselves walking past the public tourist office (no co-incidence there we reckon), and he swung the door open and said we should take the opportunity to go inside, and get the information we need for Delhi and ask about other options. We were taken to a back room where the guy, who was very knowledgeable, chatted us through a map of Delhi, and also ran through the major sights of Rajasthan and sketched out a 2 week itinerary. He offered to ‘price up’ some tours for us, but we said it was fine, we’d have a think about what we wanted to do.

Then things started to go a bit wonky. Jim asked him where we should get local SIMs, thinking the guy would point us to a shopping centre or phone store. Lil kicked Jim under the table and raised an eyebrow, but it was too late. Straight away the guy was on the phone to get one of his mates to come around and sell us SIMs (a ‘Vodafone dealer from the back streets’).

The guy arrived on a motor bike, with only one SIM, which he set up on Jim’s phone, photographing his ID (which freaked Lil out, but then every hotel we’ve been to has copies of our passports, so it’s probably no biggie). The price was reasonable, though likely marked up a fair bit to what it would cost in local stores. He showed us his online credentials, said he is an official Vodafone dealer, but still seemed pretty dodgy to us.

Meanwhile the guy who had walked us to the tourist office was still sitting in the room outside. When we walked out, Lil asked why he was still there. He said he was ‘studying a map of India, to help tourists more’. Unlikely we think. He walked out behind us, and said we were only 5 minutes from the metro.

By now we were seriously uncomfortable and desperate to shake him off. He pointed out a restaurant and said we could go there for dinner now (we declined). Then we passed a tourist shop selling all sorts of clothes and tat, and he swung the door open, saying we must go in to take a look. Lil put her foot down, said we weren’t going in and we were going to walk to Connaught Place now for a drink. She thanked him, said he’d been very helpful, but her voice made it very clear that there was no way in hell he was going any further with us. He was pretty grumpy, but turned around and walked the other way (we checked several times to make sure he wasn’t following us).

Lesson learnt. Don’t talk to strangers. We were clearly getting immersed in some scam involving a bunch of local operators, and very glad we got out of it unscathed.

We walked to Connaught Place, feeling pretty stressed out, and had a couple of beers followed by food in a burger joint (the easiest option at that point), then caught an Uber home. Uber is now our best friend, and we’ll be using it pretty much everywhere in this chaotic city.

One thing that’s better than expected is the dog situation – there are lots of dogs everywhere, but they’re pretty chilled out compared to the snappy strays we’ve encountered in other countries. So that’s one plus point. Let’s hope we find a few more. 🙂

Tomorrow we’ll go sightseeing via Uber, change hotel room again, and hopefully find some more interesting food options. And one thing’s for sure – we won’t be talking to any strangers.

More then.

A big biryani breakfast, watching guys poking poles at trees, and there may be curry trouble ahead.

Day 97: Kochi, India. Our ‘re-calibration day’ got off to a good start, amply fueled by a big breakfast of chicken and egg biryani at a local eatery, washed down with lots of coffee.

We stopped for another coffee hit at a tiny cafe which doubles as a general store, then walked back down local lane ways to our hotel. There were huge thunderous rains again last night, and the lanes were impassable in parts. We had to take a number of shortcuts through gates and building sites and over walls – a bit of an obstacle course but better than soggy shoes.

A number of men were waving metal poles around to free fallen branches from the power lines outside our hotel. When we got back to our room and switched on phones and laptop, we realised the fallen branches had knocked out all internet access.

Lil went down to chat to the hotel manager, who went outside to chat to the men with metal poles, who said they had no idea how long it would take for internet service to be restored. So we spent the morning hot spotting to the manager’s iphone, which was faster than the hotel internet, so we were quite happy.

We spent the morning and most of the afternoon researching New Delhi, booking accommodation, checking out public transport in the city, and starting to plot and plan where we might go beyond that. Agra is a must, as is Jaipur, and we’re pondering spending a good chunk of time focusing on the state of Rajasthan, which is huge, covering over 10% of the total area of India.

Around 5pm we’d had enough of staring at screens, and headed out for a beer at the same bar we visited last night. There are strict regulations around serving beer in the state of Kochi, and bars are few and far between. The ‘Red Ba..Restaurant’, which is a seriously wonky name, is the only bar in the local area. It looked even less inviting in daylight and was already busy and noisy with guys stopping by for a beer or a pint of rum after work. We stayed for one beer, then headed out for dinner.

We walked to the same eatery where we had our biryani breakfast this morning. This time we had chicken masala, chicken 65 and piles of rice and naan breads. We’re loving the food here already, however Lil’s not sure she’ll be able to eat curry two to three times a day – as she says, ‘there may be curry trouble ahead’.

Then we walked home for an early night, dodging the cars and bikes that were flying at breakneck speed along the dark road – driving here seems to involve hitting the accelerator hard and not braking until you reach your final destination.

Tomorrow we’re up early, to pack up and head to the airport, to catch a flight to New Delhi. And who knows, maybe we’ll pack in another curry for breakfast.

More then.

A long day’s travel to India, Jim’s sunglasses get attacked by chewing gum, and a big beery welcome at the local bar.

Day 96: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo & Kochi, India. This morning we packed up again and headed to the airport to fly to Kuala Lumpur, then on to Kochi in India.

We’ve spent a total of seven weeks in Malaysia, split across the peninsula and Borneo, and it’s been spectacular. We’ve loved the fabulous food, amazing jungle hikes, diverse towns and villages – but most of all we’ve loved the people, who have been incredibly welcoming, interested and interesting. Thank you Malaysia. 🙂

We ordered a Grab to take us to Kota Kinabalu airport. As we entered the departure area, we heard the sounds of Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ coming from somewhere. In the middle of all the check-in desks was a busker, who was doing a stellar job of bashing out some popular numbers, and made us wonder why more airports don’t have live music.

The check-in process took a while – the AirAsia self service kiosks wouldn’t accept our reservation for some reason, so we had to queue at a ‘document check’ desk. We’d booked our Indian visas online the other day, so the check-in staff had to manually go online and check the validity of the visa and enter it into their system, which took ages. Meanwhile a queue of 50 or more grumpy people had formed behind us, so we walked sheepishly away trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

On the flight to KL, Jim tucked his Ray Bans into the seat pocket in front of him. When he took them out again, he found a piece of the plastic frame had mysteriously dissolved. Turns out someone had left a chunk of chewing gum in the seat pocket, and as it contains plastic softener, it had started eating into his sunglasses. Good job it wasn’t a longer flight.

The stop over in KL was just a couple of hours, and at least a quarter of that was taken up by security queues. Lil wandered off to find a coffee, Jim caught up with online stuff, and then it was time to board another plane.

The four and a half hour flight to India felt quite long (this time Jim kept his sunglasses in his bag). The lovely old Indian lady next to Lil spent the entire flight dropping things on the floor, so Lil was kept busy picking them up again, which helped to while the time away. With lots of screaming and crying kids on board, we were very happy to land a little early at Cochin (Kochi) airport.

We’ve booked two nights at a hotel next to the airport so we can recalibrate (as Lil calls it) before we get stuck into our India travels. We’ve a big to-do list to work through, to sort out the next chunk of our travels around India. And let’s face it, we’re unlikely to get distracted by sightseeing or hiking beside a major airport.

When we arrived at Kochi, we walked from the airport to the hotel, much to the disappointment of the dozens of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who were shouting after us, hoping to give us a ride. The laneways and fields around the hotel are still badly flooded, and there’s lots more rain on the way – the area is in a very sad soggy state.

After checking in and settling in, we asked the guy at reception where we could get a beer. He said to walk down the street to the red bar, in a laneway on the right hand side. We found the bar, walked in, and nearly walked straight out again. It was a bizarre red themed room, with numbers on the walls and a counter with iron railings, which made us think we’d walked into a betting shop. Lil asked the security guard if the place sells beers, and he said yes, yes – just queue at the counter with the railings.

Everyone sat and stared at us, which made us uncomfortable at first, but then we realised we were just the odd ones out. And also Lil was the only female in the entire bar. The manager of the place was lovely, and went out of his way to make us feel comfortable, asking if we needed another beer or food, and apologising that the place was so loud.

A guy called Rajesh came over and shook our hands, asked where we were from and was super excited to be able to welcome foreigners to India. He was drinking large glasses of rum, followed by water (which he drank straight from a metal jug) and got increasingly wobbly as the evening went on. He loves English movies (the Avengers is his big favourite), and kept showing us movie clips on his phone, then shaking our hands again, and telling us how much he liked us and how happy he was that we were in India.

He was really lovely, insisted on buying us a beer, and gave us his phone number in case we needed anything while we’re here. Meantime one other non-local had appeared on the scene – a guy from South Korea called Jay. He asked if he could join us – it turns out he had also asked the hotel receptionist where he could get a beer, and the guy told him about the red bar, and said that two Australians are already there. As the evening went on, Rajesh insisted on taking endless selfies of the four of us.

As we left for the night, Rajesh was getting onto the back of his mate’s motor bike – an impressive feat given how wobbly he was. He works at the airport (as many people in this area probably do) and has work tomorrow – let’s hope his job doesn’t involve flying aircraft or operating heavy machinery.

We were starving by then, so popped into an eatery next to the hotel for massive plates of chicken and rice – just what we needed after our crazy evening of beers with the locals.

Then back to our hotel for a long night’s sleep, before our re-calibration day tomorrow.

More then.