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Back to India [Feb. 13th, 2017|06:58 pm]
I had a really nice few days in Dubai, visiting Ben and family. The highlight was a motorboat trip on the final day. I expected a leisurely cruise through the marina but we were bouncing over waves for 90 minutes so I felt quite saddle-sore at the end. We slowly drifted through the marina, dwarfed by skyscrapers, then accelerated in to the open waters around ‘the palm’. The views looking back to Dubai’s skyline were extremely impressive. We stopped in front of Atlantis Hotel, at the top of the palm, which has rooms that cost $35,000 a night (minimum stay four nights!). Possibly a bit out of my price range. Then we sped across to the Burj al Arab, before backtracking towards the marina. We went past Sheikh Mohammed’s royal palace, where sometimes you can see the pet tigers and leopards that live in the grounds. The sheikh gave his wife a whole frond of the palm for her wedding present. She’d have been just as happy with a new cutlery set I bet. On Saturday I spent the morning at the beach, playing with my nephew Oliver, and the afternoon splashing around in the pool with Harry. It was great to catch up with family again.

I am now back in Delhi. Last year it didn’t leave me with a particularly good impression but this time I love the area where my hotel is located, along the bustling main bazaar. I got checked in to Hotel Shelton by Virat and Vijay, before being shown up to my room by a young porter called Sunil. My love of cricket definitely makes it easier for me to remember names in India!

My room is excellent. It has a decent view out of the window as opposed to the sun-starved rooms I had on my last trip. The best thing about my hotel though is the rooftop restaurant on the top floor. I felt hungry so ordered myself my first ‘aloo’ (potato) dish of the trip as well as a massala tea (tea which tastes like curry – result!). The place was busy with other backpackers as I believe it scores highly on Trip Advisor.

I slept really well… until about 5.30am when the incessant beeping begins on the street below. Subsequently I must have had about 200 micro-sleeps before I hauled myself out of bed mid-morning. I’ll use my ear-plugs tonight.

The first thing I needed to do today was book my train ticket for the next leg of my trip. Last year I really wanted to go to Ranthambhore to see tigers in the wild, but the timing never worked for me. This time I didn’t want to miss out, so I booked a train ticket for Wednesday. My initial plan had been to leave Delhi as soon as possible but I like my hotel so much, I’ve decided to stay an extra day. There are lots of things to do here.

Once that was sorted, I had the day to do some sight-seeing. I hailed a very jovial rickshaw driver called Nagpal and told him ‘India Gate’. I loved the ride. We swerved in and out of traffic and I held on tightly as I was blasted by the warm, fume-filled air. Rickshaw rides are a tourist attraction in themselves and definitely not for the faint-hearted.

India Gate resembles the Arc de Triumph and honours Indian soldiers who lost their lives in various wars. My favourite thing about it is that there is a 2km straight road approaching it, flanked by large lawns and flower-beds, which means it feels very spacious – a welcome relief in Delhi. I walked around the arch, past candy-floss and balloon sellers, then retreated to find Nagpal. There were lots of rickshaws lining the approach but I soon saw him waving vigorously in the distance. He was such a cheerful fellow I asked him whether he’d mind posing for a photo in front of his rickshaw. He agreed but sadly his cheerful demeanour evaporated and he went all serious on me.

He took me to Humayun’s tomb next, apparently one of Delhi’s most sublime sights (it was where the Obamas were taken when they were in Delhi). It was built in the mid-16th century and married red sandstone Indian architecture with Persian marble for the first time – in fact it was used as inspiration for Agra’s Taj Mahal. It was very impressive and there were several other large tombs in the leafy grounds. I circumnavigated the battlements surrounding Isa Khan’s octagonal tomb and sat in the shade outside another large tomb which was built in honour of the emperor’s favourite barber!

I decided to walk to Lodi Garden next. I miscalculated the length of the walk – it was probably only 2 or 3kms but along on a busy road in the beating sun. It was the posh part of town as I walked past Delhi golf course, the national stadium and some seriously swish villas. Lodi Garden was beautiful – lots of undulating lawns, glimmering ponds and yet more crumbling tombs. Swans flapped in the lake (menacingly I thought), peacocks wandered serenely through the grounds and there were all sorts of birds. I found a bench and read my Lonely Planet for a while, before hailing a rickshaw back to my hotel.

Delhi is as noisy and crowded as ever – and sometimes it feels like I’ve got a target on my back from people wanting to extract rupees from me (“I give you good deal, sir”) – but for some reason I’m just getting much better vibes from the place than last time. It just goes to show the importance of finding the right hotel.