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James

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Ghandi's house [Feb. 14th, 2017|07:33 pm]
James
After I wrote my last post I went back to my hotel and with trepidation had a shower. Last year in both hotels I stayed at in Delhi this meant a dribble of lukewarm water followed by a cold shower, but not this time - I had as much piping hot water as I wanted. On the down-side it did mean the mirror steamed up which made shaving problematic.

I went up to the restaurant on the top floor for dinner. I was feeling hungry so ordered a spectacular Aloo Ghobi Massala dish along with a smoky chicken curry, four paratha to mop it all up and some paneer pakora on the side. I liked my spot so when I had finished eating I bought a massala tea and read my book. I slept like a log, largely thanks to my ear-plugs.

This morning I needed to fill in some more of the gaps for the weeks ahead. I plan to head through Rajasthan towards Udaipur, which will comprise of various three or four hour bus-trips, depending on where I plan to visit. But from Udaipur I need to get to Pune, which takes 20 hours by train. So I decided to book a flight instead at the tourist information counter at my hotel. There weren't any direct flights, so I'll have to fly to Mumbai and then take a train to Pune (2 hours). It cost 5800 rupees (58 quid) but at least it's now sorted.

Last year the government decided to withdraw 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, to tackle counterfeiting and illegal operations. It means that whenever I spend one of the crisp new 2,000 rupee notes, I get a bundle of 100's in return. The conversion rate between pound sterling and rupees is easy to calculate as 1 rupee = 1 pence, so imagine if we decided to get rid of 5 and 10 pound notes back in England? It would be exactly the same. You'd pay for something with a 20 and get loads of pound coins in return!

I decided to start my day by visiting Akshardham Temple, which looked majestic on the photos I'd seen online. I walked to the nearby metro and managed to work out that I needed a 15 rupee token to take me to the other side of the Yamuna river. After queuing up to pay and going through the security scanner, I climbed the stairs and jumped on to the next train. It was a fun fifteen minute ride.

It was bad news when I arrived at Arshardham though. There were signs saying that you couldn't take bags, cameras or pretty much anything inside with you. For a while I stood in the disorganised 'cloakroom' queue but felt jittery about leaving my camera, especially when I saw a sign 'property left at owners risk' (surely the whole point of a cloakroom is to look after people's stuff!). I decided to leave. It was a shame - the temple looked spectacular from the approach but I later learned that it's practically a new-build - it was only completed in 2005! It was also marred in controversy. Not only is it a hugely ostentatious statement in such a poor area, it angered environmentalists for a variety of reasons.

I flagged down a rickshaw driver outside.

"Lotus Temple, you know? How much?".

"Ah yes. 200 rupees" he replied.

It was the tourist price but I expect to pay more and judging by the distance it seemed fair. I jumped in to the back. We'd barely navigated our first pot-holes and betel-splatters when he turned to look over his shoulder.

"200 too small. Cost 300 to Lotus Temple".

People in Delhi are always trying to upsell! I stuck to my guns and told him that we'd agreed on 200 before I got in. We drove for about half an hour in the baking heat. Rickshaws are open-sided so I was blasted with hot fumes from the chaotic traffic (always worse when you're unfortunate to pull up alongside a big lorry). After a while the driver looked over his shoulder again.

"200 not good. Traffic busy! 300".

You'd think a Delhi rickshaw driver could predict traffic. I told him "We agree 200", hiding the weariness in my voice. 200 was more than enough for the fare. An Indian person would have probably paid less than half that. Ironically I'd have tipped him had he not tried to up his price.

I quite liked Lotus Temple. It is shaped like a lotus flower, which gives Indian people - the kings and queens of selfies - the ideal opportunity to take pictures of themselves. The temple allows people of all faiths to pray inside together, a nice philosophy I thought. I'm not a particularly religious person but I enjoyed entering the cool marble interior and admiring the architecture.

I flagged down another taxi driver outside. He was a talkative chap who insisted I call him 'Mr Singh'. As we were waiting at a junction I saw something I never thought I'd see in India... a woman driver! Admittedly she stalled in the middle of a busy junction to prompt a cacophony of beeping, but it's progress! Joking aside, India has justifiably received a lot of negative press for the role of women in society and I noticed a large poster on the wall at the metro telling people 'treat women with respect - they are our equals'.

Not only that, I saw an advert on TV discouraging people from smoking in public. The day that happens in Asia I will eat my hat!

Next I went to Gandhi Smitri, where Ghandi lived until he was shot by a religious zealot on 30th January 1948. The exact spot of his assassination is marked by a small shrine in a pavilion in the gardens (incredibly a group of Japanese tourists were taking selfies in front of it). The building and gardens were beautiful but Ghandi's room was very modest. His meagre possessions - including pocket-watch, sandals and circular-rimmed spectacles - were in a cabinet next to the mattress he slept. A few kilometers away is a small platform alongside the river to commemorate the spot where Ghandi was cremated, alongside a plaque showing his final words 'hai ram' (Oh, God).

It was a stop-start day of sight-seeing. Mainly 'stop' because of the crazy traffic. Sadly I didn't get time to visit the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets.

Right, I'm hungry. Tomorrow my train to Ranthambhore leaves Delhi at 1pm, which means a nice leisurely morning before the next leg of my trip begins.
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