Trying to stuff as much India into Ken’s last day here as possible, we rented a car for the day and alighted on several sites worth visiting. First up, and a good alternative since we missed the Taj Mahal, was the stunning Humayun’s tomb. I have been here before and absolutely love this monument for its beautiful, simple design and rigid symmetries and axes. They have done a lot of work restoring the gardens and fountains since the last time I visited, and it was certainly a treat. It was also quite a peaceful place, with very few people there and a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. This was a good restorative for Ken I think before we plunged him into what was to come, the sine qua non of India experience, Old Delhi. But before we headed there, we first made a stop at Khan Market to have coffee and shop for kurtas at Fabindia. After that, it was a delicious outdoor lunch at the Delhi Golf Club with Meeta and Aashni, after which we were finally ready for Old Delhi.
Aashni decided to come with us, and we took the car to the outskirts of Chandni Chowk and hired a bicycle rickshaw to cart the three of us to the Jama Masjid. The guy wanted an exorbitant price for hauling us in, about 5 times what I had paid on a previous visit. We negotiated down to 3 times the previous amount, but with him huffing and puffing trying to cycle our collective weight through, I just felt too guilty to give him anything less than he had originally asked for, and he seemed quite happy at the end of our trip when I gave him the money. He offered to wait for us to take us back, but I told him we would walk out, as that was part of the experience I wanted us to have.
We first entered the Jama Masjid and walked around for a bit, which is quite a nice experience for anyone who has never been (even if the entry way smells terribly of feet). After that, we made our way down the side and plunged into the narrow winding streets of Old Delhi, making our way out to the main road of Chandni Chowk before heading back towards the fort and our driver. I could tell by the look on Ken’s face that he was surprised (after our trip around Amritsar and in Bombay) that there could be anything more chaotic and foreign seeming than that, but clearly this was it. We kept him close as we made our way slowly past the outdoor butchers, sellers of old auto parts, papers, bangles, some jewelry, all manner of knick knack, paan wallahs and paratha sellers to come out the other side.
One thing that has been a bit of surprise on returning to these types of places is that they are far easier to navigate than they used to be, thanks to something that has become ubiquitous in our lives: smart phones and Google maps. Where it used to be a forbidding maze where one could easily feel trapped, now it is a rather simple affair to navigate one’s way. It is striking in fact how much technology has changed my experience of India this time, making things that used to be such a hassle so much easier.