I’ve been assaulted by the heat. With temperatures soaring well above 46 degrees, India feels like a furnace.
Day two in Delhi was filled with more exploration. After breakfast, we jumped on the crowded metro to head into Old Delhi for a stroll along the city’s oldest avenue – Chandi Chowk. Countless wires, a volume that seemed perhaps dangerous, lined the top of the narrow street.
We followed the herds of locals down the road, witnessing a variety of shops, stalls and stands that sold everything from fruits and vegetables, to jewelry and hardware. Towards the end of the lane, everyone but me, enjoyed some fresh lychees from a vendor. As appetizing as they looked, the splashes of water that came from a plastic bag, showered on the juicy red fruit, made me nervous. I didn’t want to be a party pooper, but I wasn’t up for testing my sensitive tummy on day two of the trip; or extending an invitation to the infamous Delhi belly.
A few minutes later, we arrived at Jama Masijd – India’s largest mosque. During my last visit in ‘09, I journeyed to the religious site, but didn’t actually pay to go inside.
Hopping along the scorching sandstone tiles that paved the courtyard (that can apparently hold up to an astonishing 25,000 people), the dramatic architecture left many of us in awe. For thirty minutes, we explored Jama Masijd, discovering it’s intricate beauty.
While snapping photos in an attempt to capture the magnitude of the mosque, a handful of street children approached me. “10 rupees,” begged a young boy, sporting a fat smile. As heartbreaking as it was, I declined and said no. Instead, he wanted his picture taken. I gladly agreed to the photo opp and snapped away.
As the photo shoot progressed, the crowd of locals swelled, larger and larger, drawing a few more street children. Hoping to get in on the fun and attention, I girl hopped into the spotlight as well. However, the boy wasn’t willing to share the limelight and proceeded to push her away, which led to a bigger conflict that ended the photo session.
On our way out, I made my first purchase. Despite my efforts to haggle the price down, the seller remained strong at 100 rupees. Apparently that was already the ‘good price’. Feeling slightly disappointed and defeated, I handed over the 100 bill.
The next stop, a short walk from Jamad Masijd, was Gurudwara SisGanj – a Sikh temple. We sat amongst the many locals inside on the carpeted floor and observed as they prayed. The next part of the visit brought us to the kitchen. Regardless of religious background, anyone is welcome to eat the food produced there. However, it was recommended that we only help, and not eat; unless we were interested in facilitating an acrobatic performance in our tummies later.
A group of women seated on the floor prepared and rolled the dough used to make chipati. A few steps away, the uncooked circular sheets of flour were tossed on a heated surface. One by one, the discs ballooned and browned, contributing to the heavenly aroma that dominated the kitchen.
The last stop at Gurudwara SisGanj was the dining hall. As soon as we entered the room, our eyes were attacked by mustard oil fumes released from the final stage of the cooking process. A continuous flow of tears poured from many of our eyes. We escaped and dashed for the exit.
Following the Sikh temple, a few of us migrated to Cannaught Place – a shopper’s paradise. However, we weren’t there to shop. Our tummies were growling and needed to be fed.
Lunch was served at a south Indian restaurant. A two-level eatery loaded with cold, crisp air. Plate after plate, the servers brought out massive dosas stuffed with spiced potatoes and onions, alongside mini portions of various fiery concoctions. Yum.
With stuffed bellies, we made our way back to the hotel, packed our bags, and freshened up.
A few hours later, it was time to head to the train station for our overnight journey to Jodhpur. My previous overnight choo-choo ride was certainly memorable, but not entirely enjoyable. As we marched along the platform, identifying our coaches, I was haunted by frightening flashbacks of my subzero cabin in ’09. Vivid nightmares of me curled up with my pack on my bunk up top, soaked by the drops of condensation dripping from the ceiling. The bone-chilling AC blasted throughout that night and into the early hours of the following morning.
Fortunately reality was far from the horror of ’09. We arrived at the station, already bustling with crowds seeking their coaches, as the reoccurring departure announcements echoed loudly throughout the platform.
I shared my cabin on coach B1 with a few locals and two fellow travellers. AC was pumping, but thankfully it wasn’t freezing cold. The train eventually took off, on time.
As the evening progressed, we got to know the two locals in our cabin, sharing stories from our adventure thus far.
“Chai, chai, chai,” shouted a gentleman, carrying a kettle of India’s infamous hot drink, as he marched down the aisle. I couldn’t resist and ordered a mini cup for 10 rupees.
A few hours into journey, the moon appeared and illuminated the indigo sky. Passengers made their beds with the provided sheets and blankets. Soon after, one by one, everyone went to bed; except me. I managed to get a few hours of shuteye, but had a hard time falling asleep.
Twelve hours later, morning arrived. Everyone frantically prepared their bags as the chai wala marched up and down the aisles again with a fresh pot of masala tea.