Sunday, July 01, 2007

Delightful Delhi

I am a huge fan of roller-coasters. Almost nothing I like more than speeding along a twisting track. Boomerangs, loops, barrel rolls, it’s all good, and after a couple of months of seeing the billboards around Delhi advertising India’s premier amusement park, I knew I would not be able to resist the heroin-like temptation very long. Yesterday I cracked. Manuel and I got into our best theme park gear, sun blocked ourselves into oblivion, flagged down the nearest rickshaw to Central Secretariat where we hopped on the metro for the approximately 30 minute journey which was spent anxiously and excitedly looking out the window for any sign of a coaster track. We knew for a fact there would be coasters because the billboards that we had been seeing showed a man and a woman harnessed into a car, upside down in a mid scream/laugh as they sped along the track. Or at least that is what the billboard suggested.

I should have known better. I work in advertising. We are the same people that tell you how much better your life will be if you wear a certain brand of shoes, how much thinner you will be if you use a certain shampoo and how unbelievably popular you will be if you drink a certain cola. But that did not stop me from painting a picture in my head that had absolutely nothing to do with reality. Adventure Island is at the end of the red line metro and as we counted down the final stops, three, two, one, we were beginning to wonder if perhaps we had not taken the wrong line. Nobody at the metro stations knew which line it was and so I gave it my best guess. Just as we were resigning ourselves to the fact that we had taken the wrong line and would probably have to save our island themed adventure for another sunny day, there it was. We both spotted it at the same time and we were both speechless, an affliction that does not often affect me.

We stepped off the metro and were immediately confronted with the paparazzi like crowd of bicycle rickshaw drivers each trying to get us to choose their bicycle. We chose one and were soon closing the gap between us and our destination. 5 Minutes or so later, and there we were, at the entrance of the shopping mall cum amusement park. Yes, Adventure Island is little more than an amusi-mall. We got our tickets and armbands, popped over to McDonalds for yet another Shrek themed happy meal and toy, and walked to the bridge we would have to cross before being officially on the island. The area is divided into two sections, one of those being Adventure Island and the other being Metro Walk, where one can find such stores as the American Dollar Store, where everything is 99 rupees (Note to store… 99 rupees is actually 2 dollars) and Depot, a store that sells books, music, gifts and the most amazing of all, freedom. Obviously freedom does have a price and it must be a good one as there was none to be found anywhere in the store. I was tempted to go to the customer service desk and ask when they would be getting in a new stock and see if perhaps I could reserve some along with the new Harry Potter, but thought better of it. Nobody likes an ugly gora.

After going through security, where we were forced to throw away our bottle of water we wandered across the bridge and into adventure. Our first stop was a ride that swung back and forth while spinning around. The screams started the moment people sat in their hard plastic seats. And we quickly came to realize that the screams weren’t just for that ride, one of the three that could qualify as thrill-ish, but for all the rides. They screamed on the swing, they screamed on the miniature water boat ride, they screamed on the bumper cars. As Adventure Island is India’s premier amusement park, it became quite clear the people acted as though they thought they should, the way people do in movies or in the video games like Roller Coaster Tycoon. Screams and amusement parks are supposed to go together like handcuffs and sex… It’s just a natural match. The park is open from noon to 11pm and after 1 ½ hours, we were confronted with what to do next. Manuel wanted to see the magic show that was still 4 hours away but when we looked at the options for killing time, we decided it was best to leave the island and return to civilization.

And then one of the best days I have ever had in Delhi began to take shape.

Manuel wanted to go to Red Fort and so we took the metro back with the intention of getting of at Chandni Chowk station, a few minutes walk from the Red Fort. We had to change trains at Kashmere Gate and as we could see the fort off in the not so distant distance, we decided to walk. We left the station and began walking down Lothian Road, in a part of Old Delhi I had never seen, and not a tourist in sight, save us. Very soon we came upon a tiny mosque, Fakhur ul Masajid where our presence interrupted a class of young boys who wanted to be in the pictures. A minute or so later, Manuel’s entire day was made. He had seen monkeys once before from a rickshaw, but didn’t have his camera. This time, they were just all over the place, on the rooftops, in the trees and crossing the street by way of the power lines or TV cables. As we made our way further down the Lothian Road, everyone wanted to shake our hands, talk to us and be in the pictures. That happens quite often, but what was so unusual about this time, was that we were in such a non-touristy area, and nobody wanted money as they tend to do when in other areas, they just wanted to use what little English they knew and have their picture taken. W continued our walk, crossing New Delhi Railway Station and on to Chandni Chowk.

The Red Fort was to our left and we decided to continue our adventure on the street by heading right, toward the spice market. We walked to the end of Chandni Chowk, taking time out here and there to explore the narrow alleyways and see parts of Delhi that most tourists never see. We had no map, no guide and chose our way based on what looked the most interesting… Not necessarily the busies or most beautiful, but where we felt compelled to walk. If all things seemed equal and we couldn’t decide, we took Beyonce’s advice and went to the left. We walked through winding little alleyways, discovering tiny temples and quite often having to turn back due to dead ends. People pointed us this way and that, making sure we didn’t miss the special parts of the area. At some point we came across a beautiful mosque we decided to explore. It was rather new, having been built in the 1900’s at Chandni Chowk and then it was moved to its current location (at least that is what I remember from the plaque, but I could be wrong, we saw a LOT yesterday) I was wearing shorts, which is not allowed inside a mosque. In the courtyard it is no problem, but not in the mosque itself. No problem there as a group of guys came to our rescue and provided me with a lyonghi (I think that is how its spelled) to cover my legs. Again, I was amazed by the kindness of people and just the desire to show us their world. At the touristy locations, everything has a price, even someone telling you what you already know, but here, they wanted nothing, except the conversation and picture.

Our walk took us through the spice market, which was mostly closed, so will be revisiting that area again, perhaps next weekend when everything is in full swing, to Lahori Gate, Naya Bazar, Sadar Bazar, Qutab Road, Chowk Singhara and Idgah Road where we came across a group of amazing children. Everyone it seems likes to have their picture taken and nobody more so than children. When you show them the picture on the screen of the camera, they go absolutely mad – they scream, they laugh, they make fun of each other and then they want to do it again. I could have spent the entire day with those children, just hearing them laughing and seeing how excited they were. At the end of Idgah Road we came across a rather large mosque dominating a number of lawns where cricket games were happening all over the place. Our presence caused a huge commotion, but after 2 ½ or so hours of that, we were pretty used to it. By this time, our feet were a bit sore and we were in need of some rest, but that would have to wait as we spotted a large temple at Pahar Ganj and could not let that area go unexplored. We decided not to go into the temple at that time as it meant taking off our shoes. Normally that is not a problem, and we had already done so several times that day to peek into the various mosques and temples we discovered, but we both knew that if our shoes came off again, they weren’t going back on.

We walked a bit around the back of the temple and through an alley full of women and children, all slinging babies all over the place and begging money. I still feel like a complete creep when I don’t give money, but it is that dilemma of wanting to help and not wanting to add to the problem by encouraging. I do give out a bit here and there, like to one little boy near Chandni Chowk that was doing circus like tricks for us. Yes, I know it is set up that way, but I would prefer that as opposed to someone who just tries to take things out of your hand as tends to happen quite often at Connaught Place, where we ended up after our walk and a short rickshaw ride, sitting on a roof terrace at QBA having a few cold beers and resting our tired feet.

I have discovered a few things about Manuel. One is that if he wants to do something or eat something, he will almost never come out and say it. He will ask if I want to do it. So he will ask if I want ice cream, but what he is really saying is that he wants ice cream. Another thing I have learned is that he is very predictable. We were sitting at QBA, across the park from KFC and I asked him what he wanted to do for dinner. I knew what his answer would be, but I decided to test my theory. I asked him about dinner at 15 past 7, knowing it was inevitable that he wound suggest KFC, but as a question. At 23 past 7, he asked me if I would like to have KFC for dinner, and before long, we were going to town on our 8 piece bucket of hot and crispy.


  1. I like Manuel's approach! Evidently, asking if someone else would like to do or eat your preference works ;-) I will try that one out as soon as Nik comes back from Bulgaria, lol. It's great to read that you guys are having so much fun and enjoying India in such a huge way.

  2. Robb,

    I love to read about your India adventures. Pleae keep them coming. don't forget to post a picture once and a while. FYI: you should RSS your flickr feed.

    BTW: have you scene these yet:

    Lastly, pleae do me the favor of stopping by my new online PR/Marketing blog ( I'd like your input and honest opinion.

    Love lots,