Thursday, 10 November 2011

Day 9 – long drive to Delhi

We left the hotel at Surijgarh at 6.30am!

One thing amazed us – someone in the village had deliberately cleared the gutters of rubbish, and it sat damply in small piles looking like it was waiting to be collected. This kind of thing must happen from time to time in all Indian cities, but the streets also looked swept and tidy, and that really made a difference to how I felt about the village. It seems curious how such a small thing can make such a difference.

And so to the coach.

Speeds are always low, and we saw a speed limit sign for a major road showing 68kph, but in most of our driving I doubt we got much about 60kph at any time, simply because the roads are absolutely terrible, and traffic density generally won’t permit anything more. There was a village that we drove through which appeared to be having a sewage system fitted, resulting in a rutted dirt road through the middle and long sections of deep mud. In various places there were enormous holes, just inviting passing cars, bikes and children to fall in.

Driving in India, especially with something as large as a 20+ seat coach is a slow motion ballet, with vehicles (pronounced why-ickals by Junaid) weaving in and out as gaps open and close. Lane discipline does not exist in any meaningful form, and all kinds of traffic use any available roadspace. White lines are usually used to centre the vehicle and people in side roads pull out into incoming traffic without hesitation. Overtaking usually seems to happen on the inside more than the outside, and smaller vehicles like cars and motorcycles literally weave across the road to take advantage of gaps as they became available.

This ballet also provides it’s own accompaniment. It is a requirement to sound the horn when overtaking, and so there is an almost constant cacophony in any built up area, particularly with motorcycles weaving through, passing other vehicles all the time. I have wondered semi-seriously whether Indian bikes should be wired with the horn permanently on, and with a switch that can be pressed briefly to silence it.

As we approached Delhi the sun gradually became duller, presumably from pollution, and the sky began to take on an overcast appearance from the pollution haze.

Around 40km out we pass Bharat. Apparently 12 years before this area was ‘forest’, but the are now is filled with shopping centres with places like Marks & Spencer and Debenhams for the people of Delhi to visit.

Shortly after Bharat the 3 lane road we were on just stopped – solid. Cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks drove up the inside on the dirt between tarmac and bushes to create a 4th lane.

Most of the cars outside Delhi seem to be made by Tata – they absolutely dominate the market here. They tend toward a functional appearance, if one were being charitable, and were far from attractive. In the city it was a very different story, with more Suzuki than anything else, although Hyundi obviously have quite a big share too.

We finally arrived sometime around 1pm and got out for some lunch by about 2. The original plan was that we’d sight-see in the afternoon, but that had gone out of the window thanks to the slow journey.

After all the traditional curries we’d wanted a change, so Junaid took us to Evergreen Sweet House ( which comprises a 'bakery' with cakes and upstairs, an Indian take on Macdonalds. Some of the party chickened out and went to the Costa down the road. I had a moong dal pakora – deep fried balls of lentil flour and a strong green spinach curry sauce - and Chris had a samosa covered in lentil curry and yoghurt. Probably not the height of culinary excellence, but certainly pleasant and fun.

That evening was our last, and for further dietary variety we were taken to a south Indian style restaurant, but before eating Junaid took us to the remains of a fort in a village that had been absorbed by the Delhi green park extension near the deer park. We arrived after dark, and he was able to negotiate with the gatekeeper to let us in for a quick look, despite the light failing. As a boy he used to go there because he originally came from Kashmir, and it was the quietest place he could find in the city that reminded him of home.

The south Indian restaurant had a very different feel to it from all the previous places we’d eaten, possibly because they were trying to create an atmosphere for local trade as well as tourists. Lighting was soft, there was lots of dark wood and natural materials in evidence and the waiters all wore quite different clothes from local costume. The food was all vegetarian and the restaurant was also alcohol free (causing some consternation among one or two in the group).

We had what was recommended. The meal started with a hot and sour soup (very like Thai soups) followed by the main course which came on a large metal tray about 18” across. The tray was lined with a palm leaf, and around the outside were small bowls of different dips, sauces, vegetables and rice. In the middle was a large dosa (Indian version of a gallette) shaped into a cone, and underneath were stacked some kind of bhaji, a deep-fried savoury dal flour doughnut and a very soft while spongy bread roll.

It didn’t look much but boy, was it filling.

Finally at the back of the tray was some kind of orange-ginger flavoured semolina type pudding.

We returned to the hotel, saying our goodbyes to some who were off very early, everyone feeling a little sad that we were finished with the holiday as a group. Email addresses were exchanged and there were promises to share photos etc.

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