After arriving in stifling Delhi in early July, I took a day to chill (and by chill, I mean be constantly approached by Indian men trying to do cockney accents and offering me their wives) before tackling the main sites, of which there are plenty. Delhi comes under a lot of criticism but there’s absolutely tonnes to do here. In order to best spread myself over the main sites I wanted to visit, I invested in a HOHO (Hop On, Hop Off) bus ticket over two days. I’ll do a separate review of that service in a later post, but it basically enabled me to visit a host of sites across this vast city.
So my first stop was possibly the most famous Delhi site, the Red Fort, located in Old Delhi. It was about 20 minute bus ride from Connaught Place and sits on a crazily busy road opposite a market. Connaught Place had actually been a bit calmer than I’d expected so it was a nice shock to be thrown into a dirty, overcrowded, noisy street – it finally felt as though I’d properly arrived!
The only way into the Red Fort is through the Lahore Gate, which is probably the most iconic part of the fort, certainly in terms of which is photographed the most, so you can’t miss it. Despite the crazy bustle of the street outside, the road towards the fort opens up really wide so you can escape the intense crowds quite easily.
To the left of the impressive gate is the ticket office and it was here that I experienced my first Indian scam. The office is split into two desks – one for foreigners and one for Indian nationals. I would strongly advise you carry the correct change when paying for the fort. The ticket should cost 250 rupees for foreigners but I paid with a 500 rupee note and received a couple of shabby 10/20 rupee notes in change. I knew straight away what had happened and I’d been warned about it previously but I was quickly hurried along and I lost my nerve to say something about it. You could have probably kicked up a fuss about it, but it was my second day in India and the guy looked pretty intense. With a defeatist sigh, I headed into the fort having paid 200 rupees more than I needed to. Don’t make the same mistake!
Despite this hiccup (which encouraged me to explore the fort further to get my money’s worth!), i headed through security and made it inside the fort. It’s pretty impressive inside and was actually much greener than I had thought it would be, with small gardens, trees and benches to sit and shelter from the heat. Without a guide, my experience was restricted to wandering round, taking pictures and appreciating the buildings but there were some information points dotted round which gave interesting insights into the various structures around the complex.
The Red Fort was also the scene of my mini heart attack when the strap on my brand new camera loosened and my camera tumbled off onto the path. Breaking the calmness of the fort with a string of expletives, the camera was fine and wasn’t damaged. I tightened the strap with a double knot and luckily didn’t face any more near-misses during my travels, though I was much more wary about my travels from then on! Despite the drama, the fort did have a peace about it, which I actually found in most places in Delhi. Perhaps it was the overwhelming contrast between these sights and the craziness of the world outside.
I ended up staying for a couple of hours, just wandering round and soaking it in, until the late morning sun became too much and I decided to head outside and find a drink, not knowing this would be a mission in itself. For one of Delhi’s top tourist destinations, the Red Fort wasn’t half the most difficult place I’ve been to to get a simple bottle of water.
Maybe it was me… it was probably me, but I walked the entire length of the road to find a stall. There were plenty of small water trollies, where you paid 2 rupees and they filled a cup of water from the tap for you, but I wasn’t sure how safe these were, so ended up walking the entire length of the road and back again (even wandering through the market opposite yielded no results) with no luck. Drenched in sweat and dying for a drink, I ended up going to one of the stalls, paying 10 rupees and downing 5 cups of water one after the other. 1 month later I’m still alive so I think it was a good call.
Feeling slightly more refreshed, I boarded the next HOHO bus to my second destination in Old Delhi, which was just 5 minutes round the corner from Red Fort – the memorial park for Mahatma Gandhi, Raj Ghat.
The site is one in a series of parks and sites dedicated to various important people from India’s history on this road, with Gandhi’s being at the site of his cremation. Again, like so many other places in Delhi, it has this astounding ability to block out the bustle and noise of the capital, simply by walking into the complex.
It’s quite a small site which you can look round for an hour or less, depending on whether you just want to see it or sit and take in the tranquility for a bit. It’s free to enter, but you need to remove your shoes and so you’ll need a bit of small change to tip the guy who looks after them at the entrance. Once inside, you can follow the laid out path round the very green site, which is contained within four walls but with no roof. On a sunny day (as fortunately it was when I visited), it’s fantastic and all the colours really stand out.
After walking inside and viewing the memorial, you can then collect your shoes and walk the parameter of the site on top of the walls, looking down on it. There are also several benches up here if you feel like sitting and looking down, getting a nice contrast between the peace of the memorial site and the bustle of the outside.
It’s not somewhere you’d spend ages at but, considering it’s free, it’s a nice place to stop off on the way back from the Red Fort and is a fitting tribute to India’s national hero.