Indolent in India (8) – A week in Delhi and Lucknow

I am back in Mother India for a moochy month.  I realised my travels in December and January were at pretty high speed – mostly spending only  1 night in each place.  I saw a lot, but it wasn’t very relaxing.  So this trip I am taking it easy, will be drinking more tea, doing a bit more mooching around and spending more time in each place.    

Chaos in Delhi

First up, I decided to spend a couple of days in Delhi.  I hadn’t visited as a tourist since 1997 (when I fell prey to at least three scam artists), and I was keen to revisit the Red Fort, Humayan’s tomb, the Qutab Minor, the Jama Masjid and wander around the streets of Old Delhi.  I arrived at 2am so had an easy night at the Ibis aerocity near the airport – but I am rocking this trip mainly old school, so moved to a typical Old Delhi tourist hotel for £30 next to the Jama Masjid for the next two nights with the muezzin’s prayers thrown in for free at 5am.    I had an easy afternoon wandering around chandi chowk which is as loud and chaotic as I remember it.  I mostly find the chaos soothing here now – and I have no idea why.   

The Red fort and a thali

I wandered to the red fort, which wasn’t the most picturesque, with lots of bits cordoned off and many many local tourists, but still an impressive site and lovely to sit in the garden.  By 5 I was starving so I battled my way into Haldirams – a Delhi favourite.  It was a mosh pit.  Ordering was easy – paying at the cash counter was easy.   Getting food was slightly harder – and entailed taking the slip from the cash desk, standing at the food counter and shouting at the man behind the counter for 15 minutes to get your order.   I shouted only a little bit, but the locals more than made up for my deficit.   The thali – when it came – was fine, but not a patch on Gujarat.

 

I wandered back through the jewellery alley which has the most amazing wedding jewellery, had a pot of masala chai on the terrace overlooking the mosque in the moonlight (surrounded by Indian couples celebrating valentines day) and had an early night. 

Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk

Prayers woke me up early and I roused myself out to wander around the alleys of old Delhi trying to get lost.  I visited the old mosque in the quiet morning. I meandered through all the quarters – the spice market, wedding outfits, fruit and took in the Fatehpuri Mosque.  I love wandering around towns when they are waking up. 

Humayun’s tomb

After a couple of hours wandering I took an Ola (indian uber) down to Humayun’s tomb which was a lovely respite – especially some of the nice buildings out of the way of the main people.   This was my favourite place in Delhi so far – lovely gardens and quite quiet.  I was hankering for a thali so headed to Rajdhani – which took me right back to Gujarat.  Plus it was only 399 (£4) rupees as it was women’s Wednesday. Then I couldn’t resist a wander around Connaught Place and buying yet another new dress (though this one could probably be worn in London). 

I had an afternoon lie down and then went wandering around chandni chowk eating streetfood. The dahi kebab was excellent as was the parantha. For more detailed inspiration check out this link on what to eat

Qutab Minor

After a night of not much sleep (between the mosque across the road and the disco upstairs), I got up early to head down to the Qutab Minor – the loveliest site in Delhi. I arrived in my taxi at 7.30 am and we had to wake up the carpark attendant – an excellent problem to have as it meant I had the entire site to myself with the sun coming up. The light was excellent and it was a delightful hour and a half. After that I headed to the airport for my flight to Lucknow.

Lounging around Lucknow

The usual bonkers flying experience in India…., lots of shoeless smelly feet, but more objectionable is the preponderance of mobile phone usage to watch tiktok videos really loud and without headphones. I had decided to come to Lucknow as the British and Islamic architecture is famous, the food is apparently some of the best in India (especially the kebabs) and it is little visited by tourists. I was quick off the plane, no bags, and grabbed an ola to the lovely Lebua hotel. I had a lazy afternoon, ran some errands and then had an excellent mixed platter of kebabs in the Arzak restaurant at the hotel – one of the best in town.

The heritage walk around the chowk

I had arranged a heritage walk with Lucknow tourism. The organisation was a little haphazard and I was required to call them to confirm. Piyush showed up to take me around, but the itinerary wasn’t exactly as indicated on the website (where they actually provide very good maps of the walks). Oh well, we had a nice walk around the flower market and the main chowk quarters. It was quite nice, but very quiet as most of the shops weren’t yet open. I would recommend walking around the market between 10-11 when the shops are opening but before rush hour madness. The guide also took me to an unrequested chikan (lucknow weaving) factory, but I wasnt too offended as I had meant to buy a chikan kurta anyway and it was much cheaper than the retail stores.

The Residence at Lucknow, lunch and buying a Sari

I left Piyush the guide around 11, and tried to visit the Bara Imambara, which was closed from 11-3 for lunch. So I wandered the 3km to the other famous site. The Residency was home to a 147 day siege that claimed the lives of thousands during the first War of Independence. The shot marks are still very evident on the walls of the buildings.

After wandering around the Residency, I walked to the shopping district past many lovely parks, ruins and gates. One of the parks I wandered through was completely empty, and when the man chased me down to pay my 10 rupee entry fee (10pence) I realised why. On the brightside, the park had a swing, so I had a lovely 15 minutes swinging like a fiend. Every day is better if you get to go on a swing. I stopped off at Naimat Khana for lunch. This place is famous as the local ladies cook their family recipes for the restaurant to serve. I had a delicious fenugreek and paneer curry with puffy pulke rotis. Delicious.

I wandered around town, found a lovely prestitched sari to buy (removes the need to pleat the skirt). Saris in India though don’t come with blouses though, as all women are different shapes, so you get a piece of fabric with the sari and have to get a tailor to make you a blouse. hmmmm. Google to the rescue and I found an excellent tailor (Sonika’s lady’s tailor), and more excellently an lady customer at the tailor who negotiated the full details of my sari blouse design with the tailor (it is quite the process – picking the length, depth of plunge in the back, front or back fastening, shape of neckline etc etc). It was quite the experience with a lot of hilarity, and they promised to have it ready in 24 hours. A busy day. I had a quiet night and a delicious dinner of more chicken kebab – thighs marinated in yogurt and then barbecued with salad.

Heritage Lucknow retry – Bara Imambara, Chota Imambara and Jama Masjid

Armed with the map, I attempted my own solo heritage walk. First up the enormous Jama Masjid which I could only visit from the outside as non muslims were not allowed past the gate. Then I wandered to the Chota Imambara – the tomb of Mohammed Ali Shah. It felt a bit like a wedding venue where they had a big party the night before, as there was quite a lot of plastic rubbish blowing around and the inside of the main building felt more like a chandelier shop than a religious building. From there I walked onto the Bara Imambara – which commemorates Imam Hussain (whose tomb we visited in Karbala Iraq last year). The vaulted ceilings of the main building were lovely and there was a pretty stepwell. The best part of the site, however, was the ‘labyrinth’ of corridors upstairs which took you through narrow passageways to the small internal balconies at the top of the vaulted ceiling.

It was hot, so I decided to have a lazy lunch at the hotel (excellent spicy fish kebabs) and spent a few hours lying by the pool. I then wandered back to town to pick up my blouse, and I wore my sari to dinner (after checking with the hotel ladies that I had it on the right way – youtube videos are quite helpful in this regard).

I have had a lovely chilled few days in Lucknow. I managed to work out in the hotel gym every day (on equipment that I haven’t seen since the 80s), and am feeling very relaxed. I have read some good books, and finally watched Ted Lasso. This is quite a lovely way to travel – shanti shanti. And Lucknow is a lovely town to hang out in. Now I am off to Rishikesh to do some yoga and hiking.

Lucknow, 19 February, 2023

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