Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Taking the train to Taj Mahal

Most people will imagine when anyone uses the train in India, the person will have to jostle among crowd to get to the train and then ride on top of the train like those pictures showing so many people in India riding the train like that with some holding to the doors for dear life and then there were those who had to crammed inside the train with nary any room to breath. 

One will always believe the Indian trains are such.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Trains in Delhi are not that bad. They are well-kept, they have train inspectors, the first class or executive class, depending on the train) serve hot breakfast, the second class (or car chair) gives you water and snacks, they do try to keep to their schedule, the train stations were maintained as best as Indians can keep all their public infrastructures clean and best of all, their toilets are passable for you to relieve yourself. That is more than I can say for other supposedly cultured countries.

I decided to travel from Delhi, from the New Delhi Train Station to Agra, where Taj Mahal is when I took the trip to Taj Mahal in February this year.

The friends I were having dinner with 2 days before the trip were actually aghast. One is working there at a Malaysian government agency, one is her friend and another two were there for the same reason as my wife and I, to attend the New Delhi Book Fair. The two who came for the Book Fair had booked a van to take them to Taj Mahal on the same day (we didn't meet then when we were at Taj Mahal).

The train we took was called the Shatabdi Express. It came from somewhere else and the Taj Mahal (Agra) station was not the last station it stopped. Although it does stopped at the New Delhi Train Station for more than 15 minutes, we didn't know that fact and even if we did, we wouldn't dare take the chances to be late. It actually departed from the New Delhi Train Station at exactly on the scheduled 6.15am. We took a auto-rickshaw from Safdarjung Estate area which is at the south of the Delhi.

When we arrived there it was already busy with passenger and as we've passed the New Delhi Train Station in the three days we stayed at Paharganj, where we have to use the pedestrian crossing across from the main train station to the other side to get to the New Delhi Metro, we have seen how busy it could be at the New Delhi Train Station. Add the touts, the auto-rickshaw, the taxis, the con-persons, the passengers and the securities which can be the guards, the police and/or the army, New Delhi Train Station at its busiest can be very daunting, even for seasoned traveller.

Shia LeBouf!!
Please make sure you have the correct train station when you are taking a train in Delhi.

There are 3 main train stations in Delhi. The New Delhi Train Station is legendary as the busiest and the largest train station in India. The train tracks criss-crossing the huge train complex made the train station very wide and is supposed to be the largest route interlocking system in the world which stands at 48. We've been to Shinjuku train station in Tokyo which is the world's busiest transport hub and we can say both New Delhi and Shinjuku have its own uniqueness in their claim to fame.

When we were in the train car, which was an executive coach, we were relieved with the space and the comfort the seats provided. We tried to sleep but I was too excited with the train trip and keep snapping pictures with my handphones as the sky brightened.

What surprised us was the service and the food. The service was fast (served by a waiter who looked like Shia LeBouf though my wife diagreed with me). The servings were many and in the end we had to take some of the food with us because we just couldn't they go to waste. There were western food and Indian food. They were cereals and dosa (thosai to most Malaysians). Only the coffee was instant coffee. Tea was served in a tea bag. Water was provided in a bottle.

I dreaded the trip to the toilet but I was pleasantly surprised they had a passable steel toilet which didn't make your appetite to take a leak gone (yes, there's a picture of the toilet if you care to take a peek).

When we arrived out guide waited for us outside the station as we were brought out by a boy whom he had tipped to get us. What greeted us outside was a scene as if people were fighting although what they were actually fighting for was the chance to take anyone who would hire them around Agra. I accidentally separate myself from my wife and the boy. They were so worried because I tried to take the pictures of all the guide shouting at the top of their voice and trying to get attention of any of the passenger who alighted from the train. I managed to get to them unscathed and off we go to see Taj Mahal.

 The ride back by train was another adventure for another blogpost....

(and also our Taj Mahal experience will be reveal in another one

Monday, March 16, 2015

New Delhi vs. Old Delhi

Those who have ever been to Delhi would not say they had been to New Delhi. They will only say they have been to Delhi or in the words of the locals, DEH-Lee. Here's how New Delhi is pronounced -

How old is Delhi can be gauged by the so many ruins you can find peppered around Delhi if you take time to explore it. Without needing to be too specific, there are New Delhi and Old Delhi. Both are totally different like night and day. The feelings that you have when you walk around Old Delhi and New Delhi will be different.

In Old Delhi, there are the old monuments of the Red Fort and Jama' Masjid. It is good to note, most mosques which are used as prayer places by the Muslims are labelled as Jama' Masjid. There's a few others Jama' Masjid in Delhi and in order for Muslims to go to a mosque they can pray in, it is easier to mention Jama' Masjid even what you meant is not the Jama' Masjid in Old Delhi.

Old Delhi can be reached by using cars and tour buses but adventurous me convinced my reluctant wife to try the packed Mass Rapid Transfer (MRT) train system from New Delhi Railway Station's MRT stop to take a ride and stop at Chandni Chowk. We didn't expect the MRT stop to be as crowded as the crowd we found and we didn't expect to go through security to be as tight as the airport. So, it was a new experience to go through a crowded MRT stop which we found was more daunting than what we found at Shinjuku's train station in Tokyo.

The entrance to New Delhi Metro station

The crowd queuing for tickets
We actually joined the crowd before realising that the 3-day passes we planned to buy were sold at a customer service couter by the side with no one lining up there.
When we arrived at the Chandni Chowk station, we were disoriented and couldn't find our way that we decided to hire a rickshaw to take us around. Here are some sights in Old Delhi.

The final picture is Karim's, a place in Old Delhi famous for its dishes and a great place to have lunch.

Here is the Jama' Masjid, where we prayed Zuhur and Asar. My wife was conned into going to another part of the mosque which the conman said was reserved Malaysian's women and when she finished praying he asked for some money. She refused and luckily managed to escape unscatched. At that time I was at the front of the mosque joining other jemaah as Zuhur prayer time was announced by the muazzin.

Before we went off, we went to the Red Fort and then we walked to the Metro station again against the advice of the rickshaw's peddler. He said we should take a cab or an autorickshaw to our next destination which was Pragmati Maidan where the Delhi Book Fair was held. We survived that walked and even bought some stuff from the street vendors along the way.

Here's a glimpse of modern New Delhi which is just like any other city in the world :

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The serenity of Lodhi Garden, Delhi

They say Delhi is noisy, especially the Old Delhi where there are tricycles, autorickshaws, bicycles, cars, motorbikes, buses and let's not forget the people. It cannot be denied it is noisy and if you read my previous post, you can see a glimpse of it.

One other thing about Delhi, it is said to be dangerous to go out at night and there is no safe place at all. I beg to differ as although it is prudent to make sure you do not venture into unknown territory in Delhi, it is as safe or unsafe as any other city in the world.

There is this one garden in Delhi which I was quite amazed to exist in such a city. Lodhi Garden which is near where most embassies are in Delhi. It is on the way to the southern part of Delhi. It has ruins (there's so many of them in Delhi) which consist of a mosques, a few tombs and you can roam around freely without having to pay any entrance fee. It is not a world's haritage site but the ruins there are old. I don't know why there are so many tombs lying around in Delhi but it just shows how old India actually is. 

I was in Lodhi Garden during dusk while waiting for the time to go to the airport to catch my flight back to Malaysia at 11pm. The light was beautiful and as they were going to close the gates to the park at 8pm, they were still joggers, couples walking around, chai sellers offering drinks (I was tempted to have a drink but didn't dare to), cricket players, those who used it as a short-cut and you can see that it was a favorite place for people to laze around.

Here's the review of Lodhi Garden on Trip Advisor : Lodi Gardens, New Delhi review