Escape to the Himalayas

We arrived in Delhi after an uneventful flight and we were picked up and taken to our colonial style hotel called ‘The Colonels Retreat’. We have stayed here before and it’s a comfortable hotel with great food and service.

We went out for a wander round the local shops and market, had lunch and stopped at an interesting building, a Jain temple close to the hotel. It was a huge domed building in a garden with statues of animals in the gardens and an impressive elephant arch.

Inside the building there was the whole cosmos painted on the ceiling with all the stars and planets and Indian deities and gods in arches all around the walls.

It had an impressive echo….it was strange and very beautiful in a way only the Indians can do.

We chilled out for the rest of the day as the next morning we had booked a cycle tour in Old Delhi. It was an early start, the taxi came at 5.45 and we met Tenzin our Tibetan guide who sorted out bikes and gave us a quick run down of the tour. People were sleeping on the streets and shop doorways it’s always shocking to see the poverty in the cities. We set off and the first stop was a Shiva temple.

He gave us a brief history of Old Delhi and we set off dodging workers pulling and carrying unfathomably heavy loads, cows, horses, motorbikes and all manner of things. Smells of food cooking, spices, and decomposing rubbish assaults your nostrils and it was a joy to get to the flower sellers.

The tiny alleyways in old Delhi a warren of activity as the city awakes. Men washing themselves in bowls of water, people with large containers of cows feet they were cleaning for sale, meat from which I have no idea what animal or even which body part it came from around every corner. Hollowed eyed men staring from doorways at 5 cyclists picking their way through the rubbish strewn streets.

Many porters and workers looking for work standing on the roads and many poor people waiting, sat on the street waiting for food handouts. There were doctors giving free surgeries on the street for Ulcers in one line, another treating jaundiced patients in another long line, all for free. Everyone should come and look at this and maybe they would realise how good their own life is…

We visited a havelli which were owned by wealthy, mostly Muslim traders, women had a separate entrance and lived upstairs. There was a stage where they brought in dancing girls for the menfolk for their entertainment and in their heyday were very beautiful ornate buildings. Most of them now have been turned into retail downstairs but you can still see remnants of their former glory.

Chandni Chowk in the centre of old Delhi has a mosque, a Jain temple and a Hindu temple. There are people everywhere even at 6 in the morning.

We had a walk around the spice market where most traders sleep and work in their small shops bundling huge quantities of spices in burlap sacks and sew them closed. Different stalls, different spices. The aromas of all the different spices are pungent, you can almost taste them hanging in the air. Skinny young men heave these sacks on trolleys and must be incredibly strong and earn very little for their hard work.

The only female spice seller. She cannot get a husband because she is too independent!

We were ready for a drink, Masala chai, India’s spicy tea. The best is on the street served in little paper cups it was so good we had 2. They even pulled up a trolley for us to sit on and gave us biscuits.

We then went for breakfast. We had a large puri ( big puffy bread) and a bowl of chick pea and potato curry, they came with more if you finished, I had 2 of everything, delicious.

The final journey through all the tiny streets was entertaining dodging bikes, people, cows, trailers laden with goods to return to our starting point. We jumped on the metro back to our hotel. Loved every minute of it, it’s haunting, interesting and strangely beautiful, an unmissable experience.

The following day we were up early for the train from Delhi to Kathgodam in Uttarakhand and then a 4 hour taxi ride to Binsar wildlife reserve and the Khali Estate to a warm welcome with the red tiki on our foreheads, petals on our hair and a bunch of flowers.

The house and now wildlife reserve was the British commissioners house for the region of Almora built in 1863. Our accommodation is round houses in the garden with a view of the mountains. Now we are excited.

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