Eastern Hemisphere, Travel

our foodie tour of Old Delhi

They say there have been seven cities of Delhi. The first five I know nothing about. But the sixth one is what we call the “Old City” nowadays. It was designed and built in the 1640s by Shah Jahan (the king), who wanted a new modern planned city for his capital. The “New City” is the one designed and built by the British in the early 1900s, when they decided to move the capital of their India from Calcutta to Delhi.

The swank hotel where we stayed was in New Delhi. But we wanted to see the old city, and we found the perfect way to do it. That was to take a guided walking tour centered around food. We learned how to use the Delhi metro system, and took a train from Rajiv Chowk station, which is underneath the Connaught Place, to the Chowri Bazar station in the old town. It was only two stops away, but we thought taking the metro would be better than trying to get a tuk tuk to take us. The guide we arranged suggested using the metro, as most tuk tuk drivers from New Delhi get lost inside the Old City, even though it’s a distance of less than two kilometers as the crow flies.

On the way into the metro station, someone pointed out that a bird had poop on my shoe, and that I should go outside the station where there is some water to clean it off. Reading comes to the rescue again! I had read about this scam before. It’s part of a multi-person pickpocket scheme, where one guy will surreptitiously spray mud on your shoe, then another guy will point out that you have bird poop on you. Then, since this grosses most people out, the natural tendency is to stop walking and bend over, distracted. That’s when the third guy gets your wallet.

So I just nodded at the person and said “thank you” and kept on walking down the stairs into the station. Who knows how many people I grossed out by wearing shitty shoes into the metro station, and onto the train, but I just ignored it. Once we got out of the metro on the other side, I did my best to wipe it off with some Kleenex Beth handed me, throwing the waste tissues in the street along with all the other garbage.

Side Note: Since this event, I read about another bird-shit-on-shoe scam. In this one, someone secretly squirts gross looking mud onto your shoe, and then when you go outside the try to wash it off, there just happens to be someone there with water who cleans it off and then expects an exorbitant payment. I’m not sure which scam was really going on. It’s even possible that there was no scam going on, and that a bird I never saw somehow did take an enormous dump on my shoe without hitting any other part of me or Beth. Later, when I was cleaning the shoe thoroughly back at the hotel, I found a few little pieces of grass in the “poop”. So either the scammers make an effort toward realism, or it really was a bird. Do you think they would capture birds, feed them grass, and then harvest them for their poop? I wouldn’t put it past them.

Anyhow, once I cleaned most of the poop/mud/whatever off my shoe, we met up with our guide. I can’t remember his name and didn’t think to write it down. Beth arranged the whole trip. But he took us around the market area of the Old Town on foot and a bicycle rickshaw.

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Here’s my view from the seat of the bicycle rickshaw taking us through the Old City. The first rickshaw pedaler we tried was too weak to carry all three of us, so we switched to this one. The guide initially thought all three of us could fit in the main seat. Ha, fat chance. Beth and I took up the whole seat, so the guide had to ride on the back bumper.

We saw spice shops galore. We stopped in at a tea store where Beth bought two varieties of tea from a merchant whose family has been selling it for many generations. We stopped for street food a couple times. And we also went into the mosque that Shah Jahad’s wife Fatehpuri Begum had built (called Fatehpuri Masjid). Beth and I needed a bathroom stop anyhow, and our guide wanted a few minutes to stop and pray. No problem. By the way, the mosque at the Taj Mahal was also named after the same Fatehpuri Begum who had this one built in Delhi.

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The inner courtyard of Fatepuhr Masjid, as seen from the rooftop nearby. This rooftop has been used in several films, including at least one James Bond movie.
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Adjacent to the masjid (which is the Arabic word for “mosque” in case you didn’t know) is a huge block of what were once houses. It’s like a city within a city, with four stories of homes surrounding a great courtyard. But at some point in the past few hundred years, someone started building makeshift homes in the courtyard area. I wish I could’ve seen it in its original form, because I think it would be beautiful. Now this is the primary spice market for Delhi. They export spices all over the world from here.
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Here’s what Old Delhi looks like from above. In the bottom left of the photo, you can see papads set out to dry. And to the right of that on the same rooftop are roses, I think.

On the walk, we also saw what’s called Town Hall, the old British city capital building. And we went inside Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib, which is a Sikh temple. Wow, a Muslim temple and a Sikh temple in one day! This one was a bit more challenging to get into than the mosque, because not only must you take your shoes off and turn them over to a coat check type person but men and women both must wear head coverings. My counterfeit Nike hat from the Philippines wouldn’t suffice. So I wore a weird scarf thing that I didn’t know how to tie. As you go in, you have to walk through this foot bath to finish the cleansing process. But once you’re inside, you just look at the holy book they have there in the main room, and then go back outside. It took about 20 minutes to prepare and about 2 minutes to actually tour. That’s why our guide opted to stay outside. (Also, it may be inappropriate for Muslims to go into the gurudwara, especially since the reason this gurudwara exists is to commemorate a Sikh guru who was decapitated by a Muslim on this spot hundreds of years ago.)

At long last, the tour came to an end. Our fast talking, fast walking guide gave us a four-hour tour when it was only planned to be two to two-and-a-half hours. We were tired, and he was tired. So he helped us find the other nearby metro station and we caught a train back to New Delhi, then a tuk tuk to our hotel.

Our luggage still hadn’t arrived, so we decided to extend our stay at the swanky hotel. We didn’t want Lufthansa to find the bags and deliver them to Le Meridien, only to find that we had relocated to a different hotel. But all the rooms were full, so we upgraded to a suite for two nights, also paying with points. I wish I’d gotten some photos of the suite. It was a $400 a night place, which is even more huge than it sounds in India. It had a living room and a bedroom and a bathroom and a huge jacuzzi tub. I wouldn’t say the room was worth the money, but we got free breakfast, which we didn’t get in the regular room. On the flip side, our Starwood points account is now drained. So no more free rooms on this trip.

4 Comments

  1. Jennifer Cates

    Interesting story about the bird poop on the shoe. I have some friends that describe a scam with ear wax: a guy walks up behind you and stuffs a wad of ear wax in your ear, then directs you to his friend who will clean the wax from your ear….for a price. Since most people are grossed out by a wad of multiple people’s wax in their own ear, most people pay to have the guy with the Q-tip clean the ear. You and Beth might want to keep a small stash of Q-tips on you. 🙂

    Reply
    1. todd Author

      I hadn’t heard that, though it doesn’t surprise me. But that makes me think of another strange service we got offered in Delhi, which was ear cleaning. I had no idea this was a thing, but I saw people getting their ears professionally cleaned on the street. And there are several YouTube videos showing how it’s done. Given everything I’ve been through with my ears, I wasn’t about to accept the ear cleaner’s offer, despite his little notebook of testimonials.

      Reply

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