THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Chand Baori and the Taj Mahal
Identity Politics is toxic

New Delhi / Old Delhi

My hotel in New Delhi is in the leafy diplomatic district of Chanakyapuri. Some of that extensive foliage nearly took me out today when a tree fell in front of my Uber on the way to visit the Red Fort. Effete Westerner that I am, I thought the driver would turn around and find another route. However, he got out first to check on the welfare of a gardener who had barely managed to jump clear. Then he helped him, along with various auto-rickshaw drivers whose way was also blocked, to pull the large tree to the side of the road so that traffic could pass. For a wiry bunch who looked none too well-fed, I have to say those Delhi-ites were strong chaps.

There was a big police presence outside the US Embassy compound as we continued our journey. Perhaps that was something to do with the attack on the Embassy in Beijing an hour or so before? It didn't add too much to the already dense traffic in my way.

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The Red Fort is a disappointing, poorly maintained and rather shabby affair compared to the splendours of the Amber Fort. It's still a military complex and has heavy security. It was a bit disconcerting to see sentries standing in metal cabins with guns poking through firing slots. It needs some imagination to picture its former glories, whether as home to Mughal emperors or as a garrison for the British Army. 

It's certainly large enough. There's a lot of grassy open space which was, after recent heavy rains, an implausibly deep green. At the entrance to the complex, after separate pat-downs and metal detector screenings for men and women, you arrive in the covered bazaar which used to cater to the ladies of the Emperor's Court by selling jewellery and clothing. Now its tenants aggressively sell souvenirs to the masses of tourists who pass through every day. Some of the handicrafts were not bad and I might have bought more than I did if I had not developed a serious aversion to the pushy tactics of Indian shopkeepers. Given time to browse and a little attention to what I was actually looking for, I would have opened my heart and my wallet. As it was, it wasn't long before I was repressing a powerful urge to bark Anglo-Saxon and leave empty-handed.

I am glad that I have seen the Red Fort but, having checked it off the list, will not be making any special efforts to return. I enjoyed rather more my transfer by auto-rickshaw to Connaught Place for lunch and a bit of light shopping. Having watched the drivers of these nimble vehicles tootle in and out of traffic comprised of heavier, stronger cars, buses and trucks,  I was curious to see how it felt for their passengers. It felt like a fairground ride! My long legs didn't easily fit but I soon found a way to get them entirely onboard after nearly being kneecapped by a passing Delhi bus! The bus drivers are apparently notoriously aggressive even in a driving culture where everyone appears homicidal, suicidal or both!

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After lunch in a hipster cafe (which served a decent paneer tikka) I took a stroll to get in some exercise and headed back to the hotel to relax and prepare for my final dinner in India on this trip.

It's a fascinating country and, d.v., I shall return. I've seen a lot of interesting stuff during my short visit, but there's an entire sub-continent to explore! Next time I will come in Winter though and be less hesitant even then about sacrificing sartorial propriety to comfort! I shall also practice the polite, arm-at-45 degrees, palm open toward the offender gesture that I saw Indians use politely to warn off hawkers, beggars and (genuine or fake) tourist guides touting for business. Getting annoyed only amuses them. Expressing that annoyance only lowers you in the eyes of passing members of the majority of polite and friendly Indians who find them just as annoying as you do.

As for the various scams I encountered, it seems churlish to worry about them after taking into account the excellent value offered by the hotels, restaurants, guides and taxi companies who took such excellent care of me. In any case the total losses amounted to less than the rip-off perpetrated by a currency exchange desk at Heathrow Airport. Next time I shall also order my rupees well in advance!

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