Monday, October 8, 2012

Exploring by Bicycle

At 5:50 on Sunday morning, I was walking through Old Delhi as the sun and the people started to rise. It was cool and pleasant and not that smelly and, as long as I minded my step, I could avoid treading on the dogs and rubbish and sleeping/dead people that lined the road. My destination was the famous Delite cinema, about 1.5km away, opposite which I would find the meeting place for the DelhiByCycle tour which I had booked, having seen it rated as the #1 attraction to do in Delhi by Trip Advisor.

No-one was there. But soon a guy was getting my attention and pointing down an alley towards a car park (I remembed that this had been mentioned) and there were a handful of tourists (mostly American) with a cluster of orange bicycles and a few guides in distinctive orange t-shirts. It seemed very friendly and as I signed the indemnity form, I noticed that the entry above my name was that of a 22-year-old woman from Somerset. Intriguing I thought, and in this manner, I was introduced to Emma who was on the same tour as me. Also coming with our two guides were 3 women from Chicago (in their 30s) and a gent from Seattle (40s).

And with little further ado, we plunged into the crazy back streets of Old Delhi. About 2m wide and lined with tiny shops and restaurants, houses and temples, we weaved in and out of pedestrians, dogs and the odd scooter while trying to process what we were seeing as far as possible. Which was difficult while avoiding pot-holes and waste! We proceded in single file but quite assertive riding was required to plan the riding to stay in sight of the person in front of you - I benefitted by standing up on the pedals most of the time. It was so much fun!

After that 'warm-up', we emerged in a large market place, not yet busy but traders had started arriving, and we were told the story of how it used to be a centre for dancing-girls before hard times turned them to prostitution and then the British shipped them all off to a different part of the city. And now it was just a market. So then we started riding along some of the roads, now avoiding cars and motorbikes and so many rickshaws (all using the horn/bell whenever they wanted to 'alert another road user to their presence' in true Highway Code style) and we dipped in and out of the back streets as and when it looked interesting.

Exploring the market and the spice warehouse

 Then after I charged off on my own (I thought I was chasing the rest of the group which had got ahead somehow), we climbed up a staircase which had us all coughing and sneezing intensely, and we emerged in the central courtyard of the spice market. Men (no women anywhere to be seen) carted around huge bags of chilli and pepper and cardamom and so many more, feeding the supply chain of just one aspect of the city that has developed over genuinely thousands of years. These were all migrant workers, earning money in Delhi to bring it all back to their families elsewhere in India a couple of times a year. And sometimes they are robbed at the station.

From the top of the market we had a good view over the city and absorbed that for a little while, I also interviewed Emma (I don't do small talk) to discover that she has just qualified as a primary school teacher and is spending a year gathering experiences which will enrich that, working with schools in Peru and Nepal and also the Alps (jealous), to supplement previous work she's done in Ghana and many other locations around the globe. All I can say is wow - and it was good to get her advice on my own teaching in Kathmandu.

Surveying the city from the peace and quiet of the city

Back on the bicycles, we then found ourselves in New Delhi, exploring the colonial side of the city which reminded me very much of Beijing (in terms of feel and development and, by this time of day, the weather). We saw the residence of the Governer in this district and the famous Ambassador car and stopped for tea nearby.

Then we cycled to a market near the very well-known Red Fort and passed some very large goats as we headed back up to the street.


Through Chandni Chowk and then the market at the Red Fort.

 Eventually, after some more crazy driving which was absolutely hilarous (to me at least), we stopped for breakfast at a famous establishment called Karim's which had some guys stirring a huge curry - which will apparently feed 300 to 350 people at lunch time and had been simmering since dawn. Breakfast was a goat curry with the most delicious Roti bread to accompany. Then we cycled back through the steadily increasing heat and traffic, back to the Delite cinema where our tour ended over 4.5 hours from when it began.

Emma stirs the huge ox-tongue curry

Enjoying an excellent breakfast!


Another market place and the orange bicycles.

The DelhiByCycle tour was such a good way to explore the back part of the city - something I wanted to learn about was how the city 'worked' and I can certainly say that I've learnt this on the tour. With the colour orange, it should have been a giveaway that it is the brain-child of a Dutch expat, but it's a brand that I think could cross to other cities very easily.

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