Delhi Delights

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We’ve arrived in Delhi, met up with the coordinator, driver and French-speaking guide from Trinetra Tours, checked into our hotel and are about to have lunch. I’m surprised to see that the restaurant is called Lutyens Cocktail Bar, opposite the Meridien Hotel. When we enter the half-filled room, the only people I can see certainly not Indian. There are only tourists here, I say to Summer, our guide for the afternoon. “No, no”, he says, “there are Indians as well”.

Inside Luytens Cocktail House
Inside Lutyens Cocktail House

When we visit another country, we like to eat like locals and this does not correspond to what we are looking for but we don’t have much choice. We have decided to become temporary vegetarians in India for two reasons: first there is less chance of having food poisoning and second we are certain of getting vegetables that way. We choose a mixed vegetable dish and naan and hope for the best.


Although a little spicy, the food is good, but not very copious. When the bill comes, we discover that we were only given one serving of each and not two. The total is 1120 rupees (16 euro) – hardly good value for money in Delhi and we could have been anywhere in the world. We later learn that the guide chooses where we eat so it’s best to explain early in the day that we would like a localn, authentic experience.

The Great Mosque façade
The face of Jama Masjid, the Great Mosque 

Our first visit is to the Jama Masjid (The Great Mosque), the largest in India. Summer explains that the entrance to the mosque is free but that we have to pay 400 rupees to use our camera, have our shoes looked after and don suitable attire, which means a wrap-around skirt for Jean Michel (he’s wearing ¾ pants) and a sort of throwover for me (I’m wearing 7/8 pants and a long-sleeved shirt). All the non-Muslim women are given the same garb.

The gallery that runs around the mosque
The gallery that runs around the mosque

I realise of course that I should have brought socks or cloth scuffs with me – I’ll remember next time. The ground is not particularly clean and is strewn with litter from sweets and biscuits.  A lot of families come and picnic in the main square and under the galleries enclosing the mosque. It gets busier as time goes on.

View from one side of the mosque
View from one side of the mosque

Built in 1650 in the middle of Old Delhi, it can welcome 25,000 people in the enclosed area although the building itself is not very big. The three domes made of white marble striated with black offer a striking contrast with the pink sandstone of the rest of the mosque.

From the galleries there is a sweeping view of Delhi with all its contrasts.

Next on the programme is a rickshaw ride through the main bazaar. We go through a maze of very narrow alleyways and I am continually surprised that the rickshaw doesn’t overturn but our wallah is obviously a champion. The amount of muscle power required to keep us going in some parts is impressive. Also, since we have said we’re not interested in shopping, he doesn’t even get a break.

Our rickshaw wallah
Our rickshaw wallah

We return to our starting point where Summer is waiting for us. Anand soon arrives and we set off for the last part of our visit – Akshardham Swaminarayan Temple, which we have added to the original itinerary. This amazing Hindu temple displays millennia of tradition Hindu and Indian culture. We can’t take cameras, phones or electronic equipment of any kind so all I can do is to describe my impressions and take a couple of photos of the brochure we received. But I invite you to explore the site more on the official website.

The Temple (photo from a brochure)
Akshardham Swaminarayan Temple (photo from a brochure)

This extraordinary complex covering 40 hectares was opened in 2006. It was inspired and developed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, whose 3,000 volunteers helped 7,000 artisans construct the temple. The first impression is one of serenity.

Summer does not come in as guides are not allowed. He suggests we meet him at the entrance in 45 minutes but we don’t come out for 1 ½ hours!

The elephant frieze (photo from a brochure)
The elephant frieze (photo from a brochure)

We wander around, visiting the inside of the temple with its intricate carvings and many statues. I am a little surprised that despite its recent construction, it’s very traditional but the workmanship is exceptional.

What I like best, however, is the elephant show, Gajendra Peeth, on which the temple is based. It is 326 metres long and comprises 148 elephants carved out of stone telling various stories with the help of numerous other sculptures of men, animals and birds, paying hommage to the role of elephants and nature in Indian culture. It is most definitely the highlight of our tour. We’ll be visiting the more modern part of Delhi on our way back from Australia in a month’s time.

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13 thoughts on “Delhi Delights”

  1. The restaurant experience was annoying. I guess guides there have to be careful not to poison their clients, even accidentally, and if they don’t know what you want will take the safest option. We have kind of the reverse problem with Indian clients 🙂 This year we have a family of Indians coming who clearly don’t believe I can organise a suitable vegetarian meal in a French restaurant and are bringing their own picnic when they tour with us. It’s a pity, because they will miss out on experiencing a typical village auberge whose clientele is almost entirely local and who are perfectly capable of providing a proper vegetarian meal (with some guidance from me).

    The elephant temple looks fantastic. Such a shame you couldn’t take even a few photos but I can see the rational behind forbidding it.

    1. Oh dear, what a pity about your Indian clients!
      Yes, I too was very disappointed about the photos …

  2. You’ll only find rather loud nouveau-riche Indians in the vicinity of the Meridien Hotel; it’s not a very interesting area but tourists feel ‘safe’ – except of course from over-charging. Elsewhere you could get a good lunch for two for €5-6. There are a few authentic restaurants right in Connaught Place but they’re not ones that guides will take you to. One of the best in Delhi is Karims in Old Delhi, real Moghul cooking, near the Jama Masjid. It’s water that’s the main cause of tummy upsets, more of a risk out in the country; just be a little wary of raw vegetables, tempting though they look after the ‘spice’. It’s true that traditional craftsmanship continues to an astonishing degree, though these days it’s more imitative than inspired. Very little of that survives in Delhi, where Muslim ‘invaders’ destroyed most of the original Hindu sites.

    1. Thank you, Stephen, for suggesting Karims in Old Delhi. We’ll try and go there on our way back from Australia. It was so disappointing to be taken to a cocktail bar of all places!

  3. The Akshardham Swaminarayan Temple is simply amazing. I’ve just checked out their web page. Wonderful that the artisan skills have not been lost.
    The street looked quite clean on your rickshaw ride.

    1. Yes, the temple was really interesting. I didn’t find Delhi as dirty as Chennai on my previous visit.

  4. the mosque much beautiful over all. Naan is very good decision to eat (especially garlic naan,, so tasty), but Indian food has much spices which sometimes not suitable for other people, also they add much oil on every dish. But i like India 🙂

  5. Thank you for taking us to India. The diversity of its people and geography, as well as its history, architecture and vibrant colours are captivating. India has been on my bucket list for many years now!

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