Walk to the secret lakes of Delhi

Free time is something Delhi’s elite (which calls itself middle class) normally spends at home with family, in restaurants, in malls, in homes of relatives, in bars, in more malls, in homes of friends, in cafés. You get the picture.

Usually unheard of: Sitting on a bicycle and ride to a jungle. Walk through the Aravalli hills just south of the city. Spend a day at the river Yamuna.

This has many reasons, but foremost people are not feeling safe out there. This is not some unsubstantiated fear, but very real. The chances to get raped, robbed, threatened, pushed around, asked for money, told to go away , or all at once, are very real.

So if people from Delhi do venture out into the wild, they only go in big groups. With someone, who has been there before. Who has talked to the village elders as a backup, and got someone along from the village as a guide.

I joined the group “Delhi by Foot” to explore five secret lakes in the Wild Life Sanctuary Asola Bhatti.

We found: sandy beaches, pristine blue water in the valleys that were rock quarries some 15 years ago, sun that made it through the less dense smog out there. Along the way, we met locals going about their everyday lives, which included the chopping of shrub, walking somewhere with camels, and tending cows.

It was more a stroll than a hike, as the elite in Delhi, even if they are interested in outdoor activities, is so not used to walk on unpaved surfaces. So any climb up a dirt trek with two roots sticking out, or a step higher than 15 centimeters takes it’s own sweet time.

 

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Three ways to arrive in Delhi

There are three ways to arrive in Delhi, the travel author Helge Timmerberg writes in “Shiva Moon”. “The dead cheap version, the horribly expensive version, and the «La Sagrita».” (the bumpy translation obviously is my work)

He explains: “The dead cheap one is in proximity to the train station and costs five dollars per night (in fact, it can be even cheaper, but maybe he gets cheated every time, even though he claims he has been in Delhi 100 times). The room has a small balcony towards the street, where people sleep and dogs bark and cats roam. It isn’t clean, but the staff is nice, and they organize warm beer, no matter when you arrive.”

Timmerberg continues: “The second way of arriving in New Delhi, is the «Imperial». The most beautiful hotel in the world, a mixture of Mogul and colonial, maharaja and officer, turban and crown, elegance and might.”

The third option is always fully booked, Timmerberg says. Always.

As my temporary roommate had read the book before coming to Delhi, we decided – after we had already explored the unnerving Paharganj area next to the New Delhi train station after his arrival – to venture to the «Imperial» for his departure drink.

Timmerberg gives no further advise on how to conduct oneself in the – we have to admit – truly astonishing palace. (The author drinks three Gin Tonic, then likes the receptionist behind the mahogany counter, therefore books a room, but then doesn’t describe the best corners of the lavish building further (maybe he has a headache). He only mentions his discomfort of constantly having to tip everybody.) (<- stupid guy: tipping is not necessary in India, fewest of all for the guy who twirls his mustache at the entrance)

Anyway, my roommate and I ended up spending the evening in the «1911 bar», with leather chairs, period portraiture, stained glass roof and wood panelling.

There even was a saxophonist, but he was on the other side of the huge glass window, inside the restaurant. No one was sitting there, and he was apparently not allowed to come over, as we had soothing lounge music, so he just shrugged his shoulders and left.

1911 bar

500 varieties of beverages in the «1911 bar», and no one to – exept us – to sample them

 

 

World Cup final in the Embassy

There is no publicity option the current German Embassador to India would miss out on. So when the German football team reached the World Cup finals, he opened the gates – literally.

40 minutes before kickoff, a huge crowd had assembled in front of the main entrance to the embassy. It was by invitation only, but someone must’ve sent out a lot of invitations. The head of the press department stood in the middle of it all, his nerves at breaking point, constantly exclaimed there were 80 TV camera teams already inside. Many of them going live.

Whoever was wearing a tricot, was sure to be captured.

Whoever was wearing a tricot, was sure to be captured.

Seemingly over-worked embassy staff tried to form a line out of the throng at the gate, first on the right side, then on the left side, but failed. Some of them hectically went through the printed invitation lists to tick off names, but while finding one person, twenty others had made their way past them already.

Nothing was moving really. Reason being: The ground has a double door, with a thoroughful security check in between. Only one door can be opened at a time. Normally, passport details are taken down. And mobile phones are not allowed inside.

In Germany, we call live  public screenings of football matches "public viewing" (with exactly these English words)

In Germany, we call live public screenings of football matches “public viewing” (with exactly these English words)

But that night nothing was normal. When the embassador came to the gates and saw for himself, that under no circumstances would the crowd be inside in 40 minutes, he weighed the options before him: On one hand a PR disaster, which surely would feature in all the national media, already assembled at the place, as the Germans – with the organisation skill predicate attached to them – couldn’t handle a crowd of a few hundred.

The other option included a security risk. He chose the latter and declared the doors open – while the security staff stood stunned next to him, their head shaking in disbelieve.

Kickoff was at 0.30am, so many people were hungry again after they have had dinner

Kickoff was at 0.30am, so many people were hungry again after they have had dinner

Once in, everybody was munching away the Sauerkraut and Wurstl and Berliner, while grabbing as much drinks as possible. Because during the semi-finals, the embassy ran out of beer ten minutes into the match. Only after a while they again had managed to bring boxes of non-cooled, different German brands (from god knows which cellars in the embassy or staff living close by).

To prevent this, the embassador announced on the mic we should go easy on the beer. Otherwise it wouldn’t last the whole night.

Lucky us, it did. The rest was joy.

a happy lot of South Asian Correspondents

a happy lot of South Asian Correspondents

 

Mango Orchards of Rataul

iced mangoes

As Summer is in Delhi full force, one could be really frustrated… if it weren’t for the mangoes! Everybody loves mangoes, and the best part is that Indians not only know one type of mango, but an infinite number.

There are Safeda from South India, Dussehri from Uttar Pradesh, Malda from Bengal, Sindoori from Kerala, Totapuri from Bihar, and so on, and so forth.

mango varieties

And Indians can tell you which one has season at which week, and, best of all, if they are eaten like they are, or squeezed and sucked, transformed into jams or purees, used for ice creams or smoothies, chutneys and curries, or even pickles, salads and salsas.

So when the cultural heritage tour guy Sohail announced that he planned to visit the mango orchards of Rataul in UP, we happily hopped onto the bus. The journey over the 50 kilometers to the village took us three hours, and often resembled more a joy ride in a rollercoaster than a trip on a street.

mango orchard

When we finally stepped out of the bus, we immediately wanted to get back in, even with the swinging and rocking and hopping, as it was 20 degrees hotter outside than inside. Where was the monsoon, which should be here already?

While sweating, we learnt that one ancestor of the current planter cataloguized more than 500 types of mangoes, and that most of the lovely fruits from Rataul don’t make it to the markets in Delhi. So we did what we had to do and buried our teeth in as much yellow and orange flesh as possible.

eating mangoes

After lunch we hoped for some climbing on the trees and plucking the “king of fruits” for ourselves while balancing on the brunches, but the main orchard was under water, and in the smaller one we only visited the tress where the mangoes weren’t ripe yet. So we just strolled around, until the heat drove us back to the farm.

There we collected five kilogram each in a plastic bag (I guess a more appropriate way for the Delhiites than dangling in trees for getting them) and then headed home. The sugar shock from the mangoes made us fall into some sort of slumber in the bus, and I guess many dreamt of the Khas ul Khas, Makhsoos, Zardaalu, Doodhiya Hakim-ud-Din, Anfas, Husnara, Himsagar, … .

mango dream

I could have been…

at the finishing line, still in pretty high spirits

at the finishing line, still in pretty high spirits

I could have come second, if only I had cleared all the obstacles! Today the organisers of the Devil’s Circuit published the ranking, and it turned out that only eight women managed the parcour, as compared to 133 men. A huge round of applause for these eight!

But the biggest group in this list are the ones who didn’t manage or dared to do all climbs, jums, swings, crawls, swims etc.  Me being somewhere among them…

Devil’s Circuit

true winners

Everybody got a medal… and aching muscles.

People who think marathons and triathlons are too boring, should come to the “Big Daddy of obstacle Runs”, the organisers of the “Devil’s Circuit” reasoned.

But then, the 5km long obstacle run in a dirty field at the gates of Gurgaon was quite doable. Well, at least for many. I failed on two obstacles – with the effect that now I’m even more motivated to keep up the Parkour Training… next time then!

What lay in our way: walls to scale in turns with barriers to crawl through, a series of deep earthen ditches, several narrow beams to balance over, barbed wire to crawl underneath, a rope hanging down into a waist-deep pond with a vertical, very slippery wall to climb (here I fell back into the water), a horizontal ladder to move hand over hand to get along (no chance for me there as well), a tunnel, a net with heavy ropes on top to crawl through, a six meter high, free swinging rope to climb (with knots, though), a ditch filled with water and covered by a wire mesh fence, a heavy sandsack to carry for 200 meters or so, poles to balance over, iced water to wade/swim through (here’s a video from last year).

 

For all lovers of flowers

flower's day

… because not only women are happy to get flowers on this women’s day.

Hazrat Nizamuddin

Hazrat Nizamuddin is a quarter in Delhi that is definitely different from the rest of the city. Completely moslem in it’s appearance, the main street is dominated by men grilling lamb and goat, baking bread in earthen ovens, and drinking tea.

In many of the labyrinthine alleys, street vendors sell fruits or handkerchiefs, caps, rosaries or religious posters, shops are full to the brim with Qurans or household items, beggars try to get the attention of the passerbys, and blind(ed) boys sing beautifully to get some coins.

In the middle of all the bustle lie the dargas (mausoleums) of Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 – 1325 CE) and Amir Khusrau (1253–1325 CE), as well as the graves of many other people who wanted to be buried close to the Sufi saints. Medieval archways lead to the open space which has a marble floor and beautiful old structures.

long-bearded men talking in front of the mausoleumIt’s close to impossible to pass all the flower-sellers who lovingly pester us to buy a tray of flowers, sweets, or a chadur (cloth) to offer at the dargahs. Once inside, many Sajjadah-nashins (keepers) of the mausoleum ask for money for their blessings and the maintenance of the dargahs. This also includes a daily langar (community meal) for the poor.

I had already been there a couple of times, but always missed the Qawwali, a form of devotional Sufi music, which is supposed to be played ever thursday night (but then, it often isn’t). But this time we were lucky. So we sat down and listened to the men and their instruments until late into the night.

Paan anyone?

paan

Paan, a betel leave with areca nut and lime, here served as a mouth “freshener” after a dinner at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

It took me a year and a half and some quite an amount of persuasion by visitng friends to finally try paan, India’s stimulating and psychoactive pastime. The rolled betel leaves are available at every street corner in Old Delhi, and in many other places of the city as well. Of this the brown stains on buildings and in staircases, even in government offices, bear witness to.

The huge package I then placed into my mouth was filled with the usual areca nut and lime and tobacco, and also some mukhwas and something sweet and I don’t know what else. The flavours exploded in my mouth, and made my head spin. But to be honest, after chewing for a minute or so, I spit everything out. And so I didn’t realise any longer lasting effects. Mercifully.

Parkour Training – first moves

Okay, here we go. There are two videos of some of the stuff I learnt during my Parkour lessons in Lodhi Garden.

As my instructors would say:

Fun with Diving Kong! (you need to click on it, I can’t embed the videos here without paying 60 US-Dollars)

Fun with … ehm, I forgot the name for the vault

stretching

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