10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”

’10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”‘

Wonder is a great thing.
When you embark upon a journey into the wild, or on a safari, you expect to encounter wild and wonderous things and places. You choose to dabble in the unknown. Untameable, charming, ferocious, unstoppable, beautiful, completely alien in nature, enchanting in their distance and in the depth of our misunderstanding – it’s more than just language barriers. It’s communicative, instinctual, historical, habitual, and societal contrasts ingrained deep within the very cracks of the higgledy piggledy streets and contents of the stunning architecture, pungent sewers and aromatic street food stalls alike which tumble together and simmer to the surface to serve up unique experiences and interactions and form the somehow multifunctional city of New Delhi.

 This ‘safari’, for want of a better word, has been the most daring expedition I’ve embarked on yet. People coming to ‘find themselves’ by getting unfathomably lost in an unfamiliar and almost unsettlingly diverse country as a concept in itself has led me to consider the entirety of India in terms of a wild animal that I have yet to wrap my head around and tame by establishing a firm enough grasp on it. Even just in my head. There’s just so much to it.

In an effort to portray simply the ins and outs of just how intense and incredibly humbling my first encounter with India has been so far, I’ve compiled a short list of the things which most impacted me and made me literally say ‘Wow’ (in both the good and bad ways!) as I took that first tentative step into a city more vast and untameable than even my frizzy hair after a week of camping in a field in the West of Ireland.

1. Lodi Gardens

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Talk about finding calm in the chaos. Easily the most peaceful and least crowded place I visited in Delhi, these natural gardens contrast the chaos directly outside their perimeter by boasting spotlessly clean, quiet, organised and expertly maintained pathways and flowerbeds. Seemingly a popular hangout spot for young locals and couples alike, Lodi Gardens contain some of the most beautiful plantlife and temples unspoiled by litter or the everyday madness and pollution in Delhi. Bonus points for free entry and hosting outdoor yoga sessions every Saturday and Sunday morning! #Zen

2. Cables
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Cables. Cables. Everywhere. I stopped wondering why the wifi seems to disappear whenever it rains even a little bit. Everywhere you go there are crossing wires and open sockets and fuses boasting naked electrical goods that are really just crying out for a little bit of DIY to hide their modesty! It’s the kind of thing you have to just turn a blind eye to and ignore the instinctual discomfort ingrained by years of Irish paranoia that leaving the immersion on will see you meet your end. It won’t. I promise.

3. Market Madness

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It wouldn’t be a visit to Asia without a trip to the market, and Delhi’s markets don’t disappoint! Sarojini Nagar and the Spice market were favourite of mine, but you name it, you can buy it, most likely at a hilariously injust ‘special tourist price’ that newbies regularly fall victim to – haggling is key here! Start 1/3 of the price lower and don’t be afraid to say no and walk away – 80% of the time you will be called back with a lower price!

4. Hauz Khas Village

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Central to the ‘party’ scene of modern New Delhi, this hip section of bars, cafés, and nightclubs is the place to go after dark, if you can brave the whirlwind of a tuk tuk ride there and back. Our international group of ‘mixed vegetables’ as the driver labelled us from the Madpackers’ Hostel had a brilliant night here and pushed even Indian drivers’ boundaries by piling 7 into one tuktuk on the way back ! Despite my own reservations I actually did feel able to let go and have fun – maintaining awareness in late-night situations is key though, especially for girls (has to be said!), and our ‘numbers-system’ proved effective in ensuring we stuck together at all times!

 5. I Grew it Myself

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I won’t lie here. I’ve finally realised that I can’t go to any tourist attraction in India without becoming one myself. Red hair, pale skin and freckles seem to be on the checklist of all Indian visitors to their capital city and main ‘must-see’ sights, and they are certainly not shy when it comes to asking for pictures. Besides paying the substantially lower fee for Indian visitors into all these attractions, they also get to satisfy their curiosity for pale skin and hair…I now know what it feels like to be an animal in a zoo. Funny the first few times. Gets very uncomfortable after a crowd gathers and children cry when you say no.

6. Awky Momos

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Momos are great. Everyone should try them. These ones are even vegan.

 7. Bus Station

New Delhi Bus Station at night is a raving, romping, shouting, beeping, hollering, and chaotic melting pot of humanity, the contents of which departs sporadically every 5-10 minutes for destinations all over the massive, massive country and gets replaced moments later by a new influx of bodies. The heated atmosphere added to my already heightened anxiety ahead of a 12-hour bus journey, but thankfully things cooled down as we pulled away from the hub of disgruntled passengers of all shapes and sizes clamouring to be heard over the continuos din of the incomprehensible intercom announcments. Phew. I was stressed even writing that. No picture. No time for pictures here.

8. Humayan’s Tomb and the Red Fort 

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I’ve grouped the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb together as they’re fairly standard stops to tick off on the tourist checklist. The Tomb is like a mini Taj Mahal, which is good for those who aren’t prepared to take the day trip to Agra, but fairly repetitive for those who’ve already been. Steep entry fee for tourists also put me off!

9. Taj Mahal

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This may possibly seem like an obvious one and is technically not actually in Delhi, so I thought I’d leave it til further down in the list. The Taj Mahal does what it says on the tin. Even standing a few hundred feet from it, I found it difficult to believe it wasn’t photoshopped into my line of vision and wondered how on earth such a solid piece of beauty and representation of love could actually be real. The rain didn’t help, but it made for a funny day of singing in the rain with some new friends from Madpackers (see #10), who organised a day-trip for us to Agra and back.

10. Madpackers Hostel
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I can’t possibly write about Delhi without mentioning the Madpackers Hostel! Pranav, Mayank, and the rest of the team were honestly the most welcoming and hospitable hosts for the few days I stayed there, ready to help with any queries or struggle any of their guests had in a chilled and friendly manner. Met some amazing people and it really was a brilliant start to my time in India. Best hostel I’ve stayed at in a long time! Namasté!

 

 

Day 2 – Tuk-tuk Travel is the Way to Go

From Connemara to Cambodia

Day 2 – Tuk-tuk Travel is the Way to Go

After a haze of jet-lagged and broken sleep, we were treated to a strange concoction of dinner foods that combine to create a Cambodian breakfast, topping it off with a further energy boost of coffee so sweet it could pass as hot chocolate if milk was added. The waiter didn’t seem to understand when I askedf or coffee without the added sugar, and I’m beginning to think sugar just exists in every single type of food and drink available here!

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 Myself and two other interns set out to explore the markets of central Phnom Penh after a bit of negotiating with our tuk tuk driver, as he laughed comically at the suggestion that he take us where we wanted for 4 dollars. He quickly changed his mind when we shrugged and turned to make for another driver, his laugh having a bit of an Ash Ketchem vibe to it as he straightened up and pointed at the vehicle next to him with two toy monkeys hanging on to it’s poles for dear life – something we found ourselves doing after a mere few minutes inside the tuk tuk.

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The traffic in Phnom Penh is akin to many other Asian cities – every man for himself, with little or no heed paid whatsoever to any existing rules of the road. If you want to go – you go, and hope you don’t get crossed over or knocked into by another overloaded tuk tuk or motorbike weaving it’s way through to the front of the queue. Similarly, when we disembarked and tried to cross the road to enter the market, we found ourselves pedestrian contributions to the madness as we tip-toed our way across, causing havoc and further beeping – it was easier to just make a run for it and get it overwith quickly.

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The Central Market itself is an extremely vast expanse of electrical goods, jewellery, clothes, and food with each vendor following your progress through the stalls, catching on to your every mildly interested glance at a ring or necklace that you’re not actually ever going to buy.

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‘Ten dollah? Nine Dollah??’
‘No thank you, just looking!’
‘Five dollah!!?’
“Alright then.”

It’s worth your while haggling.

As we continued on through the various stalls of fresh (and not-so-fresh) produce and streetfood, it became clear that we were among the only Westerners about at the time, as we attracted many stares and pointed fingers of semi-naked children along the street.
As we were due back to the hotel for dinner with the group, we didn’t sample any of the fried vegetables or fish being consumed by the many Cambodian families seated around the place, but the smells both attracted and disgusted us in equal measure, the tanks of live fish, squid, crabs and other mystery marine-life flailing about helplessly beside their freshly cooked brothers and sisters.

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After an hour or two we decided we had secured any necessary items for then and also managed to experience the madness of the markets, so we attempted to find our way back to where the tuk-tuk driver had left us off- instead emerging at a completely different entrance to where we’d begun and haggling down a return price with a different driver.

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I inspected my haul on our return to the hotel, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d managed to secure myself some ‘real’ Gucci sunglasses, a long patterened sun-dress (recommended for teaching), another shirt-dress, a coffee, a kilo of apples and bananas and some jack-fruit, all for under $20, and that wasn’t even including the cost of the return tuk-tuk journey!

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By the time we got back and sorted through our things, it was almost time for the welcome dinner with the rest of the group. We were served around circular tables with a revolving platform in the centre, each dish placed around it containing authentic Cambodian food, from fish and tofu soup to a chicken, peanut and spinach with a gingery sauce. The freshly cooked rice has proven to be a staple of every single meal so far, and apparantly we’re going to have to get used to it as a main source of carbohydrate during our stay here!

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Overall it was great to meet everyone for the first time, and afterwards we all proceeded to have a jam and sing song around the hotel swimming pool – the music proving a great way to make connections and put a calming end to the day before orientation started properly.

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Jack fruit!!

Day 1- Phnom Penh – From Connemara to Cambodia

Day 1 – Phnom Penh – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia

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In a far cry from wandering around Templebar in Dublin of a Thursday afternoon, I spent my first few hours alone in Phnom Penh wandering around the temples of Wat Kien Khleang, or Mongkol Serei Kien Khleang Pagoda. Partly visible from the hotel in which I’m staying for the first few nights of my orientation, the ancient temples are situated side by side to modern day constructions and oddly mismatched with the various motorbikes and cars parked around them.

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Situated about a 15-minute drive from the center of the city and overlooking the Mekong River, the compound is just off the road that leads (as I gather) out to the Koh Dach, or Silk Island, another attraction on my list.
The clearing in which the temples can be found was eerily deserted as I approached, and I found myself wondering was I supposed to be there at all, yet some reassurance from a local that it was ok to have a look around was enough to set me at ease.

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 The huge, ornate and elaborate designs are absolutely beautiful to observe, with distant chanting and clattering of local children in the distance providing a peaceful yet dynamic setting for the temples to be in, giving me the sense that they really are at the heart of the culture here.

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These stairways really envoke a sense of power as you approach and enter the buildings, asserting the temples and the Buddhist faith itself as a strong sense of physical and spiritual prowess.

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Some of the temples depict painted murals of the Buddha’s journey, and although many were faded with dust and time it was clear that they are still held in very high regard by the locals as they all sat outside or within the vicinity of the dwellings instead of remaining inside. I didn’t go inside either as I had been advised against entering any place of silence – and the entire perimeter of the place where these temples shine gave me the impression that it’s not a very frequently-visited spot by tourists – I just happen to be staying very close by!

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This is the one of the larger temples in the compound, and was occupied by a scattering of worshippers I only noticed were there after walking around the outside a few times. There were also several monks sitting alone at the tables outside, whom I recognised from their bright orange sarongs. Hopefully I will get to learn more about the monks at some point and see more of their daily lives – a few glimpses of groups of them earlier as I went through town on a tuk tuk had me extremely intrigued.

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I did have to be careful however as some local moto drivers approached me asking (or so I thought) would I like a lift into town. As I gradually understood that he meant for free and to a place with him for drinks I awkwardly laughed at the ‘misunderstanding’ and immediately started making my way back to the hotel, my first solo venture having proven successful enough, yet ultimately slightly unplanned. I was still far too jetlagged and had lost any concept of time after a 16-hour long journey, and I decided that the rest of the city could wait for further exploration at a time when I was more awake and rested.

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