At dinner last night we met our tour guide Rajeev and the other members of the group, a total of 7 in all, two Australian guys, a Canadian couple, Nina and I plus Rajeev. This morning as instructed we met in the lobby at 8:00am and then into a mini-bus for the "days events".
We learned that the hotel is in what is called New Delhi, built by the British (with Indian money) between the two world wars. This is the explanation for the wide boulevards, big round-abouts and large estates that make up the area around our hotel. As we found out early in our tour it (New Delhi) also includes India Gate, a large arch a bit like Arch de Triomphe in Paris, it is a memorial to the soldiers that died in WWI. It is also at the Eastern end of a very wide and spectacular boulevard. At the other end of the same boulevard is a massive domed structure that was the Viceroy residence during the days of Empire.
Perhaps the highlight of the mornings sightseeing was a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, one of the neighborhoods of old Delhi. Though perhaps the term "street" is a little too generous. More like narrow alleyways, sometimes less than 6 feet wide with shops on both sides of the street and lots of foot and other traffic (no cars but lots of motorcycles and hand drawn carts). The overhead scenery in these alleyways was one of electrical chaos, thick bundles of wires draped all over the place.
During the course of the afternoon we did a good deal of driving around, a good chance to experience Delhi traffic and a chance to see "life in the city". I retained my original view of the traffic, chaotic but saner than some places we have been. A strong presence of traffic police means that drivers actually stop for lights and don't drive on the sidewalks. But without a doubt the traffic is on a scale that we have not seen before. It seemed like most of the cities 17 million people were traveling somewhere.
The afternoon finished with a visit to Qutb Minar, a 73 meter tall minaret built in the 12th century by an early Mogul invader. It is quite a spectacular structure and looked particularly striking in the afternoon sun. The surrounding ruins were also very interesting with quite amazing decorative carvings on the stone work.
I know it is a cliche, but Delhi seems like a profound contrast between the wealth and majesty of past and the decay and poverty of the present.