INDIA, Jan. 2009

Photos © Ruud Leeuw

It had been a long standing wish of mine to visit this exotic country and finally, due to a series of circumstance, I was able to fulfil this wish.
We flew London-LHR to New Delhi with Virgin Atlantic and arrived on a misty morning.
This page shows photographs taken the day of our arrival and during the drive next morning, to Jaipur.

Click on the thumbnail images to view a larger image

Flight to India
Virgin's flight went well, on time and with a good service. I found it an advantage to arrive in broad daylight, having noticed that many airlines schedule their arrival in the late evening.

Upon arrival our first trip was to the ATM cash machine, at the airport. Rp. 5.000 made me feel rich but only for a short while. I had been unable to change Rupees outside India. For some reason I often had trouble using my VISA-card at cash machines, my bankcard ('Maestro') worked every time.


Welcome to Delhi
Clean bustransport
The first impression had a lot to do with roads-under-reconstruction and traffic which moved in all directions, honking their horns like they had something to celebrate.
Notice the 'Propeled by Clean Fuel' written on the bus: 'clean' being a relative thing obviously!

'Eco-friendly'... I felt fortunate to have a chauffeur-driven car available to me. But then I try to avoid public transport even in my own country !


Soon we found ourselves in the suburbs of New Delhi and impressions were registering inside my brain like a stroboscope flashing in front of my eyes.

Nobody uses mirrors; cars have the mirrors on the left removed or folded inside

Monkey Temple.. A traveller has every reason to pray for safety
After we had checked in, we soon found ourselves back on the streets. A driver of an auto rickshaw (I rather like the alternative name tuk-tuk better) convinced us walking around in that area had no use and he offered a ride for Rup.50 into the center of town.
The driver fired questions to us in rapid succession: "where are you from", "are you married", "do you have kids", "how long do you stay", etc. We soon found he had a hidden agenda, dropping us of at a shopping mall selling rugs. After a quick look inside, we asked him to take us to the City Centre to which he agreed but told us he had to show us a few things first (he pointed to the Monkey Temple, stopped and made us say a few praying lines as the Monkey king protects travellers..) and dropped us off at an uncle of his because that man had a new job and sold many, very nice jewelry...
Yes, we did buy something (we bargained and got a good offer), no regrets, but we then told our driver to return to the hotel: we had enough. The drive with the tuk-tuk, the traffic flowing around us in a loud, chaotic roar, a first taste of India.

Monkey Temple
A close up of a part of the Monkey Temple. We did not stop for a visit.
I was unable to find any details about this temple. Googling will find you many monkey temples in India, but I did not see this one among them.

Temples in Delhi

Merchants with their colourful products.


Homeless in Delhi, living off and in the streets
The poor, caste-bound, find a place to live literally in the streets. It is impossible to remain unmoved by this, but one has to accept it too.


Area around our hotel
I have always associated buildings in a bad condition with a 'bad neighbourhood', but it seems that most buildings here have a distinct lack of glamour or even a finishing touch.
The photo on the left was taken at the place our tuk-tuk driver took us to meet his uncle; the photo on the right was nearby our hotel (there was a convenient corner store there).

The street we found our budget hotel, the Sunstar Grand, in: 7A/17, W. E. A., Channa Market in the Karol Bagh quarter. The street is unassuming, complete with potholes, dust, loitering tuk-tuk drivers and squirrels running up the walls.

Sunstar Grand Hotel

The rooms in the Sunstar Grand were simple but adequate. We found it unnerving that the bottles with water in our room appeared sealed but in fact were not (and probably refilled, using tap water), something everybody warns you about. Tap water will get you the runs.. And this hotel played that trick with us, so we immediately felt distinctly uncomfortable here.
Fortunately we soon discovered a nearby cornerstore, which sold all we needed (water, sodas, cookies).
When we returned to this hotel, for our last night in India, we felt less uncomfortable about such discomforts. Goes to show...
Sunstar Grand Hotel Delhi

Connaught Place is only 3 kms away from the hotel, but our tuk-tuk driver could not find it apparently. According to the hotel's website the airport is only 16 kms away but we needed an hour all 3 times we undertook that journey, travelling by car.
The area in the immediate vicinity of the hotel wasn't interesting at all, but that first afternoon our sense for adventure was quickly satisfied. At the end of our vacation, we arrived in darkness, checking out the next morning. So exploration of New Delhi needs to wait until a next visit.

We left at 08:00 a.m. the next morning, the car waiting for us. We found our driver punctual the entire trip.
We soon found the city covered in a real "pea-souper"; sometimes we were only able to see some 50 meters in front of us..
Our heightened senses immediately noticed that the style of driving was as chaotic as on a clear day, with the same lack of lights, same lack of direction indicating and the same battle for advancement with blaring horns declaring right of way.
People living in the streets huddled over fires to drive the cold from the bones.
I also noticed that most people also donned a cloth around their uppermost part of their body, instead of starting the day in a warmer jacket. The reason I thought was obvious. But I was later told that it was also more practical: the remainder of the day would turn warm, rendering a warmer jacket uncomfortable, and the cloth would fit many more purposes than another jacket.



I was once told that a lot of truck traffic on the roads indicated a healthy economy and there certainly was a lot of them around.
The drivers are obviously proud of their trucks and they decorate them no end!
But they are also a danger on the roads: the trucks are often overloaded and these juggernauts take a long way to come to a stop... We also noticed they drive on the wrong side of the road if that is more convenient or required to get to their destination; and they don't bother to signal with their light or anything.
Fortunately we had an alert and considerate driver, who managed to avoid these unpleasant surprises.


Since the drivers of trucks don't check their mirrors (nobody does), all trucks have a 'Blow Horn' or similar suggestion painted in large letters on the back of their truck. It is also typical to see it finished off with some painted flowers or other decorations, which I find quite endearing!

Youths getting a ride, probably not to school, but to work.
India is one of the countries (along with the Arab states and sub-Saharan Africa) where the literacy levels are still below the threshold level of 75% (which is UNESCO's aim, 75% education for all by 2015). Sources indicate over three fourths of India's male population and above half of the female population is literate (though considerable differences exist from one state to another).
The travel agent we booked with, suggested to avoid giving in to beggars but instead add a donation of 20 euro with the booking fee; this would go to a schoolproject they were supporting. A good idea I thought (still, I could not avoid handing out a few rupees, for one sees the most abject poverty).


Someone will be at the curb waving drivers in
Vinod (on the right) and his Tata car
As we are quite used to driving 4 or 5 hours at a stretch and we were a little surprised when our driver, Vinod, pulled in at some restaurant. The rates in these restaurants, which in most cases were tourist traps, are high compared to prices in India. On par with European prices.
But a cup of coffee is nice and so is an opportunity to visit a clean bathroom. The waiter wants a tip of course and there will be a person at the bathrooms waiting for a tip too.
The fact that the driver takes a break was reassuring too; he will get a cup of Chai (Indian tea) and maybe a sandwich from the restaurant, as a reward for bringing in customers. A break will do the driver good and one has to accept there is a money-making scheme to everything one does or buy.


We passed many small towns and villages, taking the average driving speed down, but I dread the day of the highway bypasses. The countryside is not very interesting, the villages are!


The cows are a fascinating phenomenon.. They will leave their homes every morning, spend their time in the streets rummaging for food and return by nightfall. As I would do at home with a cat. Cows get food too, from people earning good karma or something.
Cattle are considered sacred in various world religions, most notably Hinduism, but also Zoroastrianism and the religions of ancient Egypt and Greece. In some regions the slaughter of cattle may be prohibited and their meat may be taboo. [Sacred Cows on Wikipedia]


Passing through small towns I was keen to note every detail: people standing around, waiting or talking to each other, market stalls, animals sitting or slowly crossing the street, many forms of transport, shops, houses in disrepair, etc.

The dresscode in the streets see a great variety.
Royalty in Rajasthan
But I also learned that my interest wasn't shared by everybody: many tourists come here for the forts and palaces, they shop for clothing, leatherware, etc. They see the squalor people live in, shut it out and restrict themselves to admiring leftovers from a rich past..
That is sad, because there is a lot of energy and happiness among these people too, and it would seem disrespectful to me to dismiss all that 'living' as hopeless poverty.

Soon I also came to the conclusion that while Rajasthan enjoyed 'a rich past', most of the Maharaja's kept their luxury very much to themselves, building forts & palaces, making trips abroad supported by a huge number of staff and living a life of decadence.
Their wealth did not go to the people, did not go to schools, was not used to improve roads or build a sewage system. It was a feudal society and it ended as late as 1972 when Indira Ghandi terminated the power of the Maharaja's.

Animals play a large role in transportation of goods.
There are donkey carts but we noticed camels are very common in Rajasthan too.
It does add to the effect one feels like a time traveller, visiting the Medieval times.

Another example of both trucks and camels waiting for a load... This time it is a load of marble that needs transporting.

Camels await a transportation assignment.

Parked as a warning perhaps?


Fortunately there are many bright colours to be seen.

Comfortable in filth, both man & beast...


The women wear brightly coloured clothes and make the blatant wretchedness bearable, easier on the eye.


I took this photo because of this content-looking cow; but every time I look at this photo I find the background contains an intriguing quantity of fascinating detail.


These photos were probably taken while driving into Jaipur, but they may as well have been taken elsewhere. The tuk-tuks do a brisk service and mobile phones are as common as in any western country.



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