New Delhi, India | Day 23 | India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb
When I travel, I get braver slowly.
It’s laughable how foreign Galway, Ireland first felt upon arrival when I traveled there two years ago. But after returning to the Emerald Isle after months in Europe proper I had to sit myself down and ask myself what I was initially intimidated by. Everyone in Ireland speaks ENGLISH (comprehension not guaranteed, but the baseline language remains my own) and Galway doesn’t exactly make headlines as a menacing city. Still, I realized that I have a fairly distinct pattern for warming up slowly to the lack of jeopardy of a place.
The line of ‘How safe I actually am’ might need to be ratcheted down a bit for India and a few of the other numbers may be a little skewed, but the pattern remained the same. And so, by Day 23 of the India travels, I was ready to do a solo excursion into the wilds of New Delhi.
Because New Delhi is where Vandana’s family lives, it was home base between all the other jaunts ’round the country. Her family members expressed an extreme lack of interest in any of the sights of Delhi but I didn’t want to miss out on any major attractions because I was too lazy or timid or lazy to venture out on my own. And so, feeling bold (a mere three weeks into the travels) decided that the proper approach was a Hop On Hop Off (referred to as a HoHo) bus tour to facilitate my newfound sense of autonomy.
Even with that my ambitions were relatively low. I figured if I made it to India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb, I could call the New Delhi sight-seeing a success.
Samaira and Suhana, Vandana’s nieces, aged 9 and 7, scoffed at India Gate. “So boring,” they said. But I was pretty into it. Among other things, it was the first place I’d been other than Hampi where there was actually room to roam. Crowded, perhaps. Packed full of vendors with street snacks, ice cream carts, tourists and elephant rides, yes. But it was also expanses of avenues and open grassy areas and I could WANDER. And eat ice cream sandwiches. Multiple ice creams sandwiches. Because when there are literally dozens upon dozens of ice cream carts, you don’t have to feel shame for repeat visits; you simply spread the wealth. WELL PLAYED, INDIA. Please take all my money in exchange for ice cream.
After India Gate, I wound up on the bus for an hour or two. That was probably not strictly necessary but it was low-pressure and I could press my face to the glass and watch the city roll by.
I got off at Humayun’s Tomb. As a quick aside, India (Hindi) often makes me feel verbally dyslexic. I have had to google Humayun’s Tomb literally every time I try to spell it. My little American brain does not lock down the letter / pronunciation combination of that place very well. Hiyuman, Hamayuman, Huyamun, Swimmy, Swammy, Slappy, Swanson… SAMSONITE. I was way off… (Dumb and Dumber #facepalm)
A miniature bit of India trivia is that there are always two lines to get into historical places. This might even fall under the category of Travel Protip. Foreigners (THAT’S ME) have an entirely different line than nationals. And that line is always short. And that line always costs approximately 2500% more than the other line. Normally that percentage would be a massively inflated number for dramatic effect but in this case it is cold hard facts. 500 rupees for the foreigners to visit Humayun’s Tomb. 20 rupees for the nationals. At least I’m helping fund more than just the ice cream stands.
This is important to know for another reason I noticed in my travels. Tour guides will try to sell you on the fact that they can ‘help you skip the lines’ at busy attractions. This is complete nonsense because all they’re doing is hoping you don’t realize that as a foreigner you get to ‘skip the line’ anyway by going straight to the foreigner line. The ratio of foreigners to nationals in every place I visited in India was approximately 1:100. Very sneaky, would-be tour guide. Luckily I have a deep aversion to being taught anything historical about a place for 200 additional rupees and thus, through a combination of deliberate ignorance and parsimoniousness, inadvertently avoided all of that.
This picture below is, at last, Humayun’s Tomb. (All previous ones are auxiliary tombs on the grounds.) Humayun’s Tomb was least partially the inspiration behind the design of the Taj Mahal and because it is the tomb of a king, it is the masculine representation. It has four gates, one for each of the four winds. The fascinating difference between this and the much grander Taj Mahal is that the Taj Mahal, being the tomb of a queen, is the female representation and only has three gates that lead in. This is because the female is considered the embodiment of paradise and there could be nothing greater on the far side of paradise. For a country not traditionally known for their treatment of women, I do appreciate that particular sentiment.
(I have to tell you all this about the Taj Mahal now because when I do finally write about my experience there, I promise you I will be so focused on the confusing mix of traumatization and awe I experienced that I might forget interesting historical tidbits.)
^ This photo brought to you by travel camaraderie. When you meet the other white girl wandering around Humayun’s Tomb and find out she’s from D.C., you team up, take pics of each other, swap travel stories, and stop just shy of trying to be her best friend forever.
And with that the HoHo tour bus expanded my previously established New Delhi safety zone. Before the day’s brave lone foray it had included the rather eclectic subset of Vandana’s parent’s house, the enclave immediately outside Vandana’s parent’s house, Kahn market, The National Gallery of Modern Art, Indira Gandhi International Airport, and most Uber rides.
Which brings us to : Guess what! There are only three official India trip posts left to go! Two from Bhutan, then the Taj Mahal (truly the grand finale of my time in India), and that’s a wrap! And then we can go back to my regularly scheduled life of eating an impressive amount of breakfast food in Bozeman, Montana and grousing about snow in April.