After the peace and quiet of the Himalayas, we were very reluctant to head back onto the Indian Plains. We broke up the trip to the capital by stopping in Chandigarh, home to great Le Corbusier architecture and, as it turned out, the largest recycling program in the world.
A Pakistani-turned-Indian started using building rubble to create sculptures and structures in the forest outside the city in the late 1950's without anyone knowing about it. After more than 15 years it was accidentally discovered by the government who were so impressed that they started paying him a salary and gave him a staff of 50 people to build a fantasy world out of discarded tiles, pipes, rock, bangles, wires, or anything else that most people would deem useless. It has turned into the second most visited tourist attraction in India (after the Taj Mahal of course!). Ingenious, beautiful and environmentally friendly - gotta loveit!
Having pre-arranged super accommodation and local tour guides (thanks to Kanika and Anil) we thought that Delhi would be a breeze. But we should've known better by now! We were up early and trying to pack in as much as possible in the 3 days we had before our flight out. From Lotus Temple to Humayun's Tomb, Mosques, Akshardham Temple with the Indian Culture museum (which throws in an alternative history lesson or two!) and of course the legendary Mahatma Gandhi's memorial garden and museum. And then after all the running around, we headed back to a home-cooked meal each night!
The Gandhi museum was fascinating: I don't remember much from high school history, but most of the things in the photographs and documents displayed of Gandhi's time in South Africa were unknown to me. There are so many things that remain to be discovered in our country - I can't wait!
On the morning of our departure, we did some last minute sightseeing, and of course, stopped by the new Christian Dior boutique on Nelson Mandela drive. I couldn't resist seeing the site a few days before opening - unfortunately none of my old colleagues were there, but well done guys, it looks great!
As we close the Indian chapter and head on to the third leg of our journey, we are trying to come to some sort of conclusion about the country. We have spent only a month here and only in the northern part of the country so we are by no means experts! It is a fascinating place with incredible diversity in architecture, customs, cultures and landscape. The food is FANTASTIC- we decided to go vegetarian during the month there (we almost made it too - only on the 3rd last night were we tempted with a chicken masala). Even though we developed our firm favourites and kept ordering them, every single time the dish was unique because every region adds their own special touch. It is very affordable, not only for daily expenses but also for buying locally produced crafts and of course carpets.
But India is not an easy travel destination - especially not as a backpacker trying to steer clear from organized tours and the clinical safety of expensive hotels. Communication can be impossible at times; the transport system, although very well connected, can break your spirit in the heat of the day with no aircon, no idea what's going on and way too many people bumping up against you. The accommodation ranges from very cheap to super luxury, but sometimes you get really dodgy and dirty holes for the same price as beautiful havelis. This is a country of contrasts and enigmas, rich history and extreme poverty, translucent marble and the brightest saris, mystics and yogis, devout religious and at times a brutal lack of compassion for people and animals. We leave with more questions than what we came with, but we are certainly intrigued, and India will see us again someday.