India – Delhi (part 1)

I have just been to the Indian subcontinent on a 2 week trip to take in many of the world renown cultural and historical sites that are spread around. I was extraordinarily lucky in that Covid 19 only affected the later part of my trip in Goa and Mumbai. I am now home having got what was perhaps one of the last planes out of India before they started to shut everything down.

I flew into Delhi to start my exploration. Our hotel was a heritage hotel (there called Haveli’s like ours was) in the centre of Old Delhi. Inside there was many pictures of the renovations that had taken place to turn the building from a wreck to the stunning place that it now was. Your greeted by refreshments, the red dot is applied to your forehead as a welcome and as a precaution due to Covid 19 you have your temperature taken. Then you have the forms and after being handed your key left to your own devices as the restaurant timings have already been explained to you. For yours and there entertainment in the evenings they fly kites which you can see being demonstrated on the roof at sunset. They also do pigeon racing which is explained to you. From the roof I got an excellent view of the city sprawl.

Later in the evening they have traditional music Life in Delhi is loud as you soon learn. The often repeated phrase, “In India you need 3 things, Good horn, good brakes and good luck.” is understood pretty quickly. On the back of every vehicle it says Horn Please! or Horn not OK to indicate the drivers preference. The streets of Delhi are narrow so walking is an art form as you have to dodge all many of transportation and people selling to you on the street. The roads are congested and there is no such thing as a bus stop or bus station. You just get on or off the bus at a traffic intersection. Pedestrians have little fear of death here as at every junction you will get children miming they want food for there younger siblings, people trying to sell you trinkets or most surprisingly lady boys trying to advertise there services. I didn’t think you would get groups of men dressed in Saris walking the streets. The guide told us that frequently European men who have had too much to drink can’t tell the difference until much later and then they have to pay to quickly get rid of them so it most be a thriving trade.

I visited a Sikh temple (there are approx 10 across Delhi), while I was there and you have to keep your elbows and knees covered as well as your head. This applies to men as well as women so they sell coverings just for this purpose. Alternatively bring a scarf like I did. You have to be barefoot as well but there is water later on to clean the dust away. You can’t take pictures of the insides of the temple but its marvellous.

I found the kitchens amazing in that they cook for hundreds of thousands of on daily basis. The poor of the region get there 3 daily meals for free as well as being able to spend as much time there in quiet contemplation as they liked since there were no set services. You can volunteer to cook there as my mum did and its open to all regardless of colour, creed, race, heritage, religion, age, wealth. The rich sit with the poor cross legged on the floor eating the same food but its funded only by those that can afford to contribute. They feed you until you are full and Indian food is surprisingly filling, allowing you to take your leftovers home with you as its like the Indian Welfare State they are providing here. There were several sittings a day and it was never empty. They never ran out of food and only rested for a couple of hours at night to make sure that they could complete there never ending duty once again the next day. We didn’t eat there as we didn’t have time to wait but the goodness of these people is astonishing.

Talking of kindness we visited the Mohandas Gandhi memorial gardens and they have a flame there that is tended so that it never comes out. Mahatma is a title that is given to Gandhi to show reverence to all that he achieved for India peacefully. Its lovely and peaceful which is a complete contrast to the bustling metropolis that is New Delhi. They are side by side with Old Delhi also being referred to as Shahjahanabad. This is because the city was found by Shah Jahan. He was a Muslim so the city has abad appended onto the end to indicate that its not only his city but an Islamic one too. If it was Hindi it would be pur on the end like Jaipur which I will talk about later.

We also visited Humanyun’s tomb which is a magnificent building in the Taj Mahal (Crown palace) style. This is a striking contrast to the rest of the buildings that people live in on a daily basis. The mughuls that lived there are descended from the Mongolians and its where we get the phrase media mogul from to indicate how much wealth someone has accumulated. The palaces are full of marble and inlaid with precious stones. They have gardens and fountains to replicate the heavens as the word paradise comes from a walled garden. They had more wealth than the average person could gain in a thousand lifetimes as the average life time income after 50 years was £2.

Chandri Chowk is a street that you will pass by often if you are exploring the historical district and it means Moonlight street. This is connected with the daughter of the ruler at the time. There were 5 Shahs that you will hear about when you are driving between the different attractions and if your guide is anything like mine was, it will be information overload. I loved hearing all the history and the word origins as I’m a bit of a word nut as you may know.

There are many temples (Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist etc) in Delhi as you might have guessed and as we were walking about we came across a Jain temple. These are strict vegetarians and have rather odd rituals for their priests during celebrations. They are in fact not allowed to wear a stitch of clothing and therefore the family surround them so that nobody is embarrassed by this. This parade happens from the temple to the family home so it can go on for quite a while. Luckily I didn’t see this but I was reliably informed by my guide who was turning out to be extremely well informed on everything to do with Delhi’s monuments and history.

We passed by the India Gate which was built by Edward Lutyens (who also designed the gardens in Sandwich, UK amongst many other things). He also designed many buildings in Delhi which were beloved by William Dalrymple but sadly are gone now. I read some pages of an amazing book by him (A City of Djinns) provided by the hotel but I didn’t get very far and it didn’t seem right to take it with me. I wouldn’t have had time to read it much anyway as the time was so packed with places to see. I got to read more about the East India Company later in a hotel magazine in an article written by him.

The Red Fort that acted as barracks for the soldiers in Delhi has apparently been hollowed out by previous occupants so we saw the one in Agra which is amazing. More on that later as the next stop is Agra which is home of the Taj Mahal!

Best wishes

Angela

 

Prague

Prague
Prague

The city is absolutely covered in fabulous buildings leading to it being a world UNESCO heritage site so you may be tempted to photograph every single building!

  • This is also a very cultural city which has a 9 museum pass amongst many others that are available which includes
    • National Museum,
      New National Museum
      Museum of Asian, African, American Art
      Antonio Dvorak (composer) Museum (didn’t visit)
      Bedrich Smetana (composer) Museum etc (didn’t visit)
  • to allow you to save even more money in this fairly cheap city. I only found out about on my last day overhearing some other English people who had also just discovered it. They had been to the zoo, the castle, the sex machines museum and the mini golf.
  • There is a big push after spending so much time being ruled by the Austrian Hungarian empire and then the communists to assert a Czech culture. The country has only existed for 30 years and you can watch many videos in the passage between the National Museum and the New National Museum as well as inside them.

    The Astronomical Clock Tower is well renown as being a sight to see but unless you catch it on the hour you miss a lot of its beauty like we did. For a view over the city you can go into the Old Town Hall all the way up to the Tower but we didn’t feel like paying for that so we just climbed up to the third floor.

    The Powder Tower is another place you can enter but I don’t think it’s possible in winter. The Municipal Building next door houses an art exhibition too but it wasn’t modern enough for hubby to want to go look at it.

    The Museum of Miniatures is a place we looked high and low for but it’s not where Google says it is so we consoled ourselves with the Strahov Monastery at the top of the hill.

    St Vilnius Cathedral
    St Vilnius Cathedral

    I went to the Castle as many others do but it’s quite a walk up the hill and if you pay to go up the tower it’s even more exercise as it’s 287 steps! Unfortunately all of the parts of the castle require you to pay to go in and since they mainly contain 15th century art we didn’t want to look at them. We had already been to the Borek Sipek Glass Museum in the bottom of the Dancing House so we knew the style of the renovated interior decor. You can instead look inside the St Vilnius Cathedral and marvel at the multicoloured windows Stained glass window

    Stained glass window

    The oldest bridge Charles Bridge is nearby as is the John Lennon wall notable for its peace protests similar in nature to the Berlin Wall.Vltava river

    Vltava river

    The oldest street in Prague, Celestna which is just before the Central Art Museum, Town Hall and clock contains a brewery which we went to of course, the Chocolate Museum, Steel Creatures Museum and Czech Cubist Museum. I wanted to go to the Cubist museum as well as the Franz Kafka museum and the Communist museum to compare that with Berlin but you have to make compromises based on your shared interests, energy levels and time.Prague at night

    Prague at night

    If you like unusual art visit the Kampa Island Museum which has exhibitions by local artists. These are quite mind bending in what they cover and this seems to be a style of Czech art. There are also installations all around the city by a local artist which include Sigmund Freud hanging from a street side which many people think is a suicide waiting to happen.The wide variety of alcohol available here

    The wide variety of alcohol available here

    Talking of Freud you can visit the Sex Machines Museum but we didn’t think it was worth entering as every museum is a paid ticket.

    There is lots of illusion based museums in Prague but I believe the best one is the Museum of the Senses. This is suitable for children and is based on optical illusions and other tricks of the eye like perspective changes. It’s very hands on with lots of puzzles to solve.Museum of Senses

    Museum of Senses

    When I went to the Central Museum I was able to learn about Salvador Dali and (Andrew Warhola) – Andy Warhol. These were both very famous artists in there time even though Dali was Spanish and Warhol was born in the United States to CzechSlovak parents later on found out to be Carpathian.

    This means that the city also claims a link to Steve Jobs with the Apple Museum through Steve Wosniak. I didn’t manage to visit this one though as there is only so many art galleries and museums you can take in at once.

    I visited the Wow Black Light Theatre show to see a style of theatre unique to Prague. This is suitable for children and since it’s practically language free suitable for all regardless of your linguistic background. It is like going to a neon ballet as it’s told through music, sounds, interpretive dance, costume and sets. It is also interactive too so watch out for the smoke, snow, bubbles, balls and Spiders!

    Another treat for children is to take them to a puppet show as there quite a speciality here but we didn’t feel like indulging in that. Failing that take them to the Lego museum Museum of Steel Creatures, or buy them a chimney cake with ice cream inside.

    In the Museum of Asian, African and American Art it’s Czech founder realised that if you saved a language you saved a culture. Therefore he endeavored along with his contemporaries to get people speaking Czech, to write Czech and to perform using the language.Greek, Czech and English description

    Greek, Czech and English description

    Greek, Czech and English exhibit description

    Greek, Czech and English exhibit description
    Greek, Czech and English museum description

    In the New National Museum there is an exhibition of playbills over the years documenting the change that took place from being based in the German style and just translated into Czech to original works and eventually newer styles as they became available.

    Most of the identity of the Czech people was previously co opted from Germany due to its proximity. So the cuisine is very Bavarian in style. It’s not what I like pork knuckle/knee, sauerkraut and dumplings but they love it so much you get 3 different types in a meal. I avoided it as much as possible as even pork scratchings are completely different here.Beer and espresso martini

    Beer and espresso martini

    The Czechs are not really into craft beer so when you go to places you quite often get very limited choices like you used to in the UK. Mostly you will come across a light beer which I often didn’t think much of but which is much better than the UK version proving Pilsner Urquell/Starpromen doesn’t travel well, dark which were quite tasty, an unfiltered light which was hazy and a mixed or half and half. This was a unique style where they pour in half of the light without the big head that they usually make from the fast pouring style and then half a dark. I didn’t try it but I’m told it’s good and my hubby had 3 one after the other so can’t be that bad.Huge beer glasses

    Huge beer glasses

    We didn’t manage to go to the beer museum surprisingly but we did go to the Monastery by the castle which has the best beer and on a different day to U Fleku which is the oldest brewery. This last one is a bit of a tourist trap because apart from the fact they just hand you out one type of beer or you get introduced to Czech spirits which are like fire water there isn’t much going on. They are Becherovka which is either herbal or there is a cinnamon variety and Slivovice (Plum Brandy). In another pub nearby we tried a variety of beers not found elsewhere like Banana, Nettle, Sour Cherry, coffee and a dessert beer.Flavoured beers

    Flavoured beers

    If you like a cocktail you can visit Crazy Daisy’s which is done in an 18th century style with fancy cocktails and bar equipment but they haven’t quite worked out there concept yet as they want to be all things to all people. An 18th century cocktail bar/club isn’t really a possibility.Espresso martini

    Espresso martini

    We also went to The Alchemists bar (not the museum by the castle) which holds a competition to win about $4k if you get all 12 of the keys from around the city and solve the riddle within 24 hours. Nobody has solved it yet as you need to drink to get the keys so teams are required and since you pick a card you may get the same one.An alchemist cocktail

    An alchemist cocktail

    With such a packed schedule we didn’t get time to shop for crystal or glass which is a famous Czech product, to visit the parks, radio tower, take a river cruise or go north of the river to places like the zoo.The Vltava at night

    The Vltava at night

    One thing to beware of though is that weed is not legal even though you will see it in many shops and in many forms. This is CBD not THC so won’t get you high and may not even contain anything worth spending your money on. The shopkeeper will smile at you if you look interested in it thinking stupid naive tourist. There more than happy to take your money for what is essentially tourist tat.

    It’s also odd that I didn’t hear that much Czech being spoken but I think that’s probably down to the fact that my ear was not accustomed to the sounds of the language. I learnt one word on the first evening I was here dik we (Thankyou) which the hotel waitress told us when we asked and then no more. I heard what seemed like Russian far more from tourists and even occasionally shop keepers. I heard German and French too.

    I didn’t find Czech people particularly welcoming or friendly but then I couldn’t converse with them in anything but English so that’s always a barrier. English is usually the language of money not the heart even though English is not in itself a language known for its warmth. Neither are English people so I guess it shows how German we really are as that’s our origins too.

    Michael Pollen – Cooked

    He is a famous author and chef who has written several books on the history of food that are on Blinkist and I’m working my way through them. He also has a four part series on NetflixCooked after the title of his book that it follows. The episodes deal with the effects of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. It comes as no surprise that he has worked closely with Samin Nosrat on her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook. He taught her how to write while she taught him how to cook.

    In Fire he ventures around America looking for the secrets to bbq and grilled meats. He compares traditional methods to the ones used to industry. He goes in for the science and analyses the proteins present in meat with the transformation they undergo when being cooked – denaturalisation. He also indulges in some male bonding too while learning the secrets of southern cooking in addition to the history which is rooted in slave culture.

    In Water he looks into the changes that have taken place in the American food industry since the 1950’s. He also tackles the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. I’m shocked to find that there is no longer an adult onset diabetes as type 2 used to be called. It’s now often found in children. This is directly linked to the fact we spend less time the kitchen and more time working. Even in India, one of the poorest countries in the world, you can’t live off one income and processed food is becoming the norm.

    In Air he looks at the importance of bread to the daily diet in Morocco. He gets political about what happens when the price of bread rises too much; and how these conflicts cause shortages all over the world. Due mostly to over reliance on imports from bad harvests because of changing climatic conditions. He also gets scientific examining the role that gluten performs and why it’s so difficult to get a good gluten free loaf.

    In Earth he examines the process of fermentation. Here he discovers that cacao beans are first fermented for a week before they are dried and then turned into chocolate etc. I didn’t know it was necessary to do this because the raw beans are so bitter as to be unpalatable. If you’ve ever eaten cooking chocolate you might know this taste. In contrast to chocolate, cheese is a another food that undergoes fermentation that we all know about. Here still there are more secrets to be discovered by looking into the science of the rind on cheeses. He also experiments by making his own beer to continue on from when he learnt to make bread.

    I have found this series fascinating to watch to realise that there is a lot to learn from traditional methods of cooking that we can’t replicate in our modern high tech kitchens. The culture of disgust in relation to the French appreciation of stinky cheese is an amazing topic to have a discussion on. Our overuse of antibacterial sprays to clean with and antibiotics to cure to disease is causing a backlash in the health of our gut biome which is only just starting to be looked into seriously. I liked the anthropological look into ancient cultures and how they would pickle vegetables to get through the winter which is why vegans need to eat kimchi etc to remain healthy. Its a source of b vitamins and even vitamin c.

    Best wishes

    Angela