The train rolled into Old Delhi station from Kolkata late at night, the city was dark but certainly not asleep. the platforms were still filled with blankets covered by people waiting or sleeping everywhere. Were they waiting for trains or was this their home? It was hard to tell before the army of porters harassed me, offering to carry my bike, I pointed out that it was a bike therefore inherently it didn’t really need carrying.
Maybe I should have taken their offer because my bike was incredibly toxic, it had been chained up all night in-between two carriages. I say toxic because this gap was also where the flushed toilet water backwashed by the wind from the train rushing along. I had no choice because there wasn’t any other space for it.
Catching the train in Kolkata got a bit stressful because this particular train to Delhi didn’t have the disabled space found on other trains, a space that helpfully also had room for a bike. I rode the length of the never ending 18 carriages to check both ends of the train, the luggage guards were, as usual not interested in helping me load my bike in the spacious freight compartments, maybe a bigger bribe would work. I was running out of time as I rode down the platform for a third time, this time a military policeman with his big moustache and his helmet worn high adding all the height he could to his short stocky stature, stopped me from riding. I was allowed to proceed but the train was now leaving any second and I had to find a space for my bike.
Finally I reached the carriage where Marion was saving our seats. I jumped up the steps saw the space between carriages and locked up my bike to the thick electric cable. I then retreated to the seats just as we started rolling. I was on board and so was my bike!! The train attendant wasn’t happy at all but he was also too lazy and lethargic to argue for long. Another passenger helped me chain the bike to something that wasn’t a high voltage electric cable and we were all set for the 17 hour journey!
We enjoyed free drinking water and decent food throughout the train journey and I had a comfy sleep. Finally we prepared to disembark the train in Delhi, but not before the attendant woke up and demanded a large tip. Considering the fact he had done nothing not even bothering to stand my bike up when it leant out or moved around, I didn’t tip him so he just stood in my face until we arrived.
Exiting the station in New Delhi the rickshaw riders never miss a trick and offered to give us a ride, again I pointed out I had a bike therefore another bike was not really required to carry the first bike! We passed this cycle rickshaw on the school run too!
Our booked hostel was only just around the corner: Zostel sells itself as India’s first chain of backpacker hostels. In reality it was a standard hotel with some very standard looking ‘quirky’ quotes and homogenised alternative pop art inspired pictures on the wall, pretending to be a quirky hostel is clever marketing it seems. These chain backpacker hostels exist the world over and they can occasionally be great, but in reality most are budget hotels marketing themselves to make more money and it works. Zostel didn’t just have the lamest funky hostel name it also had the most guests, including ourselves. The bike was locked up in a vaguely secure storage space in the depths of the hotel and the bedrooms were as comfortable as any other. The staff were efficient and friendly much like any other hotel.
We explored Delhi the next day searching for a large cardboard box to take Kinesis Tripster bike home in. We explored the twisting and confusing markets and tight streets of old Delhi until we stumbled upon the bike selling street. This was filled with shops selling everything: bikes for kids, for adults, then freight carrying bikes as well as rickshaws. There were rickshaws being assembled, repaired or upgraded with some mean looking super strong steel wheels. It was a fascinating place where the concept of light and fast was overtaken by heavy and incredibly strong, welding plain gauge steel was what it was all about!
We finally found a box in good shape and large enough, paying 100rupees for the pleasure. For other cyclists in Delhi the bike shop street is the Esplanade Road area just off the busy Chandni Chowk road. We set off home hoping the box wouldn’t draw attention on the metro!
We were next busy souvenir shopping and buying new clothes for our impending return home. We explored the flasher streets of New Delhi around Connaught place, a world away from our recent trip to Kolkata. Just off the central circuses or roundabouts are many government arts and craft souvenir centres, each showcasing a different region’s products.
While in Delhi we visited a couple of stunning Mausoleums, Safdarjung’s Tomb and Himayun’s Tomb. These were built on a similar scale to the Taj Mahal but far less crowded with tourists, wandering around was a fascinating and tranquil experience.
After touring the tombs we visited the Red fort, a stunning red sandstone structure near the markets of old Delhi. The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal emperor of India for nearly 200 years, until 1857. The Fort was constructed by Shah Jahan and built as the fortified palace of Shahjahanabad, capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in 1648 don’t you know!
The food in Delhi was fantastic, well until I got sick again! We ate a selection of curries, including some great South Indian Dhosas, Idli and Uttapam. We found lots of great sweet shops as usual: enjoying Kulfi (ice cream), Barfi is the normally solid white milk based sweet a bit like fudge, Gulab Juman the sponge texture sweet balls and the infinite number of other ones!
After site seeing and eating we queued and bought tickets from the Old Delhi tourist train ticket counter. I locked up the bike in the hotel basement and we packed up, headed north into the mountains of magical Uttarakhand.