Thursday, April 3, 2008

All-Delhi Tour - Golden Triangle 2

First stop, on Sanjay’s All Delhi Tour, is Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world. Lady Snowdon goes into clicking frenzy. “She very like the photos,” says Sanjay, informatively. He points to the inscription round an archway. It looks uniform, but it’s larger at the top than the bottom, to give the illusion of uniformity, when viewed from below. Very clever. I ask him what it says. Sanjay looks at it, points, sucks in a breath to speak, nods, then points again. He closes his mouth. “I don’t know,” he says, finally. “This Persian language.”
Mr Roland’s very taken with the Iron Pillar in the Qutb complex, but to be honest, it’s just a pole made of iron, even if it is sixteen centuries old. Metallurgy doesn’t do it, for me. I’m more interested in the flock of parrots swooping up and under the ruined arches, or the laughing boys playing tag, in and out of the reach of the lawn-sprinklers, shouting, “Hello! How are you?” as we teeter along the wet path.
In the car-park, there are rest-rooms (polite Indian euphemism for toilets, although there’s nothing polite about their usage), and, if you still feel your personal valeting to be inadequate, there’s the Ear-Cleaner. He sits cross-legged on his stool, a magnifying glass strapped to his forehead, bearing down on his client with a small pointed stick, all for a fistful of rupees. It’s hard not to stare, but too intimate to watch. Not to be outdone in Customer Care, Sanjay issues face-wipes and cold drinks from the back of his car, and carefully stashes all the packets and empties in a little well between the front seats. Refreshed, within and without, we head off for our second World Heritage Site of the afternoon, the inspiration of the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb.
This is a mausoleum, but, since the Emperor Humayun has been dead for four and a half centuries, it’s not a sad place to be. Peacocks drift about on the lawn (Lady Snowdon - “Make it come this way...” What’s peacock for “Here, boy!”?) and the water courses are in action again in the gardens, thanks to a backhander from the Aga Khan, a couple of years ago. A long crocodile of Muslim schoolboys, in white pyjamas and skull-caps, heads for the gate. We want to take a photo, but their teacher looks like someone you wouldn’t want to cross, so we have to content ourselves with looking, and they, equally curious, are watching us, watching them.
In the car-park, Sanjay’s bristling with more bottled water and baby-wipes. We see the debris from our last refreshment, chucked under the car, though Sanjay’s meticulous in collecting this lot. Where’s Tidyman, when you want him?
When we have said enough nice things about the presidential palace (“You like this building?”), we drive on to India Gate, as night falls. It’s like the Arc de Triomphe, only the street vendors aren’t touting anything lewd, so you know it’s not Paris. What they are touting, though, is little flick-off-a-stick fluorescent helicopters, which snags Mr Roland’s attention for a minute. Once he’s fathomed the technology, he loses interest. The boy salesman leaps in front of charging tuk-tuks to retrieve the demonstration model, but no sale.
No sale, either, at the mini-market, Sanjay’s last diversion before home. We say, no, but he takes us anyway. “Just five minute.... Ten minute.” He’s patently on commission for luring in gormless tourists, with more rupees than street-wisdom, but, more than a sari, or a kelim, or a sitar, or even an elephant-in-an-elephant, we want our dinner. There’s something about spending all afternoon traipsing around tombstones that stirs the appetite. I think we’ll have Indian, tonight.