Humayun’s Tomb, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib

It was a rough morning, y’all. I woke up still tired from yesterday, to the news that air pollution had hiked in Delhi back to severe levels (and indeed the view from the window was hazy and unappealing), as had the far right in the Spanish elections; this brought back unhappy memories of when Trump won while I was in Tokyo in 2016. I was this close to just saying to hell with it and staying in my room watching Netflix all day, but I snapped out of it and started on my initial plan: visiting Humayun’s Tomb, a historic mausoleum, and then Gurdwara Bangka Sahib, a Sikh temple.

I decided to go by metro, as there’s a station right next to the hotel, and as soon as I got down the stairs two different Indian guys (first one, and then another after the first left) walked up to me out of the blue to offer advice. I was wary at first, because I assume all unsolicited contact is liable to be a scam, but I realized they weren’t trying to sell me anything and were just interested in my plans. They couldn’t have been nicer, but they both thought my plan of going to Humayun’s tomb was a terrible idea because it would be closed: one said because of a strike and the other because it was Monday. They both suggested that I should go to the center, to Connaught Place, because it was newer and had shops and restaurants, and they both discouraged me from using the metro, saying instead that I should just take a rickshaw to go direct. I was surprised that two separate strangers (again, they walked into me at separate times) would be so in sync, but they never tried to plug a rickshaw driver friend or anything, and left without pressing me on whether I was going to follow their advice or not.

Now… Ordinarily, sincere local advice is extremely valuable, but you also have to trust your instincts. One of the guys had seen me take off my mask and opened with “Oh, but there’s no pollution today! That was last week” when I knew for a fact the levels had spiked back above 300, and as for it being Monday I’d verified that museums all close but the mausoleums remain open. As for taking the metro… this gave me more anxiety than all the rickshaw touts from the street, because at least I know I can ignore them!

(The younger guy told me that I have to go to Pushkar, because apparently the famous camel fair is now? I’d seen videos of it and indeed it’s quite famous but I don’t think that’s my vibe. I told him I was going to Agra next. “Ah, great, the Taj Mahal! How are you going?” “By train,” I said. “The train will be late” he affirmed, chipper.)

After much thinking, I went with my gut, and quietly hoped that the metro would work correctly, that I would find the tomb afterwards, and that it would be open.

(Spoilers: I was right on all counts. Boom!)

First off: big fan of the Delhi metro. I haven’t seen it at rush hour, but off-peak it’s spacious, clean, and modern; for one thing, the stations and the trains themselves are all pleasantly air-conditioned, which is more than you can say about the Paris metro, and the trains have sockets to charge your phone (!). There are trains every two minutes, and I noticed plenty of women travelling alone, so it didn’t feel unsafe. You can buy a smart card or a day pass, but it was cheaper for me to buy a single ticket, which cost 30 rupees (just €0.38!). And the only time anybody bothered me during any of my rides today was when I noticed a man tapping me on the back -but I turned to find out it was an older gentleman trying to tell me that a seat had emptied so I could sit down! So nice!

The metro took me to JLN Stadium station, from where Google Maps said would be a 20 minute walk to Humayun’s Tomb. I think it’s shorter than that, but it’s a difficult walk because you have to cross several segments of a massive, multi-lane highway full of cars, which is not as easy as a single road of slow scooters. I was feeling a bit antsy about crossing when I saw a group of teenage girls, all wearing saris, merrily starting to cross so I took my chance and shamelessly tailed them all the way to the other side, weaving in and out of traffic. Success!

So, finally, I made it to the tomb. The entrance is completely unassuming, just a sign next to a construction fence, which I followed to a small ticket booth. I shelled out 600 rupees (€7.60) a. It unsure of what I was going to find inside. Thankfully, once inside I could see that it was all worth it.

The site is in fact not just for the tomb, but an entire complex with gardens and several ancient mausoleums and mosques. I walked through a couple of ornate gates built with the same red sandstone as the Red Fort, down a long lane past several other tombs (I decided to leave them for later) and as I approached another archway I found myself staring right ahead at the magnificent tomb.

Humayun’s Tomb is in fact older than the Taj Mahal -by only a decade- and its Persian design is reminiscent of it, with the main difference being the red sandstone instead of white marble. It also rests atop a large platform, so it stands even taller over its surroundings.

Here, finally, there were lots of foreigners, even though in all the metro rides I’m always the only one in the entire train. I guess they all take cabs everywhere?

Anyway, even though it was busy, it wasn’t uncomfortable, and if I wanted to take a picture without people in it I could generally wait a minute for a group to pass. I walked up to the platform, all around the mausoleum, and then inside, because it is hollow and you can see the white marble tomb in the center of a dome, with other tombs in adjacent rooms.

I explored the other buildings in the park, including an ancient mosque, and a striking octagonal house. It was sunny at around noon, but looking at the distance you could still see the haze, which unfortunately lessens the impact of some of the pictures.

Eventually I saw it all and retraced my steps back to the metro station -this time it felt closer to 10 minutes, because my Southeast Asian Crossing Training had kicked back in and crossing all those roads was a breeze!

I took the metro back up to Connaught Place, as I wanted to try out a restaurant recommended in my Lonely Planet guide: Saravana Bhavan. I walked right past it the first time, because Connaught Place is a nightmare to navigate: it’s like two circular streets surrounding a park or a square or something with an enormous Indian flag in the centre, and the circles are crossed by radial streets, except each and every single one of those is a massive road with crazy traffic so each time you want to cross from a slice of the pie to another you have to take an underground tunnel and hope you come out of the right exit! Plus, it was absolutely teeming with people coming and going and touts selling trinkets.

Eventually I found the restaurant, which I noticed was frequented all by locals… and me. The good news is, they do have an English menu; the bad news is, all of the ingredient names are in hindi, soooo well done everyone. Anyway, the restaurant is South Indian, so I knew I like the cuisine (it’s more aromatic and fragrant than North Indian, which is more spicy), and it’s vegetarian, so I knew there couldn’t be anything too gross in it, so I ordered the lunch thali, which seemed like a staple. For your reference, according to the super useful English menu, it included Sweet (sweet what?!), kadappa, koottu, poniyal, pachadi, sambar, rasam, rice (this one I get), kozhambu, appalam, and poori. So, um, fingers crossed!

Tada! A thali, by the way, is this plate with many little bowls of different curries. It came with three pieces of poori bread (no disrespect to naan, but poori is also yummy) and rice, to eat with the curries. Because most of the bowls were sauces -only two or three had pieces of vegetables inside- I initially though it wasn’t that much food, but I quickly realized my mistake when I began feeling quite full and I wasn’t even halfway through. I finished the bread and most of the rice, and it still didn’t look like I made a dent in the curry. That cost 250 rupees (€3)!

For the afternoon plan, I walked another 5 or 10 minutes to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi’s most famous Sikh temple. When I arrived, it was packed with people, as it’s some kind of holiday and they were playing music and leading prayers.

In Sikh temples, everyone must cover their head, not just women; they have a rack of scarves for this effect, but I wasn’t thrilled about putting a communal scarf on my head so I’d brought my own. They also make you remove your shoes *and* socks, which I’m also not thrilled about, but there’s no two ways about this one. At least you can wash your feet before and after.

The temple is immaculate white on the outside, although decorated with marigold-colored banners, with checkered marble floors. The hall inside, on the contrary, was covered in gold and all sorts of colorful decorations, and there were three musicians inside playing traditional music on the drums and a keyboard.

Surprisingly, right next to the temple there’s a pond, so large it’s almost an artificial lake, which is apparently holy water and is used by people to either purify themselves or seek blessing. Photography was forbidden beyond the stairs, so I took this picture and then took a walk all around the water. All those arches you see hold stalls selling souvenirs and Sikh books.

By now it was about four, and the thought crossed my mind of going back to Connaught Place, because the guide mentioned a superb ice cream parlor and you know I looove ice cream… But I would have to cross all of Connaught Place, and I don’t even know how that works in that nightmare of a rotunda, so in the end I left for the metro and back to the hotel.

I leave for Agra tomorrow, but I have one more day in Delhi at the end of my trip, so I will for sure come back for that ice cream!!

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