A Day in Delhi

I had one more full day in Delhi, so I decided to see some of the city’s sights. First on my list was a visit the National Railway Museum. Ironically, there is no railway station close to the museum, so I had to catch a bus. Google Maps informed me that I could catch bus 781 from the bus station at Gate 2 of New Delhi Railway Station. This bus would drop me within a few blocks of museum.

I found the bus terminal between the railway station and the metro station. It was gridlocked with buses and there were no signs to indicate where each bus route departed from, so I wandered around the crowded interchange until I found a route 781 bus. Actually, I found two route 781 buses, both with their engines turned off. I wondered which one to get on, and noticed that one of the buses had people already aboard and the other was empty. I found a seat and waited for a Driver to appear.

Just before departure time, our Driver and conductor appeared, the bus stuttered and belched into life and we pulled out of the bus bay right on time. We traveled for about 1 bus length, then stopped in the gridlock of people, cars, taxis, hand carts, rickshaws and buses. We inched forward, taking 7 minutes to move another bus length. Eventually, with much horn blowing and asserting our superior size, the Driver navigated our bus out of the bus station.

Free of the bus station’s choke-hold, we charged through the streets at breakneck speed, stopping regularly as we passed through Connaught Place (Rajiv Chowk), then past Parliament house before entering into the clean, leafy streets of the Diplomatic Enclave. My stop approached, and to my despair, the Driver went straight through. I yelled out to him, and the bus swerved to the curb. The conductor gave me an apologetic look and the Driver seemed surprised that anyone who caught buses would want to get off here.

The walk from the bus stop to the museum was very interesting; walking past the various embassies, consulates and high commissions. Flags of all nations flew in secure compounds, some with suspicious security personnel standing guard outside, glaring at me until I was safely past their territory.

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School children enjoying a ride on the “toy train” at the National Railway Museum

I reached the rail museum and was dismayed to find that there were several large groups of school children on excursions. Fortunately, they were still sorting out their ticketing arrangements, so I was able to go straight in.

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A locomotive and cars from the Darjeeling Hillside Railway

The museum is well laid out and has an extensive collection of locomotives and rolling stock from all eras and gauges. From the 2’ Darjeeling Mountain Railway to 2’6” Narrow gauge, metre gauge and Indian Broad Gauge (5’6”). Steam, diesel and electric locomotives, wooden bodied, four wheeled third class cars and armored troop trains are all on display, as well as a 1917 steam powered monorail. For more of my pictures of the main exhibits, click here.

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A WDM1 class diesel locomotive at the National Railway Museum in Delhi

After spending about 2 hours walking around the exhibits, I left the museum and wandered back through the Diplomatic Enclave to the bus stop. I took the bus to Udyog Bhawan metro station, then changed to a Yellow Line metro train to Jorbagh.

I was headed for Safdarjung Tomb; an historical site in inner Delhi where Safdarjung (Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan) is entombed. Safdarjung was chief minister of the Mughal Empire; an Islamic empire which ruled what is now known as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other smaller nations from the mid 16th century to the 19th century. Safdarjung held his position from 1748 until his death in 1754.

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Entering Safdarjung Tomb

I walked out of the metro station and onto the busy, dusty Aurobindo Marg (the main road outside the tomb). I walked beside a bleak, nondescript stone fence, lined with limp, lifeless trees and found the entry. I paid my ₹100 entry fee before walking between the guard towers, through the main gate and into the grounds. It was like entering an oasis of tranquility inside the noisy and dusty city; beautifully maintained grounds with raked gravel, grass and lush trees. Behind a dry fountain stood a huge red sandstone and white marble structure with a large dome and 4 minarets. In the centre was Safdarjung’s mausoleum, which was clearly visible across any of the 4 dry fountains; the early afternoon sun illuminating the tomb at the centre of the large structure. The grounds were leafy, with manicured grass and shady trees. Small squirrels frolicked in the grass and begged for scraps from picnickers.

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Safdarjung tomb, set amongst beautiful gardens. An urban oasis.

After enjoying the peace and quiet, I left the tomb and walked back to the subway station, bound for my next destination; The Garden of Five Senses. I caught the yellow metro line to Saket station, which a travel brochure had suggested was about 300m from The Garden. In reality, it was 1.2km walk along a narrow, dusty road with no footpath. I finally arrived, and paid the ₹30 entry fee. The travel brochure described The Garden of Five Senses as “… not just a park, it is a space with a variety of activities, inviting public interaction and exploration…”. What I found was sprawling scrub land on a hillside, with a few sculptures and fountains, full of young Indian couples attempting to be discretely intimate. I wandered around the pathways through The Garden, looking for something of interest, but I felt unwelcome and almost voyeuristic as I kept stumbling on the young couples who were semi-obscured in bushes. The Garden is also directly below a flight path for IGI International Airport, so there was almost constant noise from large aeroplanes.

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The Garden of the Five Senses was not an highlight of my day.

I didn’t stay long at the Garden, annoyed that I had wasted my time and 30 rupees. I caught an autorickshaw back to the metro station and headed on to my final destination of the day; Gurgaon. Sounding more like a mythical kingdom in a fantasy novel than an Indian city, it is just over the state border from Delhi in the state of Haryana, although it is linked to Delhi by metro (on the 48 km long Yellow line). The Gurgaon CBD is a modern technology hub, full of tall glass buildings containing call centres and IT departments, serving both domestic and international business. My reason for visiting the city was to take a look at the Rapid MetroRail Gurgaon; an elevated light rail system, which connects Sikanderpur metro station with the CBD.

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Gurgaon – not a mythical kingdom, but a modern, international business hub west of Delhi

 

I left the Yellow Line metro train at Sikanderpur and found that although the metro line and the light rail shared station names, I had to leave the metro station and walk out onto the street to enter the light rail station. I bought my token, and entered the platform, it wasn’t long before a 3 car train arrived and I boarded. The train was modern, clean and basic, with stainless steel longitudinal seating and bare white walls. There were no inter-carriage doors, so it appeared as one long articulated carriage. The most unusual thing about the train was that it was almost empty.

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Inside the light rail.

The train slipped smoothly out of the station and ran along a viaduct above footpaths, plazas and packed roads. The Rapid MetroRail line is a 5.1km long balloon loop, with trains running only in a clockwise direction. The line is designed to be a feeder to the Yellow metro line with six elevated stations, serving the commercial hub. All trains originate at Sikanderpur, run around the loop and back to Sikanderpur to terminate, the only stations that are served twice on the loop are Sikanderpur and the unimaginatively named DLF Phase 2, with trains only running in one direction through the other stations.

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A light rail train runs above peak hour traffic.

I left the train at the first stop (DLF Phase 2) and walked out into the modern and well designed plaza outside the station. Clean glass and steel buildings surrounded me, bearing familiar brand names. It was after 5:30pm, and I wandered through the empty plaza while traffic streamed out of the car parks and onto the choked roads. A few professionals in suits were hanging around in the plaza, holding impromptu meetings and not paying me any attention as I walked through in my scruffy jeans and T-Shirt.

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Gurgaon has terrible traffic issues. This is a major road, not a car park.

I was hoping to get some photos of the light rail before the light failed, so I started to walk to the next station. I followed the line out of the plaza where the footpath ran out. The line ran above a 6 lane road, so I decided to walk along it to the station I could see in the near distance. Normally, I would be worried about walking along a major road, but this road was so choked with traffic, that it wasn’t moving. As I walked amongst the cars and mini buses, the traffic inched forward. I moved twice as fast at the traffic jam and soon reached the next station. I took the light rail back to Sikanderpur and boarded a very crowded Yellow Line train back towards New Delhi.

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