Delhi is full of delightful surprises. This time around I am spending time discovering the city, not just living in it but actually discovering it. I have a faithful friend who I’ve known since college. She joins in the whole discovering thing whenever time permits. Its good fun – you get to see so much, absorb the real Delhi, catch the pulse of the city and spend time together. We always fit in a heavy lunch/dinner.
The said friend made a chance discovery of a cycling group that operates in the city. Called DelhiByCycle, it’s a small group of people that organizes cycling trips across the capital. They have established 4 cycling routes in the city and organise trips for batches of about 8 people. The tours run all through the week and you have to make a advance payment to register yourself for the tour. They have their own bicycles and in addition to bits of information on the city, offer you chai and biscuits, a water bottle and breakfast during the tour. Their bikes really stand out- they are a bright orange. The tour guides wear orange jackets. DelhiByCycle was started by a Dutchman. That explains the orange branding. The bikes are well maintained, but they aren’t yours and you will take a little time to adjust to them- I did. There is a guide and an assistant attached to each group- usually the guide leads from the front and the other assistant tailgates the last cyclist. Tours usually start early in the morning to beat city traffic.
We wanted to take the Raj tour that goes around CP but that was scheduled for a later date so we went along with the Shah Jahan tour that fit our schedules better. We began early in the morning and assembled at Delight cinema. A cinema I had never heard of till that day. This part of Delhi is largely a mystery to me. I haven’t gone much beyond CP; have never had a reason to. So this was truly discover a new Delhi.
The cycling route took us through the narrow streets of old Delhi- Chawri Bazar, the Spice Market, Civil lines, Maiden’s hotel, Jama Masjid & Red Fort with a stopover at a by- lane for tea and a quick breakfast at Karim’s. The streets are fine when you set off but as the day progresses and the city gets into action, they get crowded with people and vehicles. So crowded in fact, that it becomes a challenge to ride your bike. Old Delhi is very crowded. The streets are narrow and uneven and you need good muscle control and undoubtedly good control over your bike to maneuver through the streets without hitting someone or injuring yourself.
Old Delhi smells different. It feels different. And has a different vibe altogether. These cycling tours have been organised for some time now, but despite that you’ll find people on the street who will stop to stare, very amused to see a bunch of people on bikes. We were informed that mostly foreigners sign up for the cycling tour – Indians aren’t too keen on cycling away a Sunday plus they can’t understand why they have to pay someone to see their own city! The foreigners in our group were of all ages and nationalities. Some older than us were embarrassingly fitter than us. One couple had come with their teenage children. The children didn’t speak much but they were very good with the bikes.
On the tour we made brief stops at some of the prominent places in Old Delhi. Chawri Bazar is a whole sale market where I am told you get everything. This was our first stop on the cycling map and in the early hours, the market was closed. The one thing that was prominent in addition to the hundreds of shops was the Delhi Metro. Old meets new, literally.
The spice market Khari Baoli is a huge wholesale spice market that sells all spices you could possibly thing of. We got to check out a wholesaler’s shop first hand. We walked up the rickety stairs of a his 2nd floor shop that’s was doing flourishing business running out of a building as old as time. The stairs were a bit scary -too old and shaky for my comfort-and you quite literally sneezed your way up the winding staircases. The air is heavy with a mix of spices, guaranteed to make you sneeze and get you all watery eyed.
Maiden’s hotel is an old hotel- very pretty, very colonial . You cant usually cycle into a hotel . But if you are on a DelhiByCycyle tour, you can. You also get treated to a cheerful good morning by the hotel guard and reception staff.
We also crossed the Jama Masjid and saw the Red Fort from a distance. Karim’s is an iconic restaurant and that’s where we stopped for breakfast. It serves some of the best non-vegetarian dishes. But if you are a vegetarian, there isn’t too much you can eat. 😦 If the sight or smell of meat upsets up, I’d suggest you avoid this restaurant.
All in all the cycling tour was fun. Physically exhausting but fun. We didn’t interact too much with the group, except when we stopped for breaks. Other than that there was no time, we will pushing our lungs to their limit , huffing and puffing away.
Here are some pictures from the adventure. I thought it might be a good idea to have this post published before winter hits us in full force. You see,we did the cycling tour last winter. 🙂
Sun rises from behind a minaret
Cycles lined up
A curious on-looker
Old meets new:Chowri Bazaar Metro
Cycling through Maiden’s Hotel
Squirrel spotted during the chai break