Raj and I had agreed to meet after lunch the next day so he could take me to the Delhi Zoo, my morning was to be taken up watching the South Africans spend ¾ of the match in their opponents half and still fail to win. I began to suspect it might be due to our predictable game plan when I conducted a poll on the streets of Delhi and 95% of respondents knew exactly what Jean De-Villiers would do when he received the ball.
Ordinarily I am not a great fan of zoos however Delhi zoo is home to India’s white tiger breeding program and also contains a number of species of antelope and bear that are almost impossible to find in the wild. The zoo itself lived up to all expectations I hadn’t realise quite how diverse the wildlife in India was.
My trip to the zoo did give me two rather humorous insights into the Indian psyche, the first being no one takes any notice of the rules despite there being numerous signs on every enclosure not to disturb or feed the animals all manner of objects were being flung into the enclosures to entice the animals out of their disinterested slumbers. The animals are clearly so used to this they hardly bat an eyelid, one enterprising chap lobbed a strawberry ice-cream cone into the white tiger enclosure landing squarely on the head of one of the animals, the creature stirred for a few seconds to lick off the tasty treat and then flopped back down to continue sleeping in the sun.
My second observation is that most Indians are extremely entrepreneurial and nothing is therefore impossible. I arrived fairly late in the day to the zoo and having spent a couple hours looking around by the time I arrived at the tiger enclosure (regular Bengal Tigers not the white ones) all the animals had been removed from their enclosure to their pens where they spend the night and are fed. I was peering into the enclosure trying to work out where the hell the tigers were hiding when an old man approached me and informed me that they had all been removed to the pens which he was the caretaker of. He also mentioned he was not really allowed to let visitors into the area where the tigers were kept overnight, not one to miss an obvious cue I let him know that I wasn’t really supposed to be slipping a 50 rupee note (70p) into his palm either. The six adult Tigers were in their pens waiting to be fed and if you have never seen one close up they are extremely impressive, beautiful creatures. My guide called me over to one of the pens and informed me that the massive animal in front of me was a six month old cub and I could pat it if I wanted. Now I must admit to not having studied my travel insurance in detail, but I suspect insure and go might have included some exclusion against injuries sustained whilst patting tigers. My guide didn’t seem too worried about scratching its head so I gave it a little tickle behind the ears and a couple of pats. Unfortunately I was unable to take pictures in the pens, though I did get to feed them all.
After the Zoo, Raj politely asked if I would like to do some shopping, a quick threat to toss his lifeless body into the Yamuna River if he mentioned shopping again eventually got him off the subject. Raj then asked if there were any other places I would like to go and having done pretty much all I wanted to in Delhi I told him I was done. Hearing this Raj set off driving toward the outskirts of Delhi informing me that I had to come to his house to meet his family and have dinner. He claimed to do all the cooking himself and that he was able to prepare the finest chicken curry in the whole north of India. Having nothing else to do that night I agreed to the idea, Raj had failed to mention that he was an hour and half’s drive from the centre of Delhi.
About ¾ of the way to his house Raj pulled over on the side of the road and insisted that I move from the backseat into the front as I was now no longer a passenger but his friend. On route to his house we picked up some beers from the local beer and wine shop and Raj called every relative he had, to invite them round to dinner with him and I. Raj lived in a nice little neighbourhood on the very outskirts of Delhi I was introduced to his Wife and children as he proudly showed me about the place. I offered to help him in the kitchen but Raj was having none of it and insisted I sit in the lounge watching TV while he cooked. I suspect his wife did all the cooking since Raj was constantly coming out of the kitchen topping up my beer and introducing me to whoever had wandered in. My dear friend Marj who gave me the world’s worst replacement phone when mine got destroyed in the Peruvian jungle will be delighted to learn that Raj’s son was particularly enthralled by it demanding to know what games it could play.
The dinner itself was delicious and my hosts were eager for me to eat as much of it as possible being a well-mannered guest I obliged. After dinner I said my farewells to Raj’s family and Raj drove me back to my hotel. I had decided to take the next day off as most attractions are closed on a Monday, and do some general admin and planning for the rest of my trip. I arranged for Raj to pick me up first thing on Tuesday morning for a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra a round trip of some 450km about 11 hours driving on Indian roads.
My overall impression of Delhi was most favourable and I ended up staying a couple of days longer than I had originally planned. I would highly recommend spending 4 or 5 days in the city (particularly if you enjoy shopping), there are at least 2 days’ worth of cultural and historical sites to visit as well as a number of other activities to keep one entertained.