I was eager to escape Varanasi’s heat and dive into the belly of India — Delhi. Everyone I met along the way loathed Delhi. “It’s dirty, it’s hot, it’s really just awful.” I hadn’t heard even one good review of the city. Suffice it to say, my expectations were low.

My train ride from Varanasi to Delhi dropped my expectations even further. I was sold a bad ticket at the booking office in Agra, and instead of getting a spot on a sleeper, I was waitlisted and made to stand on a platform between cars while the conductor tried to find me a spare bed. I ended up in the bunk closest to the bathroom, which is basically the last place you ever want to be on an overnight sleeper train. Instead of dwelling, I popped my malaria pills, plowed through my copy of Three Cups of Tea and drifted off to a dream-filled sleep. (Malaria pills FTW.)

The train arrived in Delhi late the next morning. To be frank, I don’t know what all of my friends were complaining about. Delhi was no more overwhelming than any other city I had been in. It was dirty, sure, but come on — this is India. I grabbed a rickshaw and headed into Pahar Ganj, Delhi’s tourist mecca, to search for a cheap guesthouse.

I only had a few days in Delhi, done on purpose because I had heard such terrible things about the city. I figured three days was enough time to see the government buildings, visit the residences where Mohandas and Indira Gandhi were assassinated and do some last-minute shopping before catching my flight home.

But first, the requisite coffee shop laze to wait out the heat of the day. Cafes in India, particularly ones that serve as non-profits and contribute to a humanitarian cause, are awesome places to meet other travelers, bounce around stories and find new friends. I’ve met more solo travelers sipping coffee in these kinds of places than I have anywhere else, which explains how I met Lukas, a student from Prague who also had a few days to kill in Delhi before heading back to my beloved Česká Republika.

Lukas and I met up later that day to do some more sightseeing. We started at the North Block, an impressive set of buildings built during the colonial period. Because the block was designed by a British architect, the buildings have the look of London infused with Indian detailing.

Near the government buildings stands the India Gate, a memorial built to honor the memories of the 90,000 British Indian Army soldiers who died fighting under the Union Jack. We walked around, made the acquaintance of a young Indian guy who then followed us for the next hour and managed to get kicked out of the Supreme Court. (To be fair, don’t let us in if you’re only going to tell us we have to leave.)

Lukas had heard about an evening sound and light show at the city’s Old Fort and figured I’d be interested as well. We got to the fort just as the spectacle began. The hour-long show was a nice way to see one of Delhi’s major tourist attractions in an innovative way, far from the day’s crowds and heat.

The sheer size of the fort is what first got me, but once we were inside, the beauty of the gates, towers, tombs and mosques blew me away. Despite being half a millenia old, much of the Old Fort is still intact, and not in an about-to-fall-apart sort of way. India’s earliest architects were bomb at doing their job, I’ll say that for sure.

The next day, I invited Lukas along with me to see the residences of Mohandas and Indira Gandhi (who were, to eliminate confusion, not related). I’ve been to the grassy Knoll in Dallas and I’ve traced Yitzak Rabin’s last steps in Tel Aviv, but there was something so eerie about both Gandhi homes. The Mahatma and Indira, they weren’t going anywhere to give speeches. There were no parades or mass gatherings or thousands of witnesses. These were their homes. Can you imagine not even being safe in your own home? Though to be fair, I can’t imagine being an international political figure, either. Having seen so much of India over the previous six weeks, the assassination sites were a fitting finale to my trip.

Lukas and I parted ways when we got back to Pahar Ganj. I had the rest of the afternoon to shop, pack and ready myself for the long trip home.

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