After 2 days in Dharamshala, it was time to head away from the good weather. I had originally planned to work from my company´s office in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon. I ended up not needing to work today. However, I still wanted to meet my coworkers and decided to plan a day visiting Gurgaon. Another silly reason for visiting is that Gurgaon is not in the capital district but instead in the state of Haryana so I would get to visit a new Indian state.
The SpiceJet flight from Dharamshala took 1 hour and we landed in Delhi around 8:40 am. As we pulled into our bus “gate”, I couldn´t help but notice a ruined version of the exact same plane we flew on. Unnerving but certainly glad to be arriving rather than departing.
Once in the airport, I hopped on the ultra-clean and sparkly Delhi metro. I took the train for a few stops until I reached the esteemed Indian Institute of Technology where I caught an Uber rickshaw. The drive took 15 minutes to reach Qutub Minar.
Qutub Minar, one of the 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Delhi, is the largest brick minaret on earth. The 72.5-meter-tall minaret and the surrounding complex was built by the Muslim Delhi Sultanate in the 13th and 14th centuries on the ruins of 27 Hindu temples.
The pillars from the temples were used in the construction of the complex but the faces of the Hindu gods were destroyed or plastered out. As a result, the walls contain a unique combination of Hindu and Islamic motifs. The guide I hired almost pointed out every single instance where Hindu architecture can be seen and, almost angrily, every instance where the Muslims destroyed images of Hindu gods.
The minaret itself stands head and shoulders above the surrounding terrain and is quite ornate. It used to be able to be climbed but has been closed since an accident involving schoolchildren in 1981.
One of the strangest items in the Qutub Minar complex is the iron pillar, which was built by a Hindu king around the year 400. Somehow, the pillar has not rusted after all these years.
To get to Gurgaon, I decided to take the metro because I had such a great experience the first time. The nearest stop was a 25-minute walk away. Along the way, I visited the Mehrauli Archaeological Gardens, a beautiful park which includes some ancient Muslim tombs. The gardens were lovingly maintained by teams of young women with their children (who are definitely not going to school) in tow. They were surprised to see a foreigner here and made strange faces at me as I was walking away.
The metro ride to Gurgaon took 30 minutes. The air conditioning in the cars was a great relief.
From the Iffco Chowk station, I was still a 30 minute walk to the ZS office, but decided to do some sightseeing here too. My first stop was the Kingdom of Dreams, a Bollywood theater. Unfortunately, they have not paid their rent during the pandemic and the theater is currently closed and slowly being taken over by nature.
Across the street is a park that also could use some love.
I also got a fresh lemon soda known as Banta from a street vendor. The tiny lemons have a unique taste- almost like a key lime. Add in salt and you get a very strange tasting beverage.
With some effort, I walked through the heat to my company´s office. The gargantuan 15 story building is in its own gated sector and is surrounded mostly by undeveloped land. Once inside, I was able to tour the building. The floorplates were massive with room after room of open office plans packed with people. The look was similar to the US offices except there were fewer private offices. Yes, I was the only non-Indian here.
I got to meet with my coworkers Divyata and Ravia who I have worked with for the past 5 months. We got lunch and I learned a little bit about their lives. Divyata was actually on her way to Dharamkhot (on the same flight that I took) for an artistic retreat!
According to Google Maps, Gurgaon is home to a famous temple dedicated to the female deity Shitala Devi, an incarnation of Pavarti. I decided to take an Uber to visit. After removing my shoes, I walked into the main sanctum, which was covered in flowers and red scarves that looked like wedding dresses.
A priest gave me a tilak and then, suddenly, the mood shifted. Everybody started walking up to me and asking for money. A group of women (including one holding an armless child) followed me chanting with outstretched arms. I continued to dodge them as I called an Uber rickshaw, which luckily arrived in just 3 minutes. Even after I got in, they kept reaching until we pulled away. Clearly, these women are suffering – otherwise they would not be at the temple. However, I will never give money to someone so aggressive.
The rickshaw driver had a friend, which is always a bad sign. We drove to the Ambience Mall. When dropping me off, the driver and friend asked for payment, despite having paid by credit card in the app. I showed him receipt of my payment, yet he brushed my phone aside. Once we stopped in traffic, I bolted out of the rickshaw and into the mall.
The Ambience Mall is supposedly the nicest in the region and appears to be a major attraction. The mall was hundreds of meters long and 5 stories tall. Many of the stores were global chains, but there were a few local shops – especially in the food court. I got a smoothie in the food court before getting another Uber back to my hotel, near the Delhi airport.
After checking into my hotel and resting from the scorching heat, I set out for dinner. Wanting to see more of Gurgaon, I caught a public bus back south. Shockingly the bus never actually stopped to pick me up- rather it glided slowly through the traffic. My destination was CyberHub, the largest collection of offices in Gurgaon. However, the bus did not actually stop there. Instead, I was dropped off along the freeway and told to walk 20 minutes to reach it…which I did. Since the sun had set, the weather was bearable.
CyberHub is an outdoor mall surrounded by corporate offices of multinationals. I remind me of Los Angeles´s Century City. This mall was legitimately upscale by global standards. Most of the clientele was Indian yuppies. I bought some shoes at Decathlon, my favorite store, before getting an amazing Burmese meal at Burma Burma.
I then took an Uber back to the hotel to rest up before my early flight to Goa.
Gurgaon is an offbeat destination and I would not recommend it for a typical tourist. However, visiting gave me a glimpse into the lives of a typical white collar professionals in Delhi.
Qutub Minar is a star attraction and is worthy of its UNESCO status. The minaret is very impressive. Although I have not been anywhere else in Delhi, I would add it onto any itinerary in the capital.