Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day 1. More of Delhi.


Aren't I the fashion queen? No,I've not joined the Hare Krishna! You'll need to read on if you're curious about why I'm dressed this way.....and what happened to my shoes?

After we visted Humayun's Tomb, J and I went for lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant which, once you walk in, you quickly realize caters to foreigners.....which usually means local food at a higher cost than you would pay in a local restaurant. No sooner had we sat down when J got up and another gentleman took his spot. He introduced himself as Subrato....the same Subrato that had helped me to arrange my city tour. We had exchanged numerous emails and chatted several times on the phone. It was nice to finally be able to put a face to the name! He's as nice guy and I would highly recommend his agency.

Lunch was pretty uneventful though I enjoyed every bite of the butter chicken I ordered along with garlic naan, washed down with two small bottles of Pepsi.

After lunch, we headed towards India Gate and along the way, travelled through New Delhi. Much of New Delhi was constructed by the British when they occupied India in the early part of the 20th century. What they left behind were grand buildings and wide, tree lined avenues. Though much of it is now in disrepair, the avenues are still enjoyable to drive along.

India Gate was constructed in honor of the India Soldiers that died in World War I. The Gate is reminiscent of the Arc d'Triomphe in Paris. It's situated the end of King's Way and a long and wide grassy mall that reminded me of the Mall in DC. The mall in India is surrounded on both sides by rectangular pools that run the full length of the mall. I saw some paddlebloats anchored on the sides of the pool so I'm presuming that locals can rent them to float on the water.

At the other end of King's Way are the parliamentary buildings. Those on the right side of the street are referred to as North Block and those on the left as South Block (shown in the photo below). At the very end of King's Way is the Presidential Palace. We weren't allowed to stop at the buildings so I made a quick hop out of the car to snap a couple of photos and then jumped back in.

Our next destination. Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. We continued our drive along some beautiful tree lined avenues and in no time entered into Old Delhi.....and boy, does the "landscape" change!!

Old Delhi was built back before cars were invented and the streets are VERY narrow. I don't know what Old Delhi was in its heyday but today, it's noisy, dirty and congested - full of people going about their daily business. Not to mention a loggerjam of cars, motorcycles, bicylces, auto rickshaws, bicylce rickshaws, horses, ox drawn carts, human pulled carts (basically anything that can be pulled or pushed) transporting people and goods from point A to point B. It's an absolute madhouse and I was glad to be on the other side of the car window!! I must admit though that watching the world of Old Delhi was oddly entertaining - people don't seem to lose their patience here - I know I would with just having to put up with the traffic congestion! I've never seen such calm chaos in my entire life!!


















 

There's so much traffic crammed into the streets, that our driver actually had to fold back the driver's side mirror in order to drive in his lane. How insane!

It took us nearly an hour to travel the few blocks to get to Jama Masjid and I was relieved that we made it there in one piece - we have a phenomenal driver!


Once you past the entrance gate, you have to walk up a steep set of steps to get to the entrance to Jama Masjid. Looking back down towards the entrance gate, all you can see is a sea of humanity - there are people both sitting and sleeping on the steps and beyond that are throngs of people out and about in the streets of Old Delhi.







I was wearing capri pants and a sleeveless top, showing way too much skin to be allowed inside so the attendant had me put on a bright orange, cotton robe. We also had to take off our shoes....as is the usual procedure when entering a mosque. Once inside, there is an open square sorrounded on two sides by a pillared walkway and two sides by entrance gates.

This is the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims and we arrived at the mosque shortly before fasting would break. The devout were already inside praying. I had to pay a small fee to bring my camera and was told that I could take pictures but not to disturb those who were praying. Unfortunately, the light was low inside the mosque so my camera flash went off as I took the photo below. A man, who was knelt down praying, looked up at me and glared. I decided that was enough of photos and quickly scurried back out to meet J.





After a few more minutes of wandering both inside and outside the mosque, J and I retraced our steps back to the entrance where I removed my robe and retrieved my shoes. We headed back to the car and I leaned back into my seat as we drove back through Old Delhi. More scenes of Old Delhi.





















A short drive later and we arrived at Red Fort - a pretty imposing sandstone fortress. J purchased our tickets and we headed inside the fort which actually houses a small complex of palaces and other buildings that were once occupied by the Mughal Emperors.




The palaces are nothing more than empty rooms but the beauty that remains can be seen in their marble walls which were once inlaid with both semi-precious and precious stones. Looters have since removed the stones so that much of what is left is merely the outline of the design but even so, it's not hard to imagine just how spectacular the palaces must have looked like in their full glory.




J and I wandered the grounds checking out the various palaces and pavillions but soon had to scurry on as we had one last place to visit and the afternoon was coming to a close.

Next and last stop on the itinerary. Mahatma's Gandhi's Cremation Grounds. So it was back into the car and another foray into the madness that is Delhi traffic. Short time later, we arrived at a very serene place. There is no doubt that Mahatma Ghandi is a revered figure in Indian history - still loved and admired by Indians today. When he passed away, he was cremated according to Hindu religious tradition and his ashes were scattered into the holy Ganges River. What is at the Cremation Grounds is the stone platform on his funeral pyre was laid on for burning.

The Cremation Grounds are contained within a very small park and perhaps because it's a funerary monunment, but it was one of the few places that I had been to in all of Delhi where there was barely a whisper from the crowd. I think people were just in very quiet contemplation.

Then....., from out of nowhere I hear a very quiet "Hello". I turned around to find myself looking at very young Indian boy who had the palm of his hand extended. I replied back "Hello" and shook his hand. Not a second later, he was joined by a few of his schoolmates and I soon found myself surrounded by a group of children, all wanting to say "Hello" and to shake my hand. I kindly returned as many "Hellos" and handshakes as I could. I then took out my camera, waved for the group to get close together and snapped this group photo.

As soon as I put the camera from my face, they all scampered off - none staying behind to look at the photo. J and I smiled at the moment and enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the car.

J dropped me off at the hotel and told me that someone would by to pick me up at 8pm to take me to dinner - I had arranged for a nice meal on my first night in Delhi.

At 8pm, Rajeev showed up in the hotel lobby. I immediately recognized his name as he and I had been exchanging emails in the last few days leading up to this trip. Rajeev and I were working out the final details for my first day in Delhi. He joined me for dinner and in between conversation about all sorts of other things, I worked out my Day 2 itinerary with Rajeev which included hiring back the driver another day. After my one day experience of driving through Delhi traffic, I decided that the safety and comfort of a car was the way to go. Dinner was a bit of a late affair so I did not get back to the hotel until after 1opm. Once back, I took a shower, did some laundry and headed for the PCs in the lobby to quickly send off some emails and update my blog.

By the time I logged of the PC, I realized I was really tired. It had been a long but very exhilarating first day in India and I'm looking forward to each of the remaining days that I have here!