Monday, November 27, 2017

First View of Delhi. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.

Chantale, with her imitation GoPro in hand, talking with a super friendly Sikh gentleman and his cute daughter at Bangla Sahib.

Original Post Date: June 18, 2017.

It was mid afternoon before Chantale and I ventured out on to the streets of Connaught Place. We, okay me, needed time to chill off from our walk from Shivaji Stadium Metro station. Admittedly, it wasn't a long walk and we even took an ice cream break along the way, it was just enough time spent in the sweltering heat of summer in Delhi to wilt me.

Chantale had left it up to me to come up with places to see and luckily, I had done my pre-trip research.   One of the places on my list was a gurdwara called Bangla Sahib.  It was just a bit further walk past Shivaji Stadium Metro station so I knew it was easy to get to.  Chantale had inquired about a market and Gole Market is nearby but it didn't look like a place that we would be interested in going so I recommended the gurdwara and Chantale was fine with that.

From our apartment, we walked along the backstreets.  It was Chantale's real first view of a neighborhood.  Mind you, Connaught Place is considered to be quite upscale but it's far from that compared to a similarly classed US neighborhood.  It's a bit squalid with crumbling buildings and people are basically living on the street.  At times, it's an uncomfortable space to be in but somehow I think that for the both of us, the common sights and sounds of a typical Delhi neighborhood, that we saw on our walk were just fascinating.  For some reason though, I didn't take any photos - I felt like I would be intruding into private lives, especially of the people call the street their home.  I don't think they would appreciate having someone point a lens in their direction let alone their face.

Our walk was a slight detour to get to the gurdwara, stopping at an Aircel shop as Chantale had been having issues with the SIM card she had bought in Jaipur.  For some reason, she was very quickly running low on data despite the fact that she was barely using any.  At the shop, I just let her deal with the salesperson though I was a bit concerned when some of the answers he was giving her didn't make any sense.  30 years of working in IT with several of that in the telecomm area and I do know when someone is trying to bullshit you.  For her, it ended okay so I let it go.  No point ruffling feathers.

From the Aircel shop, it was just a very short walk to the gurdwara.

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is one of the most prominent Sikh gurdwara in Delhi. It is located near Connaught Place Baba Kharak Singh Marg and is instantly recognizable by its golden dome and tall orange colored flagpole that identifies every gurdwara - the so called Nishan Sahib.  The gurdwara was built atop the spot where a magnificent and spacious bungalow owned by Raja Jai Singh of Amber (Jaipur) once stood.  The eighth Guru Sri Harkishan, who was barely 5 years old at the time when he arrived into Delhi, stayed here for a few months as a guest of the Raja.  During Guru Harkrishan's stay in Delhi there was a terrible epidemic of cholera and smallpox. Rather than staying in the safety of Jai Singh's home the Guru spent most of his time in serving the humble, the sick and the destitute. He distributed medicine, food and clothes to the needy.  As a result of his humanitarian efforts, especially considering he was just a young child, the Guru won the hearts of many people. Soon stories about his healing powers spread throughout the city. Contracting smallpox himself the young Guru, only a little over five years old, passed away on October 6, 1661.  Today, the water's of the gurdwara's sarovar (pool) are considered to have healing powers.



We followed a line of people to the entrance.  I knew there had to be a place where we would leave our shoes behind as you have to be barefoot when walking on the hallowed ground of the gurdwara.


Like salmon swimming upstream, we followed the people walking in front of us and make our way to the shoe deposit area.  We handed our shoes over to the tall Sikh who is obviously very seasoned at handling stinky shoes.  Days of sweaty feet do not make for sweet smelling shoes.


Then it was time to cover our heads.  Chantale proudly whipped out her orange headscarf, a souvenir that she inherited from her time with a Sikh gurdwara group in Pennsylvania during the 2017 Presidential campaign late last year.  I just wrapped a regular scarf, that I had brought along with me just in case we visited gurdwara while we were in India, around my head.


Barefoot, we continued our way to the entrance.    It was a mob of people here!  The last time I visited a gurdwara in India, it was in Pujab and it was over the holiday period celebrating Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.  I visited four gurdwara that day including the most holy of them all - Hamandir Sahib aka the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  On that day, I encountered masses of people in the gurdwara but I expected that given it was a holiday but today?  I guess it's Sunday afternoon and well, what better way to get out than go to the gurdwara?



I knew that just before entering the actual gurdwara, we would have to walk across a shallow trough of water, cleansing our feet.


The crowd swept us towards the gurdwara's front door, under a beautifully painted covered walkway.



Inside, the room was packed to the brim with people,  mainly seated on the floor.  A service was taking place.  I don't know if photos were allowed inside or not but I refrained from taking any.  This is suppose to a place of worship and usually, you don't take photos when there is a service  happening.  Of course, not being Sikh, I didn't understand the service at all.  Unlike a church, where the service takes place at one end of the building, here it was taking place in the center with pilgrims seated all around the area where the religious men (I don't know how else to describe them) were chanting and playing music.  The etiquette is to walk around in a clockwise direction so that's what I did, pausing every now and again to listen to the chanting and the music.  I had very quickly lost sight of Chantale.  No worries as there is only one way out so I was prepared to just meet her at the exit.  I think she was taking photos so it took her longer to get to the exit than I did.  I patiently waited and we eventually met up after I walked back inside to go looking for her.

As we exited towards the sarovar, I shot a snippet of video to capture the moment of where we were.


In continuing with Sikh etiquette, we took a walk around the sarovar....in a clockwise direction.  It's a good sized pool but nothing compared to the ones you see in the gurdwara in Punjab.




It is popular to bathe in the waters here. I think that due to modesty reasons, you typically see men and boys in the pool.  Rarely do you see women or girls fully in the water; they may just dip their feet in.


It was nice to see that families were visiting.  Lots of posing for that souvenir photo.


I have an odd fascination with older people.  Perhaps it's because I am subconsciously trying to predict how I will look or perhaps it's that I really appreciate the character of their faces; the wrinkles show the passage of time.




It was time for a short break.  There are no benches it.  It's the hard marble floor nothing so marble floor it was.  Thank God I have a well padded bottom 😁


Langar is the communal meal shared by Sikhs and all visitors to every gurdwara.  Since the founding of the Sikh community, langar has come to be an important part of Sikh religious life. After the service, no Sikh will leave without partaking of langar.  For Sikhs, eating together in this way is expressive of the equality and oneness of all humankind. At the same time, it strengthens the Sikh sense of community. Visitors and guests are readily and warmly invited to partake in langar.

After our break, I decided we had to find the dining hall so we could check out the goings on with langar.  To our luck, it was just steps away from where we had been sitting.  A covered walkway led to the kitchen and adjoining dining area.


Cooking for the masses requires REALLY big cookware!!

The kitchen.  All sorts of cooking was taking place.  Langar food is simple - typically just some rice, dal and naan.








There was a massive container of cooked rice.  You know it's big when they use a shovel to scoop out the rice!


In one corner was a the tub of dal. Yes, it was big enough to be called a tub!


Pails are used to scoop dal from the tub.


Past the kitchen, diners were seated on the floor, in rows so servers can walk by and dish out the rice, dal and naan.



Servers dish out the food non stop.  Everyone just gets one scoop but I did notice that it's a very generous scoop.  Looking at the diners, I would not describe a single one as being destitute and in need of a free meal so the fact that langar is provided for free to EVERYONE is really amazing.  As far as I know, gurdwara survive based on donations so partaking in langar is partaking in someone's generosity.  If only the rest of the world operated on this principle.


Chantale was in her element in the kitchen, snapping photos of pretty much everything - human and otherwise.  I just let her have her fun.  We had been invited by several people to sit and eat but again, I am a bit leery of the food.  I am in Delhi and I don't want to get Delhi belly so I graciously passed up all the offers.  The people so friendly and hospitable here.  I did notice that aside from Chantale and I, there were pretty much no other non-Indians around.  Though the gurdwara is in the heart of Delhi, it's not on the tourist route so if you do come here, prepare to be surrounded by locals.  That's the way I prefer it as it allows me a bit of insight into local life.

Back out to the main part of the complex, we continued our walk around the sarovar.


We happened on a family posing for photos in front of the pool.  One of them approached me and asked if I would take their photos.  I offered to use their cameras but they wanted me to shoot with mine.  I really don't understand why people want you to take their photos with your camera.  So I took a few photos and then got the email address of one of them.  I told them I would email the photos to them.  So here are the photos I took.  Sadly, I never got their names.  If I might say so myself, they are a very attractive looking family.





When we made it to the side of the pool, opposite from where we exited the gurdwara, I took a photo.  It's a pretty structure but for me, nothing can compare with either Hamandir Sahib or Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib in Amritsar.


As I walked past Sikh men, I kept an eye out for one that exemplified the 5 Ks” or five signs that identify a Sikh person. These are:
  • Kesh (uncut hair)
  • Kara (a steel bracelet)
  • Kanga (a wooden comb)
  • Kaccha - also spelt, Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear)
  • Kirpan (steel sword)
Obviously, I didn't see the underwear and I did not spot a comb in this guy but I'm sure he had them because he had the other 3 K's.  It's as close as I will get 😁


Our photo moments in India continued while we were here.  I guess we did stand out like sore thumbs and lucky for them, we don't mind being in their photos because they will be in ours.


We walked all the way around the pool, back to the entrance.  From there, we retrieved our shoes and made our way back to our apartment which was pretty much a straight shot down the road.  My camera battery just as we left the gurdwara so no photos of our walk back.  By the time, we made it inside the apartment, I was ready to just park myself in front of the AC unit.  I need to cool off!!  A bit pooped out too.  I think I'm tired from sensory overload.  As much as I love Delhi, it can be an intense place for me.

By nightfall, it was time to head out for dinner.  Surprisingly, neither Chantale and I had eaten lunch.  I'm finding out that she's a very small eater and well, that's actually fine by me as I can afford to lose a few pounds.  Okay, more than just a few but let's not go there for now.

Back to Delhi.  We headed downstairs and were greeted by Islam.  He's a very nice man and tries his best to do whatever he thinks he needs to do to please us.  We don't need much from him but whenever we ask, he basically jumps to his feet to help.  I realized that there's at least one other Airbnb apartment, owned by the same people, in the building but it does not appear to be occupied.  In fact, it didn't look like there were any occupants in the entire building other than Chantale and I.  Perhaps that's why Islam has so much time on his hands.

From the little alleyway that our building is on, we walked towards the main road which is Baba Kharak Singh Road.  We walked across a small plaza area where there was some sort of a religious ceremony taking place.  I wondered if this was something special or a regular event.


Funny how we had walked past this shrine on our way back from Bangla Sahib and I never noticed it.



We were making our way to a restaurant called Pind Balucchi.  I had come across it when I was researching places to eat in Connaught Place.  It was one of several places that I had pinned on My Google Map for Delhi.  I only chose places that were in easy walking distance of the apartment and that looked like they looked like decent, clean places to eat or the food was interesting fare.

We crossed the main road using the underpass.  Up the steps and we found ourselves in a larger plaza area, this one fronting a Hindu temple named Pracheen Hanuman Mandir.  There were a lot of people milling around the temple though it appeared that earlier in the day, there were vendors in the area....most likely selling offerings for the temple and food for the people.

Of all things, we also walked past a man who was getting tattooed by the light of a smartphone!!  Seriously.  It looked like the artist had just finished the tattoo and was cleaning off the ink around it. 



I guess it's normal to get a tattoo done on the street but in the dark?  At least the artist was wearing gloves.  Nice tattoo.


We walked past the PVR Rivoli Theatre.  That was a good thing.  Nothing interesting was playing but more importantly, I had decided to use the theatre as our pickup and drop off location for the next two days when I have arranged for car and driver to take us around.  At least now I know not only know the walking route to get to the theatre but also how long it will take us to get here from the apartment.  The restaurant was located just around the corner from the theatre.

Everyone is still out and about in Connaught Place.  Sunday night here is not quiet time.

A tall Sikh greeted us at the entrance to Pind Balluchi.  Instead was a very nice restaurant.  Lots of wood that made the place feel warm and a bit rustic.  I imagined this would be what a village home would look and feel like.  We were seated quickly and handed menus.  Our meal was very simple.  We both zeroed in on the stuffed and fried mushrooms, some curry chicken and boondi raita - my latest Indian food obsession.  Of course, there was naan and they really do a good one.  The bread came to the table piping hot from the tandoor oven and generously slathered with garlic and oil.  Absolutely delicious!  I would be happy with just dal and that naan!  I wouldn't mind coming back here for another meal.




By the time we left the restaurant, the streets of Connaught Place were pretty empty.  I guess folks had returned home for their dinners and to get ready for the start of the work week.

We just relaxed the rest of the night away.  Tomorrow morning.....very bright and early, Ayşe arrives and our little travel group will finally be complete!  She will have taken the red eye from Istanbul so I am sure she will be tired though also very excited as like Chantale, this is her first time in India.  I have a relaxing but hopefully fun, day planned for tomorrow and as always, I cannot wait for it to come around!