Wednesday, March 11, 2015

India Travel Journal Part 8: Delhi in a Day

I met with the concierge the night I arrived at The Leela in Delhi and explained I had two days in town. I wanted to see Delhi and Agra in those two days. He tried selling me on a ridiculously expensive private car complete with a tour guide for Agra that would have cost me several hundred USD. I held off on that and negotiated hard on the day in Delhi.

The next morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast and left the hotel around 7:30. My driver for the day was super nice. His English was better than any of the other drivers I'd had and he explained that he used to work for a tour company. When I told him I didn't have a cell phone, he offered me one of his since he had two that way we could meet up when I was done at each stop. Awesome. We talked about what I could realistically do before dark and mapped out a plan. It was raining, but I tried not to let that get my spirits down. First stop was the Red Fort. I spent hours navigating the walled city listening to an audio tour. I loved learning about the history, the values of the time, and the architecture. The rain and the early morning kept the crowds at bay, but the sky eventually cleared and it got busier just as I got a call from the driver. He said I needed to hurry if I wanted to see the rest of Delhi. I reluctantly skipped the last few stops on the audio tour and headed back to where he dropped me, where I was accosted with offers of all kinds. I kept my head down and tried to call him when he appeared out of the crowd. On to the next stop.

My guide for the day explained that to explore Old Delhi, I was going to have to take a pedicab and assured me that he found a great guide to show me around. Old Delhi was wild, and it was Sunday and it was raining, so most of the bazaar stalls were boarded up for the day. It was still insanely crowded. While I felt safe in Mumbai, Kochi, and Allepey, I got many warnings to carefully watch my belongings in Old Delhi. It felt markedly different from everything else I had seen in India. I didn't see many women or families. There were so many men. My pedicab took me to see Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque. I was prepared to go inside and was very curious since I've never been inside a mosque, but they were in prayer and I didn't want to wait the 30 minutes until they finished. I was bummed to miss the view from the top Delhi, but there was so much more to explore. Our next stop was a shop. A tourist trap full of saris and pashminas. I held it together and walked right out.

Next we visited the Jain Sweitamna temple. I didn't know much about this religion. I had to remove my shoes, wash my hands, read a set of rules that forbid menstruating women from entering, and leave my personal belongings with the "reception" area. I shoved nearly all of the contents of my purse into my pants pockets and hoped for the best as I followed the priest upstairs. He explained some of their rituals and beliefs, which struck me as a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism. One of the oldest religions in the world, there are about 5- 6  million Jains in the world today. I later learned that Jain are an intergral part of the economy in India. As the 6th largest religion in India, they make up less than half a percent of the Indian population, but are reported to make up about a quarter of the economy in India. They are nonviolent, vegetarian, and have a long-standing reputation as good business people. I wasn't able to take any pictures in the temple, but the street it was on was very peaceful and apparently inhabited only by Jian people.

I met back up with the car and my driver took me to the seat of Indian government.  On the way, we drove around Connaught Place, a popular shopping destination. I hopped out to grab a bite to eat - a spicy paneer wrap that I ate in the car. There was just too much to see! Oh, and I stopped at a state emporium where I bought one big souvenir that I drove a hard bargain for. More on that another time. We drove through the parade route that recently hosted President Obama. My driver likes our current president and was excited for him to visit. I asked a few questions about Indian politics and soaked in my surroundings. This part of Delhi was a stark contrast to Old Delhi. It was clean. There were green spaces and lots of trash cans dotting the well-groomed lawns, where families picnic on nicer days.

Humayan's Tomb, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was next. It was breathtaking. My camera battery wasn't cooperating, so I didn't get many pictures, but as I was leaving it decided to come back to life. My driver said many tourists like Humayan's Tomb better than the Taj Mahal and I can see why. Built in the 16th century to honor the Mughal Emperor Humayun, the large sandstone structure is really spectacular. Other structures, like Isa Khan's mosque and tomb, are also located at the site. I fought the rain through most of this site visit. It was worth it.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed by the Lotus Temple. Like all Bahá'í Houses of Worship, it is open to worshipers of all faiths.

Needless to say, 1 day was hardly enough to explore Delhi, but I think I covered an impressive amount of ground. I even got to a few landmarks that I didn't mention in this post. Pictures are coming soon, I promise. My final post will be on Agra. Oh, and in case you're wondering, my cell phone (not the one that fell into the canal), has been returned. DHL delivered it all the way from India yesterday. Nuts, right?!