Delhi is an overwhelming city. I took an auto-rickshaw ride home from the internet café the other night (an auto-rickshaw is a lot like a motorized tuk tuk in Thailand). The ride in an open vehicle on a hot night was a real treat – it felt like I was a kid again on my grandparents’ boat. In Delhi, there are these moments of enjoyment, but they are squished in between undrinkable water, food you always have to scrutinize, bad smells, traffic that doesn’t have to contain itself between sidewalks and about a zillion other people. That’s why I called the travel agency for touring help – I just couldn’t deal with it by myself but I wasn’t going to hide in the apartment.
Turns out my Korean friends were back in Delhi and even dropped by to try to find me, but I missed them. That is a real bummer. I think they knew where all the good stuff was in town, but even if they didn’t, we would have had a lot of fun trying to find it.
Instead I had a good day with the tour guide and Akaz. It turns out that driver Akaz is an Audi fan. He told me that’s his dream car. The owner of the agency had him drive a seven-liter engine car (I think that’s the A-8) with some guests and he was sold ever since, despite driving other lovely limo-style German sedans. We had a great time talking about driving and all the cars he’s used, and the vehicles we’ve driven. I have to find him something cool from Audi when I get home.
We went first to the Qutb Minar. This set of temples and tombs are a starting point because they are the oldest structure left of the capital city. Delhi has been built seven times over the centuries. Present day “Old Delhi” is the sixth city and “New Delhi” is the seventh. When the Muslim Mughals came and finally conquered the region, creating maybe the third or fourth city, the army needed a place to worship. They needed to create a mosque, but being soldiers and not architects, this was a challenge. Their general ordered them to use what was on hand, namely the Hindu temple columns, door porticos, sandstone, etc. They army promptly tore down the Hindu temples, removed any faces from the carvings (idolatry is a sin in Islam), and got to work. Consequently, the oldest mosque in Delhi is built with Hindu parts. At least some of the prior culture was preserved this way – otherwise it would probably all have been lost. It is neat to see the flowers and flourishes of Indian art incorporated into the work of the conquerors. Then there is the Qutb Minar itself: the 73m high, sandstone-carved faced, five story tower. It is 14.4 meters in diameter at the bottom and 2.7 meters at the top. It is *the* example of a minar (tower) used in all future building in India. It is believed to be the oldest minaret as well, with a counterpart in the Seville Giralda tower. Delhi marked the eastern limit of Islam in the thirteenth century. Koranic script is carved all over the tower’s fluted columns. All in all, pretty neat.
After that, we went to a new temple that has been built in the shape of a lotus flower and is very pretty. It’s modern and built by a sect of humanists that allow everyone to pray there, quietly, to whomever they should wish.
From there, well, we saw a bunch more tombs and the Jama Masjid mosque: commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and finished in the year 1656 AD. It is the largest and best-known mosque in India. Shah Jahan is the same emperor who built the Taj Mahal and later moved his capitol to Delhi. We drove a few minutes to New Delhi and saw the new(ish) capitol building, created by the British Empire, now the home of the Indian President. Then we stopped to mail some postcards, and have some street food for lunch. Yeah, it was a risky choice, but darn those samosas were good. Later, for a couple of hours, I regretted my decision. My stomach was basically okay in Delhi until then, probably due to my vigilance and Guday’s good cooking. Ah well. I chewed a couple of Pepto tablets and kept going. In Old Delhi we went on a bicycle rickshaw ride – the streets are too narrow for cars. That was very cool. The old city was home to a warren of electrical cables – a fire waiting to happen – and tons of shops, food, and people. It is one HUGE market. It looked like they had everything you could ever want in there except infrastructure. Our last stop was Ghandi’s tomb, a lovely place that was by the riverside – well, until the river moved a few decades back. Finally, I went back home to the South Extension, cleaned up, packed, ate a very light supper and headed to the airport. As expected, that was a mess, but it was over with soon enough and I was on my way to Amsterdam for the next layover.
My overall impressions of India:
-The people are good-hearted, warm, welcoming and inquisitive. Regular folks doing their job have enough integrity to want to return your passport.
-Indians love their children tremendously, they are proud of their country with some caveats, and they like good food.
-The entire place desperately needs a working sewage pipe works and water treatment facilities. A national ad campaign against litter might not be a bad idea either.
-The airport security people should consider working on their logic skills. Maybe we could start with brain teaser puzzles in the break room?
-Past monuments and buildings are well-respected, and very much worth seeing.
-The tourism department got it exactly right when they came up with “Incredible India” for a slogan.