Today, the alarm went off at 7am, to let us start out sightseeing at 9am – necessary to avoid the crowds. Life in Delhi starts late, and ends late – many shops do not open until 10, 11, or even 12. Except the vegetable markets, which are open from 4-10am. Vegetarians need to start early 🙂
Our annoying, patronizing guide met us at the hotel, and we set off. He has a habit of telling “stories” peppered with fairly useless facts, and then repeating in a slightly different way; the effect is eye-wateringly annoying. For example, telling us the name of some long-forgotten dude and then the names of all his kids is not very relevant, nor interesting, nor memorable.
Anyway, we went to a nice Hindu temple , the Laxminarayan, and apparently the only one that Gandhi himself opened. Of course we had to take our shoes off, and inside saw each of the main gods as well as their wives, which are always to the left. Mamta made an offering to Hanuman, whom her father always prayed to as well.
The swastika, so hatefully used by the Nazis, is everywhere, as Hindus have used the symbol for thousands of years, and of course continue to do so in spire of the brief, intense abuse it was subjected to. The profusion of colours used by Hindus is always interesting, and the heavy use of gold, turquoise and garish pink reminded me of the scene from Outsourced where the main character is asked to describe “tacky” 🙂
Outside the temple, our guide did his best to convince us not to go into the mosque on the itinerary, the Jama Masjid. Here also you have to take shoes off, but “they never clean it, it’s very dirty”. Seems hard to believe, and when we looked inside from the steps it looked ok. On the way to the mosque, we went through parts of Old Delhi that are clearly very poor – drug dealers and addicts throng the streets. Of course, these are all muslims. I don’t think our guide like muslims much.
More understandably, he also is not a big fan of the Delhi municipality, which apparently is super corrupt. One thing I did not know is that most government officials – be they MPs, judges, bureaucrats or railway officials – all get government sponsored housing. If you lose your job, you lose your home too, so it’s worth holding on to it at almost any cost!
After not visiting the (frankly very impressive looking) mosque, we went to the Red Fort, a huge edifice that used to be the King’s residence but which got turned into barracks by the Brits after 1857. After a terrorist attack in 2006, visitors can no longer enter the 2km long fort – bummer, as it looked interesting. Apparently the moat outside the huge walls had crocodiles that were fed with the remains of hanged criminals. Hmm.
From the Red fort, we hired bicycle rickshaws to take us on a roundtrip through the (wholesale) shopping district of Chandni Chowk, featuring incredibly narrow streets And talk about crowds! Huge numbers of people shopping, squatting, eating, talking, bargaining, walking, jostling, trading, cooking in a vast cacophony of humanity – and the shops may be wholesalers but they still look very small, with perhaps 1-3m of frontage each.
It is like ordered chaos: no square foot is unused, there is activity everywhere. And overhead, along the walls and crisscrossing the skies, is the lifeline for modern life: power, phone and data cables. Imagine all the wires in your house, including the ones behind the TV, in a huge, disorderly jumble: that is what it looks like. And in spite of what it looks like, it works most of the time, even during weather – storm, monsoon rains, etc. Unbelievable.
Sightseeing for the day ended at noon, with a visit to the Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and where leaders since then have been too. Beautiful grasslands sculpted tastefully, it was interesting.
For lunch, we decided to try our luck at a chain Mamta knew about, called Haldiram. Plenty of variety (all vegetarian of course) and cheap, I had a nice Masala Dosa and Mamta had her usual Papdi Chat and Pani Puri, although she still maintains that Moti Mahal in Southall does it best 🙂
When we spotted a Vodafone shop, we decided to get. SIM for the iPad, to get internet on the road. The waiting in mobile phone shops is bad everywhere, but this one took the prize. We got ticket number 102 in the queue and settled down for a long wait as number 87 was being served. Then 88, 99, 100 – then 107 and 105. Huh?? Mamta’s quick reactions and insistent outburst in Hindi got us to the front of the queue at this point, only to discover that getting a 1-month prepaid sim card requires not just money and patience, but also a passport, proof of address (however temporary) and a spare passport photo. All of which we by a stroke of luck had to hand, so after a further patience-stretching period we got the needed sim card. Maybe it will even start working at some point… Fingers crossed.
Lazy afternoon at the hotel, with Mamta getting a massage and Iain going in the pool. I chickened out and did not go in the pool after discovering that not everything in Delhi is warm – I suspect that the only reason the pool was not frozen solid is ample supplies of anti-freeze 🙂
Today I also sent a thought to my mormor Anna, whose 97th birthday it would have been today. I miss her.
Off to dinner, then on the road to Jaipur tomorrow morning.
India is still awesome 🙂