March 14th – belated posting
Old Delhi – Recap of day 1 of “vacation days” in India.
We returned to Delhi following the week spent working in Agra. I hired a tour company (Trinetra Tours) to arrange for two of us to see a bit more of Delhi before flying home. Previously all we’d seen was the airport and the hotel. The first stop was the Mosque in Old Delhi followed by a ped-cab ride through the narrow lanes of the Old Delhi marketplace.
The Mosque was impressive for its age and size but I have seen more beautiful mosques. You are required to remove your shoes and women must cover up. They provide a place to sit to remove your shoes where, for a small tip, someone will watch over your shoes. A few steps into the Mosque forecourt you are offered, which you cannot refuse, a lovely floral, polyester cover up. If you don’t mind looking somewhat ridiculous in your trip photos – go for it. There is no cost or tipping necessary for this robe. I did see other women who had brought large shawls/scarfs that they used to completely cover themselves.
The intriguing aspect of this Mosque is the history. The British had taken it over and “embellished” it with lights and of all things, a chandelier. These hold overs from the British look out of place. I hope some day they will be removed. It was explained to us that the domes on this mosque are garlic shaped vs the onion shaped domes you will see elsewhere. The garlic shaped domes are Hindu and the onion are Muslim (unless it’s the other way around). The domes throughout India are “double domes” which means there is an empty cavity between the dome you stand beneath when you are inside the mosque and the exterior, visible dome. It makes the buildings look deceptively large from the outside. When we returned to our shoes we were, of course, offered items to purchase. One man had interesting purses which he claimed were is own design and made by himself, by hand. I was skeptical but it wasn’t until I saw the identical bags in another tourist shop that I knew for a fact he had lied. The books for sale were a good deal. Unfortunately I had already purchased the same book for twice the price back in Agra!
Following the trip to the mosque we hopped onto a pedi-cab which was promised to produce “peels of laughter.” Not quite. The ride was very bumpy due to the conditions of the roads and the driver needing to evade other pedi-cabs, scooters, motorcycles and even some small trucks. It was hard to get a good picture of the sights passing by because of the sudden stops and starts. You also have to be careful of the metal framing which smarts when you bang your head against it as I did twice. I finally learned to sit leaning forward and to bounce along with the movement, as if riding a horse. I was tempted to stop and look at and perhaps purchase items from some of the stores we were passing by but I wasn’t sure if the merchants spoke English, if it was safe to pull out my wallet in these cramped quarters or if I could negotiate a good price. I wish that we’d just walked through the marketplace with our guide. Skip the pedi-cab, it’s not worth the bother – do not skip the marketplace, it’s amazing!
From there we stopped at the India Gate, the Supreme Court buildings, the embassy buildings, Gandhi’s memorial and lastly at the “cottage shops.” This was actually a government run facility for merchants of high quality goods where the tourist busses all stop. I showed not enough sales resistance to a really good team of rug merchants. I purchased the smallest rug they had so I could get it into my suitcase, though they offerded free shipping. It didn’t help my sales resistance that I was starving and didn’t think we’d get out of there without buying something. I’m sure the rug is of excellent quality. I’m not sure I got the best price. I missed my Cairo guides who vociferously bargained on my behalf with the merchants in the Cairo marketplace.
We went to a very nice restaurant for lunch after leaving the shop. In addition to good food, it offered a clean, western style, bathroom. Yay!
Our next, and (unexpectedly) our last stop, was at a Sikh mosque. There we had to take off not only shoes but socks. We did the ritual cleansing, washing our hands and walking through a trough of water which was supposed to clean our feet but which looked incapable of doing so. The mosque is being refurbished but it was still very pretty despite scaffolding. We had to cover our heads to go inside – they provided bright colored bandanas for this purpose – another great addition to my photos! We learned about the Gurus role and the book that it took a series of master Gurus to write which essentially made the role of master guru obsolete. Inside the mosque we found an alter to this book with a group of Sikhs sitting to the side providing constant chanting and music for worshippers. There was one Sikh who cared for the ornate chest which contained the book (or as we learned a replica of the book). In the corner of the mosque we saw the room where the last master guru slept. Locals believe that to just look into the room will bring good health and dispel any ailments. As our guide pointed out, it is the belief which brings results and the people we saw kneeling and peering into the room, most definitely were believers.
The best part of this stop was next area we visited. We went to the kitchen where food, offered to anyone who asks, is prepared by volunteers. We got to see huge woks, enormous vats of soups, curries and vegetables, and the work tables where the bread dough is rolled out before being grilled then quickly charred over an open flame before being collected into baskets from which it is served. We were invited, as any visitor would be, to sit down and roll out some bread or help serve the bread. I and my traveling buddy immediately dove into the bread preparation. As one who enjoys volunteering, this was a treat and if I’d had more time in Dehli, I would have liked to put in some serious time preparing the food. I’m not religious but I do appreciate any group which tries to help the less fortunate.
We’d run out of time so didn’t get to the Contemporary Art Museum, the largest steel pillar or a few other planned stops. You could easily spend a week exploring Delhi – one day is just not enough.
We returned to our hotel for a relaxing dinner and, of course, a trip to the largest mall in India which was adjacent to our hotel. There were a few shops selling Sarees and fabrics but most of the shops were the same as those you’d find in the US. We checked out the KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s to see if they’d added any local flavor to their menu. The changes were very minor. KFC offered naan and rice as side dishes. McDonald’s had renamed the Big Mac the Maharaja Mac.
After dinner it was to bed so we could be ready for our early departure for Jaipur.