Monday, October 14, 2013

Delhi, Old And New

Getting back to the Indian capital after being up North was a full assault on all senses. The noise, the throngs of people and traffic, the noise, the hassles, the smells, the cramped spaces. This is the India everyone knows.

To get our tourist on in this crazy busy city, we set off on a day tour, in a dreaded tourist bus, but it meant we got to hit up the big things in our day before the cricket started again.

First was the massive and stunning Jama Masjid. The largest and best known mosque in India, it seems to sit right in the heart of Old Delhi. The girls among the group needed to wear a total cover over our bodies, regardless of what we were wearing, and be accompanied by a male at all times.

Regardless of it's gender bias - I need to learn more about this treatment - the working mosque was busy, and so beautiful. We had just a window of time we were allowed in to have a look, before we needed to be out for prayer time.

Dealing with the hot slate ground in the baking sun with our shoes off, we made our way first to the far wall and the chance to catch the views of Delhi from the very top of the far minaret. This gave us a great overview of Old and New Delhi, and of the goings on in the mosque square below us.

The mosque is made of the characteristic red sandstone, and white marble, of the monuments in Agra - built by the same man, Shah Jahan.

Once back out into the street, we were shown to a group of waiting cycling rickshaws, and we were ridden around the tiny laneways of the crazy busy Chandhi Chowk. This was a bustling market with all manner of wares for sale.

The things that caught my eye as we circled around the labyrinth streets were the sari colours, and the jewellery. The colours of the prayer garlands, the fruit, and then the laneways upon laneways of fabric.

Next was Humayun's Tomb, a hidden wonder you will find after walking through broken-down sections of it's wall. Through the impressive archway gate, you will find the temple of Mughal architecture that is said to be the "practice run" before the Taj Mahal in Agra. But also the first instance of Persian style in India.

This tomb was built by a woman, the senior wife of the second Mughal emperor Humayun. Having been to Agra first, the design layout was very similar to the later built Taj, with the water features, the symmetry, and the formal gardens all around.

The tombs of the complex were far more accessible than at the Taj - which is a puzzle, because this monument of love and grief is very impressive also. I for one had never heard of this temple, and yet would have really missed out if we did not get to visit it.

In total contrast, our next stop was the modern and unusual Lotus Temple, or the Bahai House of Worship. A temple of "universal peace and the elimination of prejudice" (according to the Lonely Planet), it reminded me of the gold temple outside of Pondicherry in it's philosophy.

We were informed that visitors are not permitted to make a sound inside, and upon seeing the streams of people going in, we as a group decided we were content with seeing the petal-structure from the road, before keeping on our way for the day.
On our tour around we passed the India Gate several times, however to get a better look a few of us ventured back on our last days in India. The National Monument of India, it houses an eternal flame under it's arches for the Unknown Soldier of War.

The structure is impressive, and sits at the centre of many roads, and rare space in Delhi. But the touts here are relentless.

We did visit the Red Fort, one of the most lauded sights of Delhi, again at the end of our days in India - although after seeing the forts of Agra, and Jaipur, and seeing it's state of run-down, we were actually pretty underwhelmed. Maybe a symptom of our tiredness of India at that point at the end of our trip, but the others that we visited were stunning, well maintained and restored.

Delhi has it all - the hub of activity. The modernity of shops and fast food. The traditional religious sites, and market areas of everyday Indian life. It takes a lot of patience, and you will get lost and ripped off. But it's a place not to be missed!

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