Archive for May, 2006

Delhi Revisited

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

Since Marte decided to go back to Norway early, our plans and direction of travel have changed a lot.  From Orissa, we went strait to Delhi instead of stopping off at Bodhgaya, the holiest Buddhist pilgrimmage site in the world- it’s the place where Buddha gained enlightenment.  But that’s probably okay, considering the fact that we would have melted in the 45+ degrees celsius (105+ Fahrenheit) temperatures there!

mando bhubaneshwar delhi trainOn the train…

Finally in Delhi after a 30+ hour train, we said goodbye to Marte after some shopping and a few cold beers in Cannaught Place.  We can still see her happy face when she was trying on that candy-lipstick-red-leather vest in one of Cannaught Place’s congested bazaars just hours before we dropped her off at the airport!  Two instead of three now, we went back to our hotel in a neighborhood of Tibetan exiles and refugees north of Old Delhi.  By pure chance we stumbled upon this neighborhood, and with the Tibetan scene aflare, it created a nice introduction to the next cultural region of India we have yet to see in the Himalayan north.

Over the next few days, we had time to see the sights we missed in Delhi in February and to plan a trip to the Himalayas and their foothills to the north of Delhi.  On our first day, we ran around India’s capital all day in the heat completing the last of Romy’s tasks for her field work, so it wasn’t until day 2 that we got to look around some more.  On that morning, we took an ‘auto rickshaw’ to ‘Raj Ghat’, which roughly translates to ‘King’s Bank’ (as in a river bank), which is a large park near the Yamuna River in Delhi where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948.  Today, there is an unobtrusive and rather plain monument to ‘the father of India’, where a large rectangular, black marble slab in the middle of a sprawling courtyard in the middle of the park marks the spot where Gandhi was cremated.  A few foreign tourists and many large groups of Indians walked barefoot through the monument’s green courtyard to share a moment of silence in the presence of the spirit of modern India’s greatest saint.  Overall, Raj Ghat is a nice place for quite contemplation of non-violence and Gandhi’s ideals.  However, look south from right in front of Gandhi’s funeral pyre site, and a much greater monument pierces a sky: a giant, ash-gray smoke stack from some industrial incenerator or a power-plant.  This modern monument is tell-tale of India’s path since Independence- a story of industrialization, growth of the market economy and globalization, environmental pollution and over-population.  I wonder how Gandhi would react to this image and how he would feel about his India now…

Mando Gandhi Ghat

romy raj ghat

Although Raj Ghat is a peaceful spot relative to the rest of Delhi, the day was scorching hot and the blazing sun forced us to retreat into the shade of the National Gandhi Memorial Museum across the street.  Over the next two hours, we thouroughly inspected the exhibits on Indian spinning wheels (for spinning raw cotton and wool into yarn and thread) and Gandhi’s life in photos.  The spinning wheels were on display, of course because the control over the textile industry in India was central to Gandhi’s philosophy of independence from England.  If in every Indian household, Gandhi reasoned, everyone spun their own thread and yarn, they would never be forced to depend on foreign, machine-made cloth (a very anti-globalization idea).  He began a boycott of British textiles in India and encouraged Indians to buy only Indian cloth or to make their own.  This was the beginning of the loosening of the grip of Britain’s 150 year rule in India. 

 

Gandhiji

 

The end of the photo gallery had the greatest impression on us, as it has on display the blood-stained robes Gandhi wore when he was shot by a Hindu fundamentalist as well as one of the bullets that killed him.  Also on display was the glass case in which the largest of the urns holding his ashes was kept when transported on the train from Delhi to a point a few hundred miles away on the Ganges River where his remains were finally spread on the waters of this holiest of holy rivers.  What’s more, the urns that were used to house his ashes were also on display.  We never imagined we’d see something so closely connected to Gandhi’s death– it was a very powerful, striking and emotional sight.

Tired and starving, we took an auto-rickshaw to the heart of Old Delhi- the oldest living part of Delhi characterized by its narrow, winding labyrinthine streets clogged with bustling bizarres with vendors selling anything imaginable, from spices and clothing to plumbing fixtures and paint.  We went to a restaurant to recuperate before doing some more site seeing.

After lunch, incredibly, our day’s pace accelerated!  We walked through the hyperactive bizarres of Old Delhi to the Jama Masjid, the old city’s largest and most extravagant mosque.  It is also the heart of Old Delhi’s busy Muslim sector.  The building is as large and as striking as the Taj Mahal upon first glance, complete with towering minarets framing large, ballooning upside-down-radish-shaped domes.  But instead of having the Taj’s immaculate white gleam, it has the beautiful radiance and contrast of deep red sandstone framing inlaid white marble–the two most popular building materials of the monument-minded Mughal rulers of pre-British India.  The mosque is raised up, a hill in and of itself, towering above the rest of the old city offering beautiful views of the urban rat maze.

Satisfied with our visit to the Jama Masjid, we decided to explore another random alleyway in the city which, again was just a busy bizarre, but this time in a very muslim neighborhood.  The sights and sounds were dizzying as crowds of people, mopeds, cycle-rickshaws and pushcarts streamed and pushed forecefully through the narrow, winding streets.  We were spellbound by the extravagant colors blazing out of saree shops, the smells coming from hole-in-the-wall cafes selling chai, chapatis (indian tortillas) and much more, the giant goat-like lambs (some himalayan variety surely) sprawled out in the middle of the human stream.  The scene was closer to some post-apocalyptic scene or the 13th century than what we considered the modern, civilized present 21st century.  So absorbed by our surroundings, Romy and I did not notice the group of boys that started following us through the bizarre until one of them grabbed one of her hind haunches right in the cramped open!  She gave a discontented growl, and I in retaliation, grabbed HIS butt and told him sarcastically he was “a very big man” for his assault on Romy.    Our shock and disgust at that cheauvanist Delhi youth prompted us to find our way out of the bizarre as quickly as possible… also the advancing dark was excellent motivation to go back to the saftey of our hotel.  However, just within sight of the main street outside of the old neighborhood, we came upon a business whose gaudy Las Vegas like exterior with a hundred brightly flashing light bulbs hooked our attention immediately, and we decided to go inside to inspect.  What we saw next was the nicest surprise of the entire day: a restaurant in the style of old Persian or Arabic hookha and tea houses.  The place had an extravagant decor of many low wooden tables surrounded by colorful silk pillows for seats.  The walls were covered in mosaics of hundreds of pieces of cut mirror and tiles of all colors.  Each table was set with silver plates and utensils, silk napkins and a large hookha in the middle of the table.  Even the waitors were dressed in silk balloon pants, vests and fez hats!

Thrilled with our find and effective step into another century and region altogether than either the Old Delhi neighborhood or the modern cosmopolitan Indian capital outside, we sat down and ordered strawberry tobacco to smoke in our hookha and a few meat dishes, which proved to be the best grilled chicken and mutton that either of us have ever tasted!

Dinner at this extraordinary restaurant was last thing we did on that epic day in Delhi.  But even the next day- the day we planned to leave to Derha Dun and adventures in the foothills of the Himalaya- we got sucked into running around Delhi again, and only after we ran innumerable errands and then finally saw some traditional Indian folk dances in the evening did we finally depart the city.  Revisiting Delhi in a way characterized perfectly how quickly plans can change and how you can get swept up in a thousand-and-one things travelling in this crazy country.  It just reinforces the fact for me that you cannot count on anything turning out the way you imagined it would in India… and that no matter what it is that you end up doing, it is amazing!!