Touring in New Delhi: Random Observations

I finally had a day to tour Delhi. I saw a lot of wonderful, beautiful things, but every visit was tinged with the regret of unknown compromises. Would I have been happier getting a beautiful henna drawing on my hands or walking the streets and goign shopping with a local? Possibly. But I had made my choice, and so historical sight seeing it was.

We went to the Red Fort, and saw the outside for a bit (I was told it took an hour and a half to tour, and I could either see the Red Fort, or I could see more of old Delhi, so I picked the latter). I wanted to see as much as possible.

We then took a bicycle pulled rickshaw through Chandni Chowk, which for some reason I’ve always heard of and it’s always sounded terribly romantic or magical and mysterious. I love the names of places in New Delhi.

I had been warned that this street market was very dense and hard to get through, and that the only way to carve a path through was in a rickshaw as the drivers are expert navigators.

The streets are very chaotic and crowded. It’s hard to capture exactly how the traffic flows in twenty directions at once, with some people going against traffic, while bicycles, children, and animals do what they want to do, regardless of what cars, trucks, tuktuks and buses are doing. It’s daunting. But the good news is that it generally doesn’t move very fast. The slowlness of traffic does encourage people to dart across. It’s amazing there isn’t more random street slaughter. However, in one day of touring Delhi I did see more people with blindness in one eye than I have in my whole life in the States.

So in Chandni Chowk, on a rickshaw, sitting next to my guide, we rode through the wedding market, the silver market, the gift market, and the book market, which as you can imagine are densely crowded with shops that sell exactly those things. The shops are the sizes of some larger closets found houses in the US, and there are four or five people sharing the space, and they are usually sitting, while one or two are napping, and yet there’s a sense of tremendous vitality.

Then we went to the Jama Masjid, or the big mosque. It’s either the biggest mosque in Delhi or the biggest one in India. It can apparently hold up to 25,000 people. It’s primarily an outdoor plaza with a fountain for washing hands and feet, and rows of rolled up carpets ready for prayer. I frustrated my tour guide because I did not let him talk a lot. I was very tired and wanted to try to take it all in and absorb the sights, and not have to constantly concentrate on a flow of informative chatter. So we chatted in fits and starts, I took pictures, and found out a few things, and appreciated the company and facilitation through the crowds of men.

Women are rarely alone in this society it seems–they usually move in groups, or with children.
There are lots of solo men, however, so it was good to have an uncle figure with me as I definitely stick out in a Delhi crowd. I had been warned there would be a lot of staring, but I did not find it hostile. I think people were just really curious and surprised to see me about.

I did see some Western women touring the sights solo, but they were generally a bit older. I curious and wanting to stop them and ask them how they found being tourists in India. But there were already being brave and didn’t need me bothering them further.

One things has remained true of my entire stay–the people are incredibly welcoming, smiling, kind and sweet to me, they are helpful and decent and just want to be treated with a touch of respect.

So for the mosque (My first ever) I had to remove my shoes, buy some slippers, and then put on a full covering which was delightfully ugly orange and green flowery pattern (yes I have a couple pictures).

Then we took the rickshaw back to the auto and headed to Raj Ghat, the site of Gandi’s cremation which is by India’s second most sacred river.

It’s a black stone slab with an eternal flame next to it, and some flowers on it.

My guide wanted to make sure I saw as much as possible, so he suggested we just see it from above, but I deciced I had to go up to it and pay my respects. So i darted through, barefoot again, and came back. we then went to Humayun’s tomb, which was built 75(?) years before the Taj Mahal (closed on Fridays), and was supposed to be the inspiration for the Taj.

It’s very pretty, red sandstone and white marble building. I have some good pictures. It’s actually kind of amazing the state in which the historical sights are–they tend to have beautiful crumbling stone work and peeling paint work.

It’s also weird being shown buildings from the 1600 and 1700, because these do not impress me in their age, since there are much older things in Paris.

The oldest sight around, the Qutub Minar, was too far for me to reach on this compressed day of touring (all public buildings close at five pm, I left the hotel at 1pm, so we had to hustle through Delhi’s impossible traffic as best we could before rush hour started).

I really enjoyed the peacefullness of the gardens around the tomb. I was glad to get back to the hotel and finally relax a bit. I was sad to leave Delhi before I experienced more of it, but I’m really happy to be heading home.

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