Namaste Hindustan!

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December 27th 2008
Published: February 3rd 2009
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Well it has been an eventful day... or two days truthfully. I finished work and rushed home to check my packing and collect all my documents and then headed off for Heathrow. Dad drove me to the airport and we checked in my bags and had dinner together. Then I went into departures and settled in for a long wait until my gate was called. The flight went pretty smoothly. I found myself with an interesting travel companion by the name of Mark, who teaches International relations at university and was heading to Delhi for a conference. It being his first time in India I helped him out a bit and recommended a couple of hotels I know. We chatted away a fair part of the flight and I tried to sleep for most of the rest of it. Getting through Delhi airport was fairly relaxed. The first thing I was asked as I handed over my passport was 'Good day Madam - you are Indian?' which was quite surprising as I was still wearing my jeans and jumper from England and my passport obviously declared me as thoroughly English. I headed for the baggage reclaim and stood with my new friend while we waited for our bags, then changed our money, said our goodbyes and headed out of the airport. There were two exits one pointing me in the direction of 'taxis' and one 'pre-paid taxis'. Well I had a pre-booked but not pre-paid taxi so I took a guess and headed out of one exit. No-one appeared to be waiting for me so I tried to phone the hotel only to find I can't make calls from my new mobile in India. I approached a uniformed man standing nearby who took the number off me, phoned from his own mobile and then told me that the driver had been waiting outside the other exit but he'd told him to bring the car round to meet me on this side. There's nothing like the kindness of strangers!
I finally got to my hotel and was shown into my room. I got out of my jeans and jumper which needless to say were getting just a little too hot and re-emerged in a salwar kameez and dupatta ready for some sightseeing. Unfortunately after the time it took to get through the airport it was already 2pm which meant I had four hours of sightseeing at best. I decided to head for Humayun's Tomb first as I really wanted to see it again and spend longer exploring the grounds. I took a taxi to the tomb, paid my Rs250 at the ticket office and went inside where I was greeted by a couple of tiny enthusiastic puppies who seemed to be living within the grounds. The mother looked on unconcerned from her patch of shade as the braver of the pups trailed along behind me as I went to see Isa Khan's Tomb. Isa Khan Niyazi was an Afghan noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri. The tomb was built around 1547-1548 CE and is believed to have influenced the design of Humayun's Tomb. The tomb is enclosed in a walled garden along with a mosque, both of which were built during Isa Khan's lifetime. Apparently until the early 20th century an entire village lived within the tomb enclosure.
I was glad to see the restoration work on the tomb was finished as the last time I came, two years ago, the tomb was covered in scaffolding. This time I was able to explore the tomb itself and fortunately managed to dissuade the pup from following me inside. The sun was already quite low in the sky and the tomb looked beautiful in the warm glow. I walked around the outside and then went in to view the tombs inside. The intricate honeycomb marble windows cast dappled light over the tombs and in the gloom I found the stairs leading up to the roof. I tied my scarf behind my back and climbed up the steep steps in the near dark. I felt my way up carefully and stopped at the top. To my left was the rooftop, to my right a window and ledge leading to a sheer drop to the floor below!
I walked out onto the roof and circled around the outside, walking between the small pavilions with their faded painted carvings.
Back outside I was called over by a man in uniform sitting with an older woman in a saree. He said the woman had been watching me and wanted to know if I was Indian! I know I try to travel with the policy 'blend in as much as possible' but I really can't understand why so many people here mistake me for Indian, even down to stopping me on the street to ask me something in Hindi. The woman's question was followed by the usual polite exchange - where are you from? What do you do? What do your parents do? Are you married? Do you have brother and sisters? Why are you in India? Although most tourists seem to find this a rude interrogation asking the same questions back can usually turn it into a pleasant conversation! I sat and chatted with them for a while and then as I was about to leave the man offered to take my picture, so I handed over my camera before going to explore the mosque. As I left the enclosure and headed for Humayun's Tomb I waved goodbye to my new aquaintances who were still sitting in the evening sunshine by the tomb... seems like a relaxing kind of job to have!
I walked past the Arab Serai Gate, built in 1560-1561 as a gateway to the walled enclosure that housed the Persian craftsmen who built Humayun's Tomb. The gateway itself is an impressive structure of red sandstone and white marble inlays with remenants of the coloured ceramic tilework still remain.
Past the Arab Serai Gate, I came to the West Gate, now the main entrance to the tomb. The West Gate stands 16 metres high, and has rooms to either side and an upper floor with small courtyards. As I walked towards it I was distracted by a bunch of chipmunks on a tree. I have never seen so many! They were all chattering and crawling over each other and running around the tree trunk. There was no doubting I was a strange foreign tourist when I ignored the beautiful West Gate before me and crouched down to try and get a photograph of the chipmunk party!
Eventually I made it into the main tomb enclosure and saw the 'Red Taj' in front of me. Humayun's Tomb was built fouteen years after the death of the Emperor Humayun on the orders of his widow Hamida Banu Begam. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor who ruled modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of northern India from 1530-1540 and again from 1555-1556. He originally ascended the throne at the age of 22 and was somewhat inexperienced when he came to power. Humayun lost his Indian territories to the Afghan noble, Sher Shah Suri, and, with Persian aid, regained them fifteen years later. The influence of Persian architecture is apparent in the design of the tomb and it is the first distinct example of proper Mughal style. The Persian architect, Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, was the man employed by Hamida Banu Begam to create the tomb.
I visited the tomb itself and spent some time exploring the grounds. I saw many more chipmunks, and several eagles soaring overhead. There was a large group of Japanese tourists but once I moved away from them the grounds were incredibly quiet and peaceful and the tomb looked beautiful in the early sunset.
Eventually I left and went in search of my taxi. I couldn't immediately locate him so I approached a group of drivers who harrassed me good naturedly and then tracked down my taxi and the driver who was fast asleep inside. As it was already getting quite late I decided there wasn't really time for anymore sightseeing. I asked the driver to take me to the Lotus Temple as I knew entry was free and figured it didn't matter if I couldn't have long there. I arrived at the Bahá'í House of Worship just as the sun was sinking below the horizon and the white temple was back lit with a pink glow. Although now my third time visiting the temple I was still impressed by the lotus shaped building. The Bahá'í House of Worship was completed as recently as 1986 and like all Bahá'í temples is open to all regardless of religion, or any other distinction. The Bahá'í laws emphasize that the spirit of the House of Worship be that it is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions. I left my shoes behind before approaching the temple. Despite the time and the growing dark there was a large queue of people still waiting to get in. I decided I didn't want to wast my time standing amongst the press of people and opted to sit by one of the pools and relax.
I came back to the hotel, paid my driver for the afternoon of sightseeing and asked at reception if I could order a taxi to take me north tomorrow morning. The manager phoned on my behalf and someone came across from a nearby tourist office. He looked confused when I showed him the address I wanted to get to and asked me to come over to his office. I felt a little silly scurrying behind him along the dark crowded streets of Delhi holding onto my address book and feeling somewhat self conscious that I'd left my dupatta in my hotel room. We crossed a busy road and went into a tiny office at the side of the street where we sat down and he studied the address and pulled out a map. He quoted a price of Rs7,500 which seemed a bit much. I'm prepared to pay for a private taxi for the sake of a stress-free trip, however I did query the Rs7,500 as it's too much, especially for me as I'm on my own and won't be able to split the cost with anyone. I hesitantly mentioned that the last time I was here I only paid Rs5,000 for the same trip. The man proceeded to tell me some nonsense about private hire cars vs. tourist cars and additional costs being caused by taxes and licensing vehicles. When I looked disappointed he tried explaining that it was a strange place to want to go and he could give me a much better price if I wanted to tour Agra or Shimla! What followed was a lengthy discussion of me trying to explain that I was here for a friend's wedding and the tour operater alternatively trying to persuade me to take a tour of Himachal Pradesh that would eventually leave me at my friends address and asking endless questions about how was it I knew this person, was she British Indian, was her husband English, if I wanted to see an Indian wedding there are plenty in Delhi - no need to go so far, if neither of the couple are English then how was it I knew them? Eventually he seemed to realise I apparently did know where I was going and also wasn't going to pay so much so he offered to see if there was a driver who had already paid taxes for Himachal Pradesh and made a big show of sending a boy out to find someone. While we waited he offered me a drink... more specifically beer or wine! It was around this point I lost any respect for the man. Offering alcohol to a business client, who is a lone female traveller, obviously under the legal drinking age, is without a chaperone, late at night, in a country that disapproves of women drinking at all!?!?
The boy returned 20 minutes later to say it was 'simply not possible' at which point I suspected the boy had simply been sitting out the back drinking chai, not trying to find a cheaper price for me at all. I grudgingly agreed to the higher price as I have to leave tomorrow and don't have time to tour different taxi ranks. I returned to the hotel where my room service was already waiting for me.
A short while later I had a phone call from the taxi service saying many roads in Himachal Pradesh were closed and it would be very difficult to get there. He said the alternative journey could be a few hours longer and the price was..... going to have to be much higher.
I tried phoning a couple of taxi drivers I'd had in the past who I trusted to give me a fair price but neither of the numbers seemed to work anymore. I finally managed to get through to Shivali and told her the whole story. After a lot of phoning back and forth her family managed to arrange a taxi for me which will be ready at 8am tomorrow morning!


7th February 2009

nice,verybeautyful places, i like that thanks.
15th April 2009

Nice story and snaps...! regards,
17th February 2010

I've visited India this summer, and i want to say that i'm so glad to see pics of Lotus temple, where i went with my indian friends! so much feelings and emotions fulfill my heart. Most of all i lived in South India, but I liked north too. well i love India with its magical spices, traditional sarees - it has something that makes you feel like you are in fairy-tale..)
20th February 2010

Yes India is an incredible country and will always be one of my favourite places. I love the Lotus Temple - so serene and peaceful there. It's just a shame this time I had such a short time for sightseeing I couldn't spend longer there.
15th June 2012

Well I must say your writings are wonderful. I am a fellow wanderer trying to document all monuments & tourist spots in India (or most of them) in my blog ( & giving tips about how to avoid touts & fraudsters when in India. Your writing style is certainly an inspiration. Namastey!

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