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Published: February 28th 2018
Return to India 1 Delhi delights
I want to take you on a journey. Not just any old journey, but one where we can combine the spiritual mystique with the natural and cultural delights of this fascinating land we know as India. Janice has kindly allowed me off the lead for a month to enable me to share time with my younger brother, Mike; a much experienced traveller and devotee of this vast country. We’ll put behind us the trials of long haul, some 23 hours from rising on the day of departure in the UK to arrival at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for e-visa check, and finger-print and face recognition for some, at immigration.
I’ve heard it said amongst you that you have no desire to visit India: for yes, there is indeed poverty, there is an abundance of rubbish, there are many beggars on the streets and cows and pigs are free to wander at will in their role as recyclers supreme. But its people are remarkably content with their lot; it’s not always happiness as we in the West, with our insatiable appetite for material wealth might recognise it,
Shopping Mall - New Delhi
'City boys and girls in Western dress'
but an acceptance of a reality they bear with a placid strength of character and spiritual enlightenment, each with his inheritance, however frail.
Whilst here in New Delhi we will take in the wealth of the city's monuments and revisit briefly, the markets of Old Delhi. You will wonder at the rich kaleidoscope of colour, from slender ladies in splendid saris and glittering bangles, the bright neon lights, the constant bombardment of honking horns and revving motors, the throbbing masses of people with dark brown flashing eyes, and your nose will be in ecstasy with the rich aromas of herbs, incense, spices - and burning rubbish at break of day. You will discover an intensity and diversity of religion beyond your imagination and you will surely be captivated by every smile of welcome and every hand offered in friendship on every corner and at every turn of your head.
This is not our first visit to Delhi, allowing us the opportunity to seek out some new delights and venture further into the back streets of New Delhi in particular on this journey. Regular followers of the ‘grey-haired-nomads’ and the ‘keep smiling’ blogs of brother, Mike, will
realise we’re not back-packing youngsters, but two grey-haired old gents who will quickly become the centre of attention when in areas the average tourists rarely visits: a shopping mall of calorie stacked fast-food joints, McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King amongst them, bustling with wide-eyed teens; city boys and girls in western dress, revelling in the delights and horrors of a modern world advancing at capitalistically propelled speed. “Take my picture,” they all call! And who are we to deny them a few pixels.
Beyond the fringes of this smart modern mall are gaping holes on unkempt footpaths. Cars, tuc-tucs and roaring motorbikes weave, tooting and hooting, in and out between dozing cows, flocks of sheep, street kids vie for attention with outstretched hands; balloon sellers call, food vendors stir spices in steaming pans, splashes of vibrant colour of cloth and sari, clatter and clutter, music blaring, endless banging and clanging ….and the grey, penetrating smog we still associate with our last view of LA back in 2006.
Let’s grab a taxi and take in a few of New Delhi’s sights and travel with time through the complex maze of India's religious heritage.
A glimmer of thin sunlight penetrates the fumes of manic traffic as we approach Humayun’s Tomb mid-morning and black kites circle above the dome of this wonderful 16th century building erected in memory of the Mughal Emperor, Humayun. Stand still just here in the shade of this giant ficus tree for a moment, away from the hoards of gathering tourists, and absorb the serene beauty of this delightful monument set in the midst of calm and peaceful parkland, and reflect if you will before we move on to Delhi Golf Club, on its likeness to the Taj Mahal.
“Sorry, Sir. Members only.” the guard commanded as we entered the gates of Delhi Golf Club. Mike explained or mission; to be allowed to take a quick peek around the clubhouse: the first tee and the 18th green, perhaps? With some reluctance the guard picked up the phone and called the Secretary’s office. A brief guided tour of the grounds followed: tees and greens, the busy practice area, the pool, the Pro shop and the very well appointed restaurant revealed the true value of membership here. “We have a thirty-five year waiting list,” we
were told, “and five thousand members!“ Our gracious thanks must go to the Assistant Secretary for his courtesy and patience. We left with the knowledge that we had been privileged to enter this hallowed ground the elitist British left behind.
But the British failed to influence the deeply ingrained religious beliefs of much of this nation’s devout people. Let’s ask our driver to take us through the diverse maze of faiths.
Intensive security surrounds the nearby Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, inaugurated as recently as 2005. Set in 100 acres of beautiful parkland, this vast Hindu house of worship, with its intricately carved pillars and ceilings, was built in just five years with the help of more than 8,000 volunteers from around the world and some 300m hours of gifted labour. That is true devotion. Cameras and telephones are prohibited inside here; we’ll talk more about security in a moment, but the sublime beauty and craftsmanship it etches on the mind can only leave one breathless and speechless. Contemplate for a moment, the thought that Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, was started in 1882 and is not expected to be finished before 2041!
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Temple
'The great and admirable gift of giving is born to those of this faith'
From Hindu we pass to Sikh, at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. This wonderful temple dates back to the late18th Century. It has much of the grandeur of the spectacular Golden temple at Amritsar we visited back in 2013, and here the welcome is once more as one would expect of such an important place of Sikh worship. Our friendly bearded and turbaned guide will walk with us, heads covered and bare feet, through the grounds, his bright eyes sparkling with pride as we pass through the enormous Gurudwara kitchens where food is prepared by gursikhs and volunteers for many thousands of visitors each day. All, regardless of race or religion, may eat for free here, seated cross-legged with their trays in long rows on the floor, so let’s join the 1,400 for this first sitting today to share in the generosity gifted by these most enlightened people. Afterwards we can then take a leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the sparkling pool if you wish. The great and admirable gift of giving is born to those of this faith. I am overwhelmed.
And lastly to the third of India’s predominant religions; a tedious traffic-packed journey across the
City into Old Delhi before dinner to visit the Muslim, Jama Masjid mosque. Completed way back in 1656 AD, it has three ornate entrance gates, four dominant onion towers and two delicate 40m high minarets
constructed of strips of red sandstone
and white marble
. The courtyard here can accommodate more than 25,000 people and there are many visitors here today; to worship and wonder at this delicate monument to the Muslim faith, sadly desecrated by terror attacks in 2006 and 2010; the justification for tight security at all places of worship here in Delhi.
As darkness falls across the city we make our way to the bustling Maria Mahal market, a foodie’s paradise, for dinner. Amongst the noisy bustle of rickshaws and diners and tourists on narrow lanes we find the first signs of true poverty. A long line of squatting immigrants from distant villages seeking work and shelter in the city await donations from passers-by to provide their one meal of the day; wide eyed in anticipation. My ever-generous brother passed a 500Rs note (£6) to the portly proprietor at the door, and twenty-five starving souls sprang to their feet and jostled for seats in the bar.
Maria Mahal market
Immigrants from distant villages seeking work and shelter await a meagre meal
To put this into perspective, that's 20Rs per person, around 26p UK or 35cents US. We'll be eating elsewhere this evening.
It’s been another tiring day today; filled with so many new experiences of wonder, delight and sorrow. We’ll get a rickshaw back to our hotel to save our weary legs if we can strike a deal. 50Rs (60p) sounds about right.
I suggest you get an early night too. We’ll be making a speedy escape before Delhi-belly strikes us down, catching the 06.45 from New Delhi Station to Haridwar, to seek enlightenment from the banks of Mother Ganges in Uttarakhand in the morning. Don’t miss it!
Accommodation: Tree of Life D-193 Saket, New Delhi - a highly recommended Homestay (our second visit)
Tot: 4.071s; Tpl: 0.06s; cc: 50; qc: 187; dbt: 0.1279s; 3; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 2mb