Mosks and a Magniphesent Temple

Published: November 26th 2018
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1964 Diary Entry

"The next morning we got up, got dressed and went down to breakfast. After breakfast Dad ordered a car to take us around Delhi. First of all we went past all the embassys (sic, I won't bother with the "sics" any more; there would be too many of them) and a lot of other buildings. Then we got to an old tower which is about 280 ft high. At the back of the tower there are a lot of arches and old carvings of which were a great interest to me. After looking at these things we got back into the car. Then we drove on. After driving for about ten minutes we stopped at a mosk. These mosks are very interesting and very common in India. After going inside and having a look at this wonderful structure we got in the car and moved on. After a while we stopped at parliament house. There we saw guards most brilliantly dressed who were guarding this beautiful building.

After this we drove on through the main part of Delhi. In the middle of Delhi there is a magniphesent temple. We went inside this temple where the preist put some funny red stuff on our foreheads. This was ment to be a sign of good luck. He also put some flowers around our necks. Then we had a very good look around this temple. After looking we went around to Mahatma Gandhi's tomb. There we had to take our shoes off to go inside. When we got there we found that it was made out of very rare black marble. We then went back to the hotel. Just before lunch I had a swim in the hotel swimming pool. After lunch we all had a rest and then at four o'clock I had another swim.

After swimming we went up and got dressed for we were going to General Chowdrey's place for a drink. After dressing we caught a taxi for going over. When we got there we found that there was a guard on the gate. This guard asked us what we wanted. Dad told him and we drove in. Then we went around the back for that is where we were having our drink. There we met General Chowdrey and his three other guests. The General then called the waiter for the drinks. Dad ordered whisky, I ordered lime, and Mum and the others had something but I didn't know what. After that everybody talked while they were waiting for the drinks and when they came everybody drunk and talked. When they'd finished it was time to go home. We got in our taxi, waved good-bye to General Chowdrey, and drove back to the hotel. When we got back I went up to the room, hopped on the bed and went to sleep while Mum and Dad went down to dinner. By the time I woke up again it was time to go to the airport for that night we were leaving for Beirut. We got a porter for the luggage, paid our hotel bill and caught the bus for the airport. When we got there we had our baggage checked and got some forms to fill in. After that we went into customs where we gave in our forms and were asked a couple of questions. After that we went into the flight waiting room where we recieved our boarding passes. By that time the time was about 12 midnight."

I remember our hotel being fairly opulent and looking a bit like a palace. I also distinctly remember this being in very stark contrast to the shanty town right over its back fence, where everyone seemed to be living in abject poverty under sheets of corrugated iron; I also very distinctly remember hearing the constant sound of people wailing. This was far more of a culture shock than Hong Kong had been and certainly left an indelible impression.

As we sat at breakfast in the morning, an oil sheikh in long white flowing robes and headdress trooped in with a large entourage in tow. I'm not sure I'd ever seen anything like this before, and if facial expressions were anything to go by I'm not sure that Mum had either.

I remember Mum and Dad wanting to spend our day in India catching the train to the Taj Mahal, but this didn't work out for some reason. My diary entry is distinctly short on names, so I've had to do a bit of detective work with the help of Mr Google to try to guess what we might have actually visited on our tour around Delhi. I suspect that the tower was probably Qutb Minar, which does apparently have arches behind it. It is really only on 240 feet high rather than the 280 feet that I've claimed, so it seems that my tendency to exaggerate was active from a very early age; I think I might have inherited this from Mum. Qutb Minar is renowned for being the world's tallest minaret made entirely of bricks. Its construction started in 1192 and it is part of the UNESCO World heritage Qutab complex. Judging by the three domes in the background of one of my Kodak Brownie shots, I suspect that the mosque was probably Jama Masjid. This was built between 1644 and 1656, and is apparently generally regarded as one of the world's most beautiful such structures. A brochure I found in the shoebox in the attic suggests that the temple was Shri Lakshiminaram which was only opened in 1938. It was first large Hindu temple built in Delhi and is still a very major tourist attraction. Gandhi's tomb, also know as Raj Ghat, is in fact made of black marble, and marks the spot where he was cremated the day after his assassination in 1948.

I'm not at all sure why we only spent one full day in India, as this seems to have been a bit too brief. I wonder if my parents were a bit worried about a long plane ride from Hong Kong to Beirut, or whether we stopped here just so Dad could visit his old buddy "General Chowdrey". I don't know who he was or how Dad knew him, so I've had to again rely of the ever reliable Wikipedia to help me hunt down some clues. Dad joined the Army sometime around 1920, and I know that he fought in India, as he used to show off a scar from a bullet hole in his leg which he said he got while fighting there. He said that the bullet went straight through without hitting any bone, so it just knocked him over without causing any real damage. One of my much older cousins told me at Mum's funeral in 2001 that at family gatherings at Dad’s parents' home in inner Melbourne, he used to regale all his nieces and nephews with stories of his time in India . One that particularly stuck in my cousin's mind involved the company doctor being captured, executed and then decapitated by the enemy, and his head then being displayed on a pole for all to see. I'm not entirely sure which particular conflict Dad was involved in there, but it seems there were a number of uprisings by local rebels against the British Raj in the early 1920s, and I can only guess it was one or more of these. I suppose that Dad could have met General Chowdrey during that time.

Wikipedia tells me that a Jayanto Nath Chaudhuri was a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army, but he was about ten years younger than Dad which suggests that he would have been too young to have been fighting in the early 1920s. Wikipedia does however go onto say that he was Chief on the General Staff of the Indian Army from 1953. This would have coincided with Dad's time as the Australian Defence Force representative in London, so I suspect that this is probably the same person and is where they knew each other from. General Chaudhuri apparently came from an aristocratic family, was a highly decorated soldier, and later became the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, all of which probably goes some way to explaining the guard on the gate and the waiter.

I have distinct memories of the seating area next to the check-in counters at the airport being packed with locals watching a tiny TV screen attached to the wall. None of them looked too much like travellers, and I suspect that most of them had probably just wandered in off the street. TV was quite new at the time, and I doubt there would have been too many people in Delhi who could have afforded to have had one at home, so why wouldn’t they go to the airport and tune into their favourite show. I think we might have had a TV at home at the time, but if so we certainly hadn't had it for too long, and it was still very much a novelty. There was fierce competition amongst our neighbourhood children to see who could get a TV first, and I remember one of the neighbours' kids, after seeing an aerial go up on our roof, asking Mum whether we really had a TV or just the aerial.

Mum was still very conscious of the weight of our luggage, and was being very careful not to buy anything that might tip us over into excess baggage charges. I remember us checking in at Delhi, and being told that we were over the weight limit. The scales were turned away from us so we couldn't see how much our baggage weighed, and Mum was very suspicious that we weren't actually overweight at all, and that we were just being told we were by someone who wanted to exert his power over us. Anyway, we were told that if we took a coat out of our suitcase and wore it instead, then everything would be OK, and the official didn’t bother reweighing the suitcase afterwards. This practice has never made any sense to me. Surely baggage weight allowances are set so that the plane isn't too heavy and won't either crash or need too much fuel. I don't think a coat weighs any more or less in a suitcase than if you wear it, so why would an airline think it made sense to make you carry it onto the plane with you rather than leaving it in the hold. Now that I think of it, airlines never bother to weigh passengers or to check whether they're wearing eight layers of clothes. I think that maybe airlines should start weighing passengers, and charging the morbidly obese extra. This might be a great incentive for some of those amongst us to lose a few kilograms.


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