We’re in Delhi and we have friends!

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April 27th 2011
Published: April 27th 2011
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It's only been about a month and half...I figured we should probably try and catch up on this thing! ;o)

Sunday 3-13 to Wednesday 3-16
Trent and his roommate Allen and Allen’s girlfriend, Amy, have joined us for 10 days in India. If you thought we traveled thru India at lightening speed last week by yourselves, hold on to your butts! This is one whirlwind trip around the subcontinent!

We got back into Delhi after a hellish 7 hour car ride from Corbett to find a jetlagged and tired Trent and Allen waiting at the hotel. It was great to see them again and have Trent bring us a whole bunch of replenishment items from the U.S.: some new shirts, a couple meds and Nick’s (belated) birthday present – a new Kindle to replace the one he lost! It was like Christmas in March ;o) Our first foray as a group out into the wilds of India was to get subway tokens to take the metro into town. Not an easy task at rush hour in a crowded city like Delhi. We were mobbed at the station and so tightly crowded in at the token booth that it was hard to breathe. After what seemed like forever, we got our tokens and headed to what turned out to be a terrible choice of Chinese for dinner. Oh well.

The rest of Delhi flew by in a blur, as we tried to fit in as much of the city as possible in three days. Not an easy task! We hit all the major medieval sights – I had no idea India was so rich with Islamic ruins and ancient tombs – a lasting influence from the Mughals. We visited Humayun’s Tomb and Lodi Park, where we were invited by some students to participate in a “living in the now” workshop, whatever that may be. They felt the need to reassure us that they were from a good family and not to worry, that they were engineers (Trent’s favorite part). Needless to say, we did not participate in any workshop but the proposition was entertaining. Apparently engineer is a sign of trustworthiness? I don’t know about that…I live with one and socialize with many, so I have my doubts ;o) Qutb Minar, this incredibly tall tower built in the 13th century with intricate carvings all around, was another amazing Islamic architectural feat. The best part about walking around the ruins wasn’t so much the history, though, so much as the realization that we (aside from Allen) stick out like a sore thumb! We might as well have “white tourist” tattooed on our foreheads. Amy was asked twice to take her photo with some Indian kids and Trent and Catherine – decked out in hats, sunglasses and audio guides were a hit with a group of young kids. This happened again later at the Baha’i Temple when Trent was actually asked to take a photo holding a couple’s baby! We’re either local celebrities or just plain freaks, the jury’s still out on which. (The Baha’i Temple was also quite memorable for the 14-person cab ride we took there – seriously, FOURTEEN people were in a tuk tuk designed to fit about 4-5 people comfortably!)

The best part of Delhi just might have to be the Toilet Museum, though. Yup, you heard me right. Trent found an obscure description of a museum on the history of toilets; how could we NOT go?! Turned out it was a cross between a humorous history museum and a demonstration area for Sulabh, a public health and social development organization. We learned that in India, with over a billion residents, public health facilities are not readily available outside of city centers and wealthy neighborhoods; no surprise there. What was surprising was to learn that while 300 million Indians don’t have access to toilets and squat in the streets on a daily basis to do their business , over 700 million Indians own a cell phone. A staggering statistic for Westerners and for Indian NGOs as well. Seriously, try and imagine that: 300 million people defecating in the streets. That would be like the ENTIRE population of the United States going to the bathroom in the streets! Keep that image in mind and you’ll start to get an idea of the level of filth and stench in parts of India. So Sulabh has made it their mission to work with local communities and city developers to build cheap, accessible public restrooms in low income areas. They also teach personal hygiene in free clinics and strive to help “Scavengers” (Untouchables) find better income than cleaning out squat toilets. Their museum was tongue and cheek but their exhibit on demonstration toilets and how to get running water into the communities was commendable. There were some college students at the museum that day making a documentary on Sulabh’s work and they wanted to film Allen’s reaction to Sulabh and the museum. Now Allen’s face will be synonymous with toilets in India ;o)

Our last day in Delhi was another tour-de-force sight seeing day. We got up early to visit India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid (it can hold 25,000 pilgrims – that’s a lot of worshipers). Amy & I had to cover ourselves in a neck to toe muumuu (very flattering). We then headed over to the Red Fort, built in 1648 as the royal residence for the Mughal emperor. We had spent an entertaining evening the previous night at the Red Fort to see a rather dramatically narrated light show that told the history of the fort and the drama of the Mughal emperors. The most entertaining part, however, was probably when I leaned over to hand some binoculars to Trent, who was half asleep, at which point Trent woke up just in time to hear the narrator describing the emperor’s consort as a “common slut, gladly offering up her fresh ‘watermelons’.” It may not sound very funny on paper, but it was a frickin’ hilarious light show – oddly enough, we were the only ones laughing…

Any way, the Red Fort in daylight was very beautiful, though not as entertaining as a light show. It gets its name from the red stone used to build the walls and has beautifully carved marble mosques and lattice windows. But after 3 days of touring Delhi’s sights, I think we were all pretty much “fort’ed out.” Allen may have summed it up best with his impression of the fort: “It’s just another wall with designs on it.” And with that said, we grabbed our bags and headed to the metro, only to be pushed and shoved into ridiculously crowded metro cars. Nick didn’t think it was so bad, saying “This is nothing, I’ve taken the metro in Boston” but he was wrong; he never had to save a person on the train. Trent actually had to intervene in Delhi and save a woman from getting trampled to death! She fell over as the men were pushing their way out and would have continued to get stepped on had Trent not pushed everyone aside so she could get up. I swear, ladies, if you ever got to India, make sure you take the female only cars! It’s a pain in the ass to make sure you get on the last car in the train, especially when it’s crowded and you’re in a rush, but it’s definitely a must.

Our final stop in Delhi (aside from a delicious mutton kebab place on the way to the train station – YUM!) was the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. This was a really impressive museum and for anyone going to India: you MUST come see this place! Not only is there a gallery on the history of Gandhi’s life and work, with photos, artifacts and a monument on the spot where he was assassinated, which are all incredible to see in themselves. But they have an entire building filled with digital interactives that were amazing! Having just had quite a lot of exhibit and interpretation experience at my last job, I can tell you this place is awesome! They have every cutting edge museum interactive that most institutions could never dream of affording, letting alone incorporating ALL of them into their exhibitry! There were documentaries, there was art, there was a kids room, there was music and poetry – every possible means of teaching and getting an audience involved were incorporated into this museum and we were all stunned at how impressive it was. It seriously is a must visit. [Nick Note: It is amazing how the Brits didn’t learn how to treat their colonies better after loosing America and repeated almost the exact same grievances on the Indians 150 years later. Like in the US, the Brits forced the Indians to buy only British made goods for things they could have made themselves (example tea in the US, salt in India) and forced them to pay very high taxes, there was also a massacre that was reminiscent of the Boston Masacre, and forced quartering of soldiers. You’d think the Brits would learn to treat their colonies a little better so that they wouldn’t lose them but no.]

Once on the train to Agra, I found an empty bunk to nurse a headache while Nick, Trent and Allen tried to get rid of some kids begging on the train with some Tamil phrases Allen had learned from his parents when he was being scolded as a child. (Sigh) Boys. [Nick Note: We also met a British female soldier who was also on tour to Agra and she told us about her experiences in Afganistan, life as a female soldier and how the American soldiers get much better food and housing than the soldiers from other countries. Also when asked if from her experience she thought the US would be able to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year she said it would lead to civil war. Sigh, big mess.]

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