An early Mughal ruler, Humayun was father of Akbar and great-grandfather of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.
What comes to mind when you think of India? Women in colorful saris? Elephants? Hindu gods? Beggars in the street? India is all of that and more, as we are rapidly learning. Because India can be such a challenge, we decided to take a tour with the same company who guided us our first few weeks in China. The difference being that in China we shared a private tour with Bob and Meri Jo and in India we joined a group tour. Our guide on this tour is named Hemang.
We arrived in Delhi from Bangkok after an uneventful flight (my favorite kind.) We were met by a car and driver at the airport but the driver did not know where the hotel was. We had the address but apparently that gets you within about 10 blocks. He stopped about six times to ask for directions but we finally arrived.
We decided to eat dinner in the hotel. The front desk kept telling us it was on the sixth floor but we could not find a sixth floor. So they had a bell boy lead us to the restaurant…on the fourth floor. While we were waiting for our
food a woman walked in. She asked if we were on a tour and that is how we met Haley from Australia. I invited her to join us and we ate dinner together.
The next morning we met Haley in the lobby and set out for the National Museum. The National Museum is mostly an historical art museum. We learned about several of the ancient civilizations that used to be on the Indian sub-continent. They had an audio tour included in the price of the ticket and it was well worth it because the guide often told the tales that the art was based on.
To get back to the hotel we decided to take the Metro light trail system. After examining the maps, we found the neighborhood of the hotel and easily reached our destination. We were successful once again at navigating mass transit. But getting from the station to our hotel was another matter. We had no idea where it was so we hired a bicycle rickshaw. As soon as we approached the line of rickshaws four of them approached. We negotiated from 50 Rupees each down to 30Rs each before all three of us climbed
All women were required to wear the polka dot dress for modesty.
in. The cabbie knew exactly where to go and soon we were back at the hotel.
That evening we had the first meeting for the tour group. There are 15 people on the tour but due to heavy snow in Europe it took several days for everyone to arrive. After the meeting we all went to dinner. One of the best aspects of a tour is the guide can help you select good restaurants and can recommend the best items on the menu.
The next day the group took taxis to Old Delhi and the first thing we saw was The Red Fort. We could not go inside because it is closed on Monday but it is a magnificent structure and lovely to behold. It is massive covering many acres and built from red sandstone, hence the name. Next we walked through the streets of Old Delhi to the mosque called Jama Masjid (Great Mosque). It was built from red sandstone in 1656 by a Mughal emperor. We had to take off our shoes and women had to wear a brightly colored polka dot robe even though we were already dressed modestly. The mosque was huge; the central
Sunlight and Shadow
Inside Humayun’s Tomb.
square could accommodate 25,000 worshippers. But it was also plain. Islam does not allow representations of humans or animals so the only decoration is geometric. That can still be beautiful but they did not use much so it was a very plain, if enormous, mosque.
We then walked through more of Old Delhi and that is when I encountered my first real poverty. There was one boy who kept begging from us and his face looked pinched like he was very hungry. He was about 13 years old. I felt really bad when we stopped to get something to eat. I thought about taking action to buy him some food but did not for a variety of reasons. When we came out of the restaurant he was gone.
Then we went to the Sikh Temple. The Sikh religion is a cross between Hindu and Islam. In order to enter their temple we had to wear something on our heads and take off both shoes and socks. As we entered we had to cross a puddle of water to wash our feet. They have two parts to the temple…the religious where there was a priest chanting from the holy
John and Schoolboys
The children are always interested talking to foreigners.
book, and the social where anyone can get a free meal.
For lunch we took the metro to the heart of New Delhi called Connaught Circle. It was during this subway ride that we found out the first car on each subway train is reserved for women only. Women are allowed in the other cars but since the train is very crowded it is much more comfortable in the Women’s car.
After a delicious lunch, four of us took a tuk-tuk to Humayun’s Tomb
. It was built several hundred years ago by Humayun’s favorite wife and was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal. To make it more fun, there were several hundred school children walking around and many wanted to say Hi, ask our names, shake our hands and get their pictures taken by us or with us.
Then we hired another tuk-tuk to take us to the Bahia Lotus Temple. It was closed (it is always closed on Mondays) but we got several nice photos from the outside of the gate. The tuk-tuk driver had waited around and when we hired him to take us to the metro he kept trying to take us farther…all the way
The beautiful temple is a Bahai Temple in Delhi.
back to the hotel with at least one temple and one shopping spot along the way. It was all very jovial but we had to threaten to get out before convincing him we really meant to go to the Metro only.
The next day we took a bus to Jaipur. At one point the bus was pulled over for speeding. The driver went back to the police car and we assumed he would get a ticket but he came back in less than a minute and we drove on. Hemang explained that instead of a 500R ticket, the driver gave the police man 100R to “buy sweets for his children” so the police did not write him a ticket. In other words, the cop accepted a bribe. (R means rupee which equals $0.02 so 500R is approximately $10.)
Along the way we regularly saw camels pulling carts of various shapes and sizes. Once in Jaipur we saw elephants on the street gaily painted and giving rides to tourists
After checking into our hotel, three of us headed to the market in downtown. We caught a rickshaw pedicab and the driver/peddler worked very hard to pull the
Temple Near the Amber Fort
The resemblance between this architecture and temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia is unmistakeable. It was exported from India.
three of us. It was much farther than we thought so we finally asked him to stop on a random street. We paid him the agreed fare plus a 33% tip but he looked unimpressed. They always look unimpressed when we pay them regardless of the size of the tip.
We stuck to the main street and slowly wandered, window shopping as we went. We saw ornate Indian jewelry in 22k gold with beautiful gemstones. We saw beautiful fabric that could be made into saris. I was offered 6 meters of fabric for just 300R ($6) but I could not figure out what I would do with it. We saw cooking utensils in bright copper. A man in saffron robes and a white beard came up to me and said he was a holy man and that I should give him money for food. I ignored him and when I asked Hemang later he told me that was the right course of action; a real holy man would wait in the temple for people to bring him offerings. After an hour of noise, chaos, dangerous street crossings and aggressive shop owners we caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.
Palace of the Winds in Jaipur. This is a facade where the royal women who were kept in seclusion (Purdah) could watch life in the city through the stone lattice screens without being seen.
During the next day in Jaipur, we visited the Amber Fort and the City Palace. Amber Fort was primarily a palace for the maharaja of Jaipur. It was built in the 17th century as a public works project during a drought. There are four courtyards. The first and largest was the entryway. While we were there they played music on instruments such as drums and pipes. When the maharaja lived here the music was used to welcome guests to the palace and to let people in the palace know there were visitors.
The second courtyard had a pavilion made of white marble and red sandstone with elephants on the column capitals and was used for public audiences.
Off the second courtyard was the entrance to the private quarters. It was beautifully decorated with frescos and had Ganesh (the Hindu god of luck) over the door. The third courtyard was the prettiest. It had a pavilion that had walls a meter thick and was decorated with mirrors. The thick walls kept the pavilion warm in winter and cool in summer and the mirrors reflected the candle light in the evening. This pavilion is where the maharaja held private
Amber Fort Entrance
Entrance to the family quarters at the Amber Fort near Jaipur.
The fourth and innermost courtyard was where the royals lived. Kings often had several wives because of the need to make alliances. During that era, the wives all lived in purdah so were not allowed outside or to be seen by men other than the king. This courtyard was where they could stroll about. The king could have up to nine queens and several hundred concubines. To keep the peace, he designed it so he could get to any ladies quarters without the rest knowing.
The palace was very open to the elements with no glass windows and many living areas had a roof with walls only on three sides. It also had a rainwater capture system to use for water. Most of the rain in this region comes during the monsoon and the rest of the year is dry so they have to store water.
On the way out, we saw a snake charmer with a cobra. He keeps the cobra in a basket until enough tourists gather then he wakes up the cobra and starts playing a flute. I don’t know why but the cobra always lifts up and spreads its hood and stays
Beth and Beggar Girl
She has a beautiful smile.
there until the snake charmer closes the basket. A small gratuity is expected if pictures are taken.
The next stop was again just a photo op of Jal Mahal, a palace in the middle of a reservoir. It is being restored so we could not visit it but we got nice pictures. A young girl about 10 years old was going around offering to be in pictures. I had John take a picture of her and me and so I gave her 10 rupees (20 cents) which was probably a lot. She had a pretty smile.
After lunch we went on to the City Palace. It is a large complex that is part museum, part government offices and part private residence for the maharaja and his family. There is still a maharaja and it is still a hereditary position. However, since Indian independence, it is just an honorary position like an inheritance and the maharaja has no political power unless he wins public office. The current maharaja is 79 years old and had only one daughter. Girls can not inherit but the daughter had three children (two boys and a girl) so the eldest is the adopted heir.
A centuries old celestial observatory.
After the tour ended, several of us went to Jantar Mantar, the Royal Astronomical observatory built by the maharaja in 1728. Its primary use was to take sightings of celestial objects to support astrological predictions. They also have an enormous sundial that is accurate to within two seconds.
That evening, we joined the group to go to a Bollywood movie. The theatre was beautiful and massive in its pastel colors. The movie was called “No Problem” and had a loose plot common to all Bollywood movies. Since it was in Hindi, we missed a lot of the humor due to the language barrier but I enjoyed the dance numbers and listening to the rest of the audience laugh. After the movie we went to McDonalds. They do not serve hamburgers but they have chicken nuggets, chicken burgers and veggie burgers along with fries, soda and ice cream.
Initial Thoughts on India
During a walk on our second morning in Jaipur, John and I discussed how India feels “gritty.” I had expected India to be about the same level of “grittiness” as East Asia but it is far grittier. There are two aspects to this perception…dirt and
Pretty palace in the middle of a lake near Jaipur.
poverty. India (or at least the two cities we have experienced so far) is dirtier. Part of it is natural (there is more dust) and part of it is manmade (they leave the trash on the sidewalks for people and animals to pick over. Plus the building facades often look mildewed and they could certainly use a fresh coat of paint. There is also the filth. Men have a habit of urinating whenever and wherever the urge strikes.
In addition, poverty is more evident. I have seen people that I honestly think are hungry. Yesterday a tourist woman gave a beggar boy a few coins and her Indian boyfriend was really irate. He said that by doing that she was encouraging him to continue begging. That makes sense but the boy looked very hungry and skinny. And I gave 10R to the girl for posing for a photo, an unusually high sum. Did I lead her into a life of begging or help her get something to eat that day or both?
During our walk we were constantly assaulted by sights and smells of dirt and filth and multiple instances of extreme poverty. We were grateful to retreat
At the City Palace in Jaipur.
back to our hotel, but with a niggling feeling of ‘survivor’s guilt’ that we are fortunate enough to escape India’s reality whenever we feel like it. I really understand why some people prefer to travel insulated…to see the Amber Fort but not the beggars on the street. But both are part of India.
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