Saturday, September 23, 2006

Delhi, Day 1

So much on our first morning in Delhi. Our room has a small terrace, but a very large terrace immediately outside the door to our room. These are the balconies off the rooms:

and this is the large terrace:

This building is right next door and overlooks the hotel grounds. Maybe it's part of the hotel, we don't know.

These green birds are everywhere -- really beautiful, but maybe they're just like pigeons to people here.

Some of the trees are really interesting, with these spiral, circular-shaped branches.

After we walked around the terrace, we had breakfast at the hotel.

Starting at the watermelon, going clockwise, watermelon and pineapple, two kinds of fried bread (the one at the top was best, full of onion and spices), something with potatoes that had cumin seeds and was very spicey and absolutely delicious, I had seconds, an "egg nut" which seemed to be a deep-fried whole egg. and in the middle, a savory donut thing.

Watermelon juice, very light and refreshing, and sweet lime juice that was like a limey orange juice. And the coffee was Nescafe, I think, and even with a lot of milk (which I never use) and one packet of dark brown sugar and two packets of white sugar (which I never use), it still had almost no flavor. I don't know how that worked.

Marc's second go-round included sweet lime juice, a muffin and some other pastry, some incredibly wonderful potatoes, a couple of kinds of unusual fruit and a papaya. He had already eaten some of the same things I had, although he was smarter than me and didn't get the egg nut.

We took a private cab (black and yellow) to Old Delhi, with three destinations in mind: the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, and Chandni Chowk. Since the Red Fort seemed easiest to communicate to our cab driver, we started there.

The Red Fort (Lal Qila) is incredibly beautiful, red sandstone. The walls extend for 2km and vary in height from 18m on the river side to 33m on the city side. Shah Jahan started building it in 1638 and finished it in 1648. He never moved his capital from Agra because his son deposed him and put him in prison, at the Agra Fort. The Red Fort was built at the very height of the Mughal period. Click the photos to see them better -- the sense of scale is lost in these small thumbnails. See the people standing at the lower righthand side of this picture just to get a feeling for the size of the walls.

The price for tourists is 100Rs each, which is different than the price for Indians -- don't know what it costs them. One of the most notable things was the security, and the armed guards everywhere (although the guns looked plastic). We were pretty closely frisked, Marc by a male and me by a female, and I mean really closely frisked. We walked through metal detectors, we were frisked, and our bags went through xray. Strange.

Lahore always makes me giggle in my immaturity. So this is the Lahore Gate, because it faces Lahore which is now obviously part of Pakistan.

Inside the gate was a kind of circular space -- this is looking up:

And there was a market, Chatta Chowk, that used to stock things for the Emperor but now stocks bangles and beaded purses.

And this is the Hall of Public Audiences where the emperor would sit to hear complaints or disputes from his subjects. There used to be marble paneling set with precious stones, but they were looted after the 1857 Uprising.

This is a beautiful, beautiful space. I took dozens of pictures.

There are dozens of buildings on the grounds, and since the architecture is Mughal there are no images, just designs like the filigree in this door:

The detail is incredible -- see this marblework:

Armed guards were standing around here and there:

Occasionally we'd see trees like this:

As we were leaving the Red Fort, a guy was trying to sell me postcards when he excitedly pointed into an enclosed space, shouting "Cobra! Cobra!" I wasn't sure, so I asked him again, "Is there a cobra in there?" People, Indians mostly, were running into the space to see it -- I guess even they get excited by seeing such a big snake. And it was a huge snake, crawling up or down a tree. I didn't get a picture, too bad. But I laughed when one man walked toward the tree to see the snake, and another man made a little shout and pointed, causing the first man to jump and duck his head. It was a joke played by the other man. Everyone's the same old joke around the world I guess.

After the Red Fort, we went to Chandni Chowk, which is the bazaar. Crazy crowded, pedestrians, cycle rickshaws, autorickshaws, cabs, cars, everyone honking, noon and hot, children clutching, people staring, Jains honoring the life around them, incense, color everywhere, intense.

We hired a cycle rickshaw for 40Rs to take us from Chandni Chowk to the Jama Masjid. He was working so hard, standing up and pushing hard on the pedals, it was hard to just ride on his hard work. Then there was the crashing together of several issues -- when we got to the Jama Masjid, he suddenly doubled the price and said it was 40Rs each (note: we paid 40Rs for the air conditioned cab to take us considerably farther this morning). Doubling the cost to 80Rs made the fare ~$2, which is very little money for his hard work. There's the part about feeling terrible for riding on his back, the part about $2 not being very much money for us, and the part about the scam, doubling the price at the end after agreeing up front. So far there have been a lot of dilemmas like this. Learning how not to look at people, how to ignore children, how to move through crowds of obviously poor people while carrying these cameras, and being able to travel halfway around the world.

Anyway. We got out at the Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India and the last architectural extravaganza of Shah Jahan. He started building it in 1644 and finished it in 1658. When you climb the stairs, you take your shoes off at the top and pay the shoe minding kid 5Rs. We were set to go in, when we were confronted by a white-bearded man who demanded 200Rs for taking in a camera. I did want to go in, and I did want to take photos, but he saw the small camera and wanted 200Rs for it too, even though I had no intention of using it. I decided not to go in, but instead to sit on the cool steps and rest in the shade for awhile. The heat and intense stimulation were swamping me.

Here are pictures of the outside of the Jama Masjid. Those are birds wheeling around above the mosque -- you can click the pictures for a bigger view of them:

By this time I was truly overwhelmed and needed to go back to the hotel for a bit. We hired a motor rickshaw to take us, and passed a couple of noteworthy details. First was a very small building, just a room really, with a big sign that said "Delhi Milk Scheme." Maybe it just didn't translate well. Scheme? And then, just before we got to the hotel, I saw a man crouching in the grass on the side of the road with a wide band around his head with 4 small branches of leaves sticking up out of the head band, a colorful shawl around his shoulder, and a wild-eyed expression on his face as he picked frantically at the grass.

Finally, the motor rickshaw stopped at the edge of the hotel driveway, maybe he wasn't allowed to drive in, we don't know. As we got out to pay him, a young boy came up and was clutching our arms, begging, and he would not let go. Clutching, grasping, we finally had to forcibly pull our arms away from him. We stepped onto the magical driveway and the boy didn't follow. We crossed some kind of line from Out There to In Here, with marble floors and pillars and air conditioning, and birds of paradise, and bowing, turbaned men. We walked on the lush carpet to our beautiful room and we could still feel the boy's grasp on our arms.

No comments: