29.12.2008 - 29.12.2008 22 °C
[i]Happy New Year everyone. Of course it is already New Year's Day here and you're several hours away from ushering 2009 in. Our location couldn't have been more magical but you'll see that blog in a couple of days -- I'm behind in my postings because we have been on the run -- barely time to catch your breath.
I came to India for the spirituality … for the colour … the texture … the beauty … the inner peace … the crowds … the honking … the hawkers … the opulence … the squalor … the serenity … the chaos … the culture … the majesty of the past … the wisdom … the contrasts that are so extreme it can give you whiplash.
And in some ways I experienced all of it in about 6 hours on our whirlwind tour of Delhi – first Old Delhi and then New Delhi.
We began our day at the splendid Jama Mosque, India’s largest.
The instant we entered this red sandstone and marble structure an incredible feeling of total serenity washed over me. It was palpable.
Bring socks if you come because you must remove your shoes, and amazingly they will be waiting for you outside the entrance exactly where you have left them (although I did have fears that I’d be spending the rest of the day in bare feet.)
This was the last monument commissioned by Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal in honour of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, who died at 39 years old after giving birth to her 14th child.) The mosque took 5,000 labourers 6 years to build, it was completed in 1656 and it is considered one of the most beautiful houses of worship in the world.
This tranquility was followed by an absolutely frenetic rick-shaw ride through Chandni Chowk – a breathtaking bazaar that could easily have been created by a collaboration between Gaudi, Dali and Frederico Fellini.
To be honest there is nothing I can say that will do it justice:
The streets are about as wide as a sidewalk and twist and turn like a pipe cleaner that has been completely bent in different directions. All trying to compete for space (and I use the term very loosely) are pedestrians, cyclists, taxis, rick-shaws, freight-carts, bullock carts and cows.
Every square inch has a “business”. Astrologers compete with stationers. Sidewalk photographers with old box cameras sit next to medicine booths where patients are treated. A man is getting shaved next to another man who is hammering silver. Buy fresh produce from a cart over here or pick a fresh chicken from a stall over there.
It is spectacular … a riotous mélange of sights, sounds and smells and we loved every minute of it!!
Next we drove by the India Gate (this country’s Arc de Triomphe), the Red Fort and made our way to Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb.
The Tomb was built in the middle of the 16th Century by the widow of the Moghul emperor Humayun. It was this monument that introduced a new architectural era -- one influenced by Persia -- which in turn influenced the design of the Taj Mahal.
It was an action-packed day that culminated in a wonderful dinner at Ellen and Sam's. They invited everyone in the group and we had a marvelous time. It's not often that you can travel this far and end up in someone's home instead of constantly eating in hotels and restaurants. They served us a wonderful dinner and charmed us all with the stories of their travels, experiences and insights about India.
Our time with them is definitely a highlight of the trip for all of us.
Another is the people. Everyone who comes here talks about how beautiful the people of India are -- both physically, spiritually and in how kind they are. And it is all true.
Strangers smile and wave ... they invite you to their homes ... they will share anything they have with you, even if it is a crust of bread. Whether they are poor and dressed in rags or wearing beautiful saris made of the most exquisite silk they are peaceful, gentle, dignified and graceful. Their smiles make you forget any problems you might have and their eyes speak volumes.
The stories I have heard about hawkers and beggars are greatly exaggerated. It is all very manageable -- including the incessant honking of horns. For some reason back home honking is an expression of anger -- here it is merely to indicate that you need to pass or change lanes or even to warn a driver coming the other way that you're there. After a while you don't hear it any more.
What I would never do, however, is a drive a car here. For that you need nerves of steel.
This is truly a unique country and already I know that I'll come back here.