A Delayed Post
16.01.2012 - 16.01.2012
I'm sitting here in complete luxury at a fantastic hotel in Pragpur with some free time and great Internet access. But you'll need to read a later post about that. For now, here's a review of our second day in Delhi, which already feels FOREVER AGO even though it was the day before yesterday. Time is acting crazy around here, though I'm sure that at some point I'll blink and find myself on a plane. But not yet, thankfully. I kinda like India.
More sightseeing in Delhi! This time in Old Delhi, aka (Shah) Jahanabad--the section that was the capital under the Mogul emperors like the famous Shah Jahan. In its day it was as grand an imposing as New Delhi is now, though today Old Delhi is a wild, impossibly dense, sensory-overload experience comprised largely of tightly-packed shops and residences, with some Mogul monuments rising out of the chaos.
Instead of cars, we travelled by Metro this time. The Delhi Metro, completed only a few years ago, is impossibly gorgeous and, to the surprise of many, was completed ahead of schedule and has thusfar retained its glory. Actually it's really quite amazing--clean, lots of marble, decent signage, and clearly high efficiency. The lines we travelled on were about as densely-packed as it's possible to be, but there were trains every less-than-10 minutes, keeping the platforms a lot less crowded then you'd expect...
(Our stop, Lajpat Nagar, about a hundred steps from Likir House
...but still pretty crowded (transfer at Central Secretariat):
Arriving in Old Delhi... pictures don't suffice, they really don't. Various people (including several subscribers to this blog!) have told me to expect two general characteristics of India: sensory overload and insane juxtapositions (of social classes, new/old, etc.). Well, the first thing that hits you is the sensory overload. Narrow cobblestone streets. Sounds of shops, haggling, hawking, begging. Motorcycles revving. Colors, lights, vehicles, pedestrians. Gasoline burning, little things frying. Bad smells too. Earlier was quieter, later in the day there was jostling, cart wheels rolling over toes. The picture of me from my last post was taken in a wedding-supply stop; it's a turban that Hindu men wear on their wedding day. Tara-la guided us all into this tiny slot of a store, packed with lots of red, gold, and other colors. There was a whole section of the road full of stores like this, selling some supplies for home shrines but largely for weddings. Kind of like New York's Diamond District--but the specialization that happens in cities is still remarkable.
But this isn't New York, this is India. Where else can one find random Pepto-Bismal pink temples?
We're trying to look everywhere at once when we probably should be watching what we're stepping in. Pictures like the one below just don't do justice to the frenetic activity that is Old Delhi. That's Gordo emerging from behind Mary-Claire's arm, and Tara-la in black.
All of a sudden Tara-la pulls us out of the insanity and into the quietest, most peaceful little street you can possibly imagine. Barely any sound from the city around makes it into here--I'm still not entirely sure we didn't pass through a portal to some other dimension or something. Remember the two qualities about India--here was the juxtaposition. Now the quiet, the simple, actually the very pleasant. This street is generations old, lined with masjid--residences built around a courtyard with a door between the open central area and the street.
This street is primarily a Jain area, as evidenced by the temple on the end, also visible in the previous image:
Photography isn't allowed inside Jain temples, so unfortunately I don't have anything to show you from that experience. Apparently the Emory group has been coming to this temple for five years or so, and a man Tara-la knew was there to show us around.
Jainism developed about the same time as Buddhism, only about two hundred years before. Both were protests against the traditional Vedic-Upanishadic religion at the time, and the two have a lot in common. Jains have a reputation for a more ascetic orientation; their monks and nuns live as wandering renunciants, not in monasteries, and both they and the laypeople are subject to more lifestyle-related restrictions. Jain ascetics carry soft brushes to sweep insects off their path lest they be trod upon and cannot travel. Committed to nonviolence (ahimsa, non-harm) in the extreme, Jains are vegetarian (often stricter than that) and cannot work as farmers to avoid killing the worms and bugs that live in the soil. For this reason (like Jews in Europe that were traditionally forbidden from owning land), Jains are a historically well-educated, wealthy merchant class even to this day.
Jains eschew leather, and so we needed to leave behind any leather items at the door (not a problem for me, since I avoid leather whenever I can) and wash our hands before entering. I was expecting wealth, but the material beauty of the place still surprised me. There was a reception hall of sorts on the ground floor, the walls covered with images of enlightened beings and saints. On the first floor (second floor to all the Americans out there!) were the shrines--three altars, two to saints and one to one of the Tirthankas, the enlightened ones. According to our guide, several of the images were from Mugal times--though they remain in perfect condition. I couldn't help but think how many of the items there could be in a museum, though I much preferred to see them here, alive and in active use.
Neat detail: among the various offerings presented by Jains was rice, and the swastika is one of their holiest symbols. Our guide pointed out the rice that had been offered that very morning--when presented to the Tirthanka, it was shaped into a swastika, while when presented to the saints, who are not yet enlightened, the swastika shape is begun but not completed. The idea of making offerings suitable for the five senses, as well as the nature of the offerings themselves--water, sandalwood paste, incense, light, sound (bell-ringing), flowers, and one or two more--closely resemble the offerings given by Buddhists, though the latter often substitute bowls of water that symbolically represent the other items.
We also were brought to the second floor, a balcony that encircled the room and whose walls were covered in glass murals depicting the life story of Mahavira, the Jain founder. His story closely parallels that of the Buddha--the good life, the going-out into the ascetic life, subduing demons, performing miracles, etc. Between all of these visible similarities, plus the way our host talked about his religion, I really felt quite comfortable at the Jain temple--it felt like a foretaste of the Buddhism we'll be dealing with for the rest of the semester.
On our way in we'd been invited to tea at a neighboring house after our temple visit; surprisingly to me, Tara-la took the man up on his offer, and we all crowded into a very well-appointed room covered with shelves of this man's collections. I don't have any pictures from this, but friends do--he made sure to pose for photos with all of us more than once. The chai was good and served with little biscuits, and it felt both like both an honor to be invited and a pleasant change of pace to be in a private home after all the hotel-restaurant-public travel world we've been in. This wasn't any ordinary home--the owner, Atam Agarwalla, is the son of a former mayor of Delhi (he showed us pictures of his parents with Ghandi in a book on Delhi's history) and the brother of a senator, while he himself runs an export business. He gave us all little wrapped gifts--incense burners, something I've actually been looking to buy for some time. Now I've got one with a story! Pema was very much delighted with the little shiny-bug-in-a-wooden-walnut he gave her, and proceeded to play with it and show it off for the rest of the day.
So that was quite the contrast--a big hive of lower/lower-middle-class/mixed-class activity with noise, sights, and beggars to a calm, quiet little street with some very wealthy residents. I'm still kinda processing it all.
Running through streets, past the mosque to Karim's, one of the most famous restaurants in Delhi. Karim has quite an empire going, with a single establishment that has spread over at least six or eight storefronts:
This being Northern Indian/Muslim-style food--a mix of the mostly-vegetarian stuff we'd been eating and loving with some lamb, mutton, kebob, and the like. One dish was sheep brain... not that I would know what it tastes like
We did quite a number to the food, too--there seems to be a pattern of overeating on Indian-food lunch and skipping dinner entirely or eating late. A good way to live:
So the Friday Mosque itself was pretty impressive--a Mogul-era fortress-like compound with gates, walls, and the works. Before our lunch was prayer-time, and we heard the hauntingly beautiful sound of the muezzin's call to prayer, but after lunch the prayers had been finished and the place opened to the public. Security scanners and guards armed with AK-47's at each gate.
Women were given... things... to wear at the gate. Height of fashion, no?
The mosque itself was dusty, and some scaffolding hinted it might be in for a well-deserved cleaning. Still, the grandeur of the place was still apparent. Lots of power went into putting the structure.
Marking the perimeter; the Red Fort is visible beyond:
Where to put your prayer mat:
To my surprise, at least one of the minarets was open to the public, and we climbed it! Accessible from the outer wall, there were 135 high stone steps inside the thing itself. It offered a stunning view of the mosque...
...note the pigeons; there were a surprising number of big hawks as well...
...the gate by which we entered (tourist buses!)...
...and of the surrounding Old Delhi...
...including a Jain-run bird hospital (the white building, according to Tara-la).
There were at plants growing on the domes. This can't be good, though it is striking.
Coming back through Old Delhi on the way back to the Metro, we saw monkeys here too:
This picture does not convey the ridiculous tangle of electrical cables throughout Old Delhi. I don't have any idea how the system works, nor how the place hasn't burned down yet.
On the way to the Metro, another sign of a growing environmental consciousness in India. Still, they have a long way to go.
Another contrast: Khan Market, a middle-class-and-up commercial district. I imagine the families we saw in Lodhi Gardens did some of their shopping there. We had tea (mostly coffee) at a LavAzza café... oh globalization!
I really want to try the one on the bottom--McSpicy Paneer!
This one's for my dad--CitiBank IS here, after all. This is the second one I saw in Delhi. Also a view of the street in Khan Market.
Apparently American (i.e. New York/Philly) fashions aren't lost upon the Indians--bonbons at "L'Opera."
I walked through two lovely English-language bookstores--really wonderful places. Tiny, packed, lots of books. I was seriously impressed by how much they managed to fit into the no-nonsense stores, though the organization was rather loose. Rather like the rest of India--a messy jumble, but vibrant and full of fascinating and unfamiliar things. And, sometimes, not-so-unfamiliar: