A Travellerspoint blog

Delhi: Day Two

A Delayed Post

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.

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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:)
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...but still pretty crowded (transfer at Central Secretariat):
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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?
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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.
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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. IMG_0278.jpg

This street is primarily a Jain area, as evidenced by the temple on the end, also visible in the previous image:
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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:

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Making naan!
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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:IMG_0298.jpg

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?
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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.

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Marking the perimeter; the Red Fort is visible beyond:
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Where to put your prayer mat:
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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...
IMG_0327.jpgIMG_0342.jpg ...note the pigeons; there were a surprising number of big hawks as well...

...the gate by which we entered (tourist buses!)...
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...and of the surrounding Old Delhi...
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...including a Jain-run bird hospital (the white building, according to Tara-la).
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There were at plants growing on the domes. This can't be good, though it is striking.
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Coming back through Old Delhi on the way back to the Metro, we saw monkeys here too:
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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.
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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!
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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.
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Apparently American (i.e. New York/Philly) fashions aren't lost upon the Indians--bonbons at "L'Opera."
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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:
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Posted by cageissler 20:43 Tagged food monuments delhi Comments (6)

Mini-update

Having too much fun to post stuff

This isn't going to be a full entry--I just got back (after 9 pm) following a late-ish dinner and a generally busy day, and we have breakfast scheduled for 5 a.m. tomorrow. Ugh.

The reason is that we're heading off to Pragpur, a "Heritage Village" located in Himachal Pradesh on the way to Dharamsala. We'll spend the night there before heading off to Dharamsala--in Jeeps hired by the program folks, for all those who have inquired as to our transportation. Anyway, I may not post for a little while because we won't have Wi-Fi as easily accessible as this for the rest of the semester. This blog means a lot to me, though, so I'll be sure to maintain it. Especially the pictures.

Today was another fun day not unlike the last--running around as tourists, this time in Old Delhi. Very different neighborhood than yesterday, filled with Jain and Muslim houses of worship, tea at someone's house, lunch at one of the most famous restaurants in the city, and the most intense sensory experience I've ever had in a street.

As a sample of what's to come, here's a pic that speaks for itself, though perhaps not in English.

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Posted by cageissler 07:36 Tagged delhi clothing Comments (4)

Delhi: Day One

Our First "Real" Day

Wake up, breakfast here at Likir House. The program director and our Tibetan Culture & Civilization instructor, prof. Tara Doyle ("Tara-la" to us, using the Tibetan suffix that marks respect) had just arrived and guided us through a general orientation; she and the other program staff already here talked about food and water, personal safety, etc. etc. They had all they students write down our hopes and fears for the program on little slips of paper, which we put in a basket that we passed around and read from. It was heartening to hear others having many of the same (as well as some different) concerns about basic physical things like illness, as well as uncertainties about the work we'll be doing, fitting in with our classmates, Tibetan roommates, and host families, adequately immersing ourselves in the new culture, etc. Tara-la and the others talked over some points about these issues and it was good.

I kinda wanted to take a picture of our "Basket of Hope" and "Basket of Fear," but it just didn't seem like the right time to pull out that camera. Instead, I'll just put this image in, which my Australian soon-to-be-hosts should appreciate. It was taken on the bookshelves in the lobby/lounge of Likir House, and I don't really have any idea why these two adorable fellows are here:
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This time, since our wanderings around the city were of a more official nature, we rode in SUV's with drivers hired for the day. Quite a bit nicer than auto-rickshaws. Today's journeys focused one the very nice areas of New Delhi, the section of the city built by the British as their model capital; just as India was the "star in the crown of the British Empire," so was New Delhi built as the centerpiece of British India. Anyway, even here, you can't help but occasionally drive past the oldest fortifications in the city:
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Our first stop was the National Crafts Museum, built to showcase the folk arts of India. An important concept for any country/culture, given that we all tend to focus on "fine" arts and forget the expressive forms that most people actually interact with daily and/or make. The complex was pretty well labeled, with a name, location, and story for each building in their "village" of traditional building types from around India. It was a bit strange to see structures from wildly different areas right next to each other, but it was a quick way to sample lots of different cultures. Here are some of the buildings in the complex:
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We also got to watch a dance performance by some boys from... I don't remember where. According to Tara-la, they were probably from families that do this as their thing and pass on the art to their descendants. Interspersed with sometimes-incredible acrobatics, the dancers would gather together and pose for a few seconds in various configurations representing scenes from religious stories--Krishna with his flute, somebody riding something somewhere, etc.--as a sort of living painting; Tara-la explained this as an opportunity for the viewers to receive darshan, "seeing," the Hindu-and-related-religions concept of contacting the divine through vision, built upon the notion of eye-contact-as-physical-touch. Apparently this is a thing in Bollywood films, especially mythologicals--all the action just stops for a second for that moment of darshan.

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Yep, they're walking on their hands while twisted backwards like that.

There was also a section of various craftspeople showing off and selling some amazing wares, and since this was an official sort of place, they're all legitimate artists who aren't too pushy and don't overcharge. I managed to pick up a gorgeous Pashmina (really really high-end goat hair that feels more like silk than silk does) scarf as souvenir/gift from the Kashmiri guy who made it--for 1000 Rs, after haggling him down from 1200 Rs. (haggling is an accepted and important part of the transaction, but apparently this was an appropriate price). That's $20. I don't have a picture of that, but I do have some of these little stone boxes and things...
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... plus a wonderful lady who makes and sings along with narrative paintings with her husband. He wasn't there, but we got her to perform one for us... wow. Not knowing Hindi, I could basically just pick out place names in her story, but the emotional content transcends the language barrier. Any guess as to the story, or that of the one with the guy on the long beard right above her? (Answer below)
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The 2004 tsunami! See the fearsome personified/deified spirit (pran "spirit", like the Sanskrit prajña "breath") of the tsunami on top, with all the sad, drowning people in the blue mess below? She was pointing to individuals in there and saying who they were. Harder to see, on the left is a green area with witnesses to the tsunami, including a reporter holding a television camera, a room of people watching the proceedings on the television, and in the rolled-up part at the bottom, an elephant and lion in tears.

The bearded guy? That's Bin Laden, on a panel talking about 9/11. Another one was about the Titanic, while the one to the right of the image is a traditional story she proceeded to tell us about a snake goddess. What a juxtaposition--ancient religious stories next to 20th century history next to practically current events. While these crafts aren't as popular as they once were, hopefully institutions like the Crafts Museum and clever artists who bring
in new stories will help keep the traditions alive. Speaking of traditions, this fellow is simultaneously riding a horse on a major road, stopping to talk with an auto-rickshaw driver, and pointed the wrong way. Oh, India!
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Lunch was at the Bengali Sweets House, a short drive away. Busy place, great food (at least to this inexperienced American!). Gordo (nickname of Matt Gordan, a former student at the program who's helping run it this year) was sitting next to me and forced quite a bit of food on us. I and three others skipped dinner as a result. I'm sorry not to have pictures of food--there was so much of it and it was coming so fast I couldn't catch it--but this RIDICULOUS lassi should be more than enough:
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With everyone there and eating far too much, it was nice that the program covered this meal (as they do all the ones where we're all together). Look at the bill!
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The total is less than $60. For 21 people. Including drinks & dessert.

Security is quite the thing here. Not that anything in particular has happened lately, but there's always fear of politico-religious terrorism and such; the entrances to the Metro have X-ray scanners and metal detectors. Hence the police and military folks just about everywhere:
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Next they took us to a twelfth-century-ish stepwell, used for easy access to water throughout drastic fluctuations in the water table. Remember, we're talking about a monsoon climate--fairly dry much of the year, massive rainstorms for a season. Here, in order, are some of the Emory folks on first sight of the place, a detail of the Islamic-style arches (this was built in the first period of Islamic-folks rule in India), some of the locals, and yours truly (see, I'm actually here! I'm not good enough with photoshop to fake that!).
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Speaking of Islam, that's the little mosque that someone decided to build at the top of the stepwell:
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We then drove through some of the enormously ostentatious section of government buildings, which now house a mix of government offices, museums, and even some embassies. First is India Gate, built by the British in 1931 and repurposed as a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the revolution. They also took down the statue of King George V around then.
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The British were really into consolidating their power with grandiose buildings displaying their power and master. One was the Viceroy's Palace--the President of India still lives here, though in a smaller side wing, not the lavish chambers built for the Viceroy.
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I was a little surprised by the bare dirt. Climate make it expensive to have that much grass?

We walked around the twin buildings of the Secretariat, where various government Ministries have their offices. In the pictures below, note the obvious symbolism--Indian-style features adorning an essentially Greco-Roman structure.IMG_0212.jpgIMG_0220.jpgIMG_0225.jpg
Note the satellite dish just tacked on in the last picture. Oh, India.

Finally, we got to unwind by walking around the Lodhi Gardens, a public park built around some tombs and mosques of the Lodhi Dynasty of Muslim rulers in the 1400s-1500s. After the grand display of government might, it was really nice to see people with their dogs and children, bouncing balloons and playing cricket and badminton. Ok, so the games were different but the spirit was familier. But then they were doing that next to 500-year-old monuments. Hmm.

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Look at the calligraphy!
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I saw several of these species, including lots of the green parrots. Just kind of hanging out with the pigeons and fluttering away when the giant hawk-like raptors (not sure what they were) came around.IMG_0232.jpg

I guess we just missed the march, but a schoolgirl handed me this. We've seen lots of signs encouraging recycling, water conservation, and the like, so it seems like there's a growing environmental awareness in India. Which is great, but the pollution in the air is still palpable.
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The very informative labels said this was a turret form what was once a larger fortification complex, but I think it just looks like a dalek. Don't you?
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Hey Swatties--the trees are labeled here too! In Latin and Hindi.
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Aww pretty sunset.

I'll end with a priceless image from in front of a home-appliances-and-various-useful-things store in Defence Colony:
IMG_0264.jpg Yes, I'm pretty sure those are Christmas trees. No, I don't know why.

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So I hope you all are enjoying this blog. I may not be able to keep up with the daily updates, particularly since I don't think I'll have Wi-Fi once we get to Dharamsala. But I'll still try to keep you all updated with regular posts, so we'll see how it goes. Regardless, I'm so happy whenever I see someone has commented on a post--while I'm having a great time here, I'm always honored to see that it's actually being read and to hear from folks back home. Questions, comments, souvenir requests, whatever are more than welcome.

Posted by cageissler 09:41 Archived in India Tagged food monuments delhi Comments (5)

Delhi: Day zero

Bopping around, waiting for everyone to show

Pro tip: fly Cathay Pacific as much as possible. And order the "Indian Vegetarian" meal if you can.

From the top-left: cold chickpea salad, pineapple and grapes, juice, pita-like (not naan-like) bread, spinach stuff, rice, veggie stuff.
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This part is self-explanatory:
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Got in last night--nice fellow from our travel company waited for me with a bright yellow sign reading "EMORY;" never thought that name would sound so sweet. Three others had just gotten in the car, so they drove the four of us to Likir House, the Dalai Lama's guesthouse in Delhi, affiliated with a monastery in Leh, Ladakh. Sleep ensued.

Two more drifted in during the night and morning, so the six of us headed out to the Defense Colony, a nearby commercial district (I don't know the story behind the name, but would like to find out for an early-ish lunch. Walking the streets of Delhi isn't as abjectly terrifying as driving (being driven) on them, but it's still quite an experience. Stray dogs. Sketchy smells. People selling stuff. In this neighborhood, some pretty nice houses.
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The private residences and schools we passed were often set back from the street, with a wall or other siginificant barrier. Sound barrier, perhaps? There's a lot of crazy action on those streets:
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I don't know how well you can see it, but that last picture includes two people walking in the middle of the road, directly into oncoming traffic.

We came back to Likir House and got to see what it looks like in the daytime! It's also set back into a... not quite a street, but a collection of residential buildings around a park-like area. While I know it's not true everywhere, at least this area of Delhi isn't lacking in greenspace.
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Here's what I saw as we waited for a few more to show.
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Shortly after this, we all left to go see what we could of the National Museum before it closed. Wow. Even with only 1.5 hours there, it was incredible. I guess that's what happens when you go to the museums in the country where stuff is from. I was most blown away by the Harappan-era collection--i.e. India's Ur and Uruk, ~2500 B.C.E. and before. That little statuette and all those seals I remember seeing in books were there, as was some pretty impressive pottery. Other collections were spectacular too--some Gandharan buddha-statues and even an exhibit on the history of coins in India come to mind (mostly neat for me because of the alternations of local languages on the coins with Greek, local languages again, Arabic, and then English). Suffice it to say that place is worth a more serious visit, which may not happen this trip.

Photography was prohibited in the museum, but here's a view of how we got there (auto-rickshaw! After this experience, we took the impressively more-modern-than-New-York Metro. But still, there's something really impressive about driving around at reasonable speed while dodging obstacles and otherwise surviving Indian roadways.
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As we were walking, we passed this--apparently an Ashokan column is no big deal to have lying around here in India. But still.
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Also, monkeys running about:
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Then it was back to the Defense Colony for dinner, hotel for blogging, showering, and sleep. This is from in front of the shop where I bought a toothbrush--I knew I was going to forget to pack something, so it's better to pick something easily obtainable. Anyways, I'm literally nodding off as I type (it's 10 pm here now), and we have breakfast at Likir House at 8:30 before doing Orientation things. More on that later. Almost everyone is in by now, and they all seem really sweet, interesting folks. This semester might just work!
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Posted by cageissler 07:40 Archived in India Tagged delhi Comments (6)

Hong Kong!

An Airport with Free Wi-Fi

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This airport is ridiculous. Not only are there separate arrival and departure floors and lots of (often high-end) stores and eateries, but everything is layered on top of everything else. So much "you can't get there from here," and so many escalators! No, really, SO MANY ESCALATORS. But everything worked well and the signage is impressively good. Funny to think I'll be back here, twice... in May.

With neither a lot of time nor a lot to say... 16 hours straight is a really long time to be on a plane. Also, I really don't know (Mandarin) Chinese after just freshman year, but I keep catching isolated phrases around here. It's both frustrating and remarkably paranoia-inducing, knowing just enough to interpret it as something more than gibberish. I know they're saying something... but what is it?

Posted by cageissler 23:46 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged airports hong_kong Comments (0)

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