Our tour driver, Rehman, picked us up at the hotel at 9:00.
Right on time. He was very friendly and the car was quite
comfortable. We were driven through New Delhi, past the
Presidential Palace (largest in the world,) Parliament, the
Supreme Court, some very large and beautiful gardens
(complete with wild monkeys climbing and walking about), the
Airforce base, a Coast Guard Central Office, stables,
colleges, museums, Department of Science and way more
buildings than I can remember. The architecture was quite
grand, the streets were very wide boulevards, flowers and
lovely gardens and big green trees were everywhere. This was
in great contrast to Old Delhi. We stopped there to pick up
our guide, Angush (Ankush?) He was very friendly,
knowledgeable and enthusiastic, his English fluent and
easily understandable. One of our first stops was the
"Friday Mosque" the Jama Masjid. India's largest mosque,
built by Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1658, is capable of
holding 25,000 people. The marble and red sandstone building
and the large square surrounding it are surrealistically
beautiful and peaceful.
Next, Ankush arranged for 2 bicycle rickshaws and we were
pedaled through the cacophonous, totally crowded and
overwhelming lanes of the Chandri Chowk. This place is
famous for textiles and fabrics and custom made, elaborate,
wedding saris. Here was the Delhi I remember from 1980:
carts laded with bundles pulled by oxen, or by skinny men in
skimpy clothing and head turbans, tuk tuks, bicycles
rickshaws, motorbikes, pedestrians, shoppers, sellers, and
everyone and everything screaming, shouting, and honking.
The streets were lined with decrepid buildings dating from
the early 1900s, which had once been fancy guest hotels,and
the street had once been a wide boulevard, but the buildings
long since fell into disrepair and some were condemned. But
still, on the ground floors were shops. It was like a slice
of history in the midst of a teeming mass of humanity in
colors so bright that one's senses become overstimulated.
There was a Moslem Mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Jain temple,
and Shiva temple and even a Baptist church. Gone were the
broad and clean and green boulevards of New Delhi. Here the
streets were so narrow and crowded that is was really,
really hard for a bicycle rickshaw to get us through the
chaotic movements of vehicles and animals and people. Its
nearly impossible to even cross the street. Lonely Planet
describes the area as mind bending. I must agree. Ankush
took us through the spice market, which was so pungent that
we all kept sneezing and coughing. We climbed 4 flights of
stairs to the rooftop for a bird's eye view of Old Delhi.
Next we went to a spice merchant where we were taught about
chilis, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinammon, star
anise, nutmeg, peppercorns, cumin and corriander. What
outrageous fun !!
Next we were taken to the Red Fort, built in the 1600s by
Aurangzeb. The plethora of buildings included a 16th century
fort built on an island in the Yamuna River, a pearl mosque
with domes and spires which were once covered in copper, The
Diwan-I-Kas, a terrifically ornate chamber and pavillion
constructed of white marble with inlaid cornellian and other
stones, the screens overlooking the river were filled with
colored glass. The Khas Mahal was the private apartments of
the Emperor. The Diwan -I-Am was the hall of public
audiences. We only spent about 40 minutes here, but Gordon
and I will be in Delhi again at the end of our trip. I would
like to come back in the evening and see the sound and light
show. We'll see.
We had a delicious, but expensive lunch at the Masala House,
before being taken to Humayun's tomb. Called the mini Taj
because it predates it by 60 years, the Taj Mahal was
modeled after it, and it was beautifully proportioned, as is
the Taj. It was constructed for the Moghul emperor in the
mid 16th century by his Persian wife. It was built of red
sandstone with bands of white marble, blending Persian and
Mughal styes, yet following the rules of Islamic geometry.
Once again, the whole experience of wandering around the
gardens and the mauseleum was very peaceful and spoke of
other times and other cultures.
Our last, but not least, exploration was in the beautifully
tended gardens and two 15th century tombs of the Lodi
Gardens. The gardens were installed by the wife of the
British Resident in 1936 in an area of 2 villages and the
mosque and tombs. The juxtaposition of old and new was
somehow disconcerting, yet soothing.
We toured Delhi from 9 am until 6 pm.