Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Qutub Minar Tower

Today is Halloween in the US. We saw the heartbreaking photos this morning from the big storm and are feeling concerned about how family and friends have fared. Probably you can't even let us know due to the loss of your infrastructure. Sending love to all of you - you know who you are!

Today was very relaxing. We visited the Qutub Minar Tower, a World Heritage Site for India, a lovely carved stone structure built
around 1200 AD by Qutubuddin Aibak to celebrate Islam's triumph over the infidels. It sits in a huge archaeological site where the oldest of the fabled 8 cities of Delhi was located. The tower is still on a perfect state of preservation, except that Muslims have smashed the faces on all the carvings so that there are no "graven images". The first photo shows Annie, Michele and Anita at the tower site.

We visited a rug store for the obligatory sales pitch on stunning silk knotted rugs (we did not buy). Then we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of delicious Indian specialties at a restaurant called Garam Masala. We had a brisk half hour walk in Lodhi Gardens, a beautiful inner city park lush with plumeria, bougainvillea, and striped palm trees.

Finally we went shopping for clothes - at least all the women in the group did! That was really fun and relaxing. Now we are chilling out before our Chinese/Indian dinner (Chindian). Tomorrow we set out for Jaipur, the next stop on our journey.

We are getting to know the others in our group. They are from the mid-west and New England, nice people who have all done a lot of traveling. We are seeing lots more of this city, the impoverished and homeless masses living along the roadsides and even in the traffic medians. There are 16 million people in this city and it feels packed. Everyone is struggling to eke out a livelihood somehow, setting up curbside barber chairs or selling peeled tangerines from a cardboard box. Yet everyone shows us kindness, acceptance, and generosity of spirit. Today we also saw flocks of wild green parakeets and huge lemur monkeys roving around in various parks and gardens. This has got to be one of the most colorful and diverse cities on the planet.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chandi Chowk Market and More

Today was our first day out in the city. In every way it knocked our socks off! We started with an unplanned visit to a Ghandi Museum (one of hundreds all over India). The plan had been to visit the site where Ghandi was cremated, but it was closed for some minor holiday. Our guide had not been to the Ghandi Museum himself, so we all were seeing it for the first time. The full timeline if Ghandi's life was illustrated with hundreds of photos, books, documents, curiosities, and artifacts. For example there were looms, one of the bullets that killed him, and a pair of his spectacles, along with many items of the family household goods and linens. It also displayed much material about Nehru, and the relationship between the two of them, all fascinating. It really brought Ghandi to life for me.
Today we saw both Old Delhi and New Delhi, a vast contrast. We went deep into the heart of the old city where we hired rickshaws to take us through the narrow winding alleys. Thousands of tiny shops lined the streets under draping tangles of electric wires. Here were sari and fabric vendors, lace and buttons and sequined ribbons, all hung with maximum color and pattern. Food stalls spilled into the streets and the sight and smell of many delicious looking dishes made us hungry for more. There were mechanical shops, housewares, and swarming crowds of colorfully dressed people. The soundtrack of this ride was horns beeping, voices shouting, drums and chanting in various temples, the thuds and crunches as hundreds of tuk-tuks, motorbikes, small cars and rickshaws competed for spaces to squeeze through, and our own gasps of amazement at what we were seeing. Incense filled the air, coming from every direction and somewhat masking the other odors-urine, smoke, the smell of roasting foods, and other unfathomable flavors. There was so much to see in ChandiI Chowk Market (for this was where we were) that we felt as if we were completely filled to the brim, but no, there was so much more!

Outside the market was a huge mosque. We went in there after removing our shoes and donning big muu-muu style dresses over our clothes. The guide said it was because Muslim women in some western countries are now not allowed to wear head-coverings so this is a statement to us - you may not appear in your own clothes. I don't know how accurate that is, but we stood out among the locals, many of whom followed us around photographing us as if we were strange and different, and we are in this context.

Our next stop was at a huge Sikh Temple. I neglected to bring my camera but Daniella took some amazing photos here that she will post on her blog. They had an Olympic-size pool full of big fish. This was not for swimming but for religious ablutions. We watched an elderly gentleman in orange turban, sword swinging from his hip, scale a 100+ foot tall flagpole to unwrap a long orange cloth that enwrapped the pole from top to bottom. as he climbed he carefully rolled up the fabric into a log. At the top he secured it with string and then summarily dropped it to the ground. At once he pulled out a second, identical roll of orange fabric and re-wrapped the pole again while rappelling down. We were told that a family had purchased the first (used) roll for making clothes for their newborn baby. Supposed to bring good things to the little one to wear garments that have been up the flagpole at the temple.
Krish then took us into the huge communal kitchen where the Sikh community prepares 10,000 meals daily for all who need food. Here volunteers were rolling out roti, toasting them on huge clay ovens, flipping them to and fro with long poles, then into a basket when they were done. Giant woks (perhaps 4' across) bubbled over open flames. We watched men with shovel- sized implements stirring curried eggplants and a dish that looked to be all varieties of red hot chiles. Ai chi wawa!
Later we drive into New Delhi, the part of the city laid out by the British during their long occupation. Colonial mansions with vast green lawns stretched before us, bringing back memories of all those Indian films we have watched, like The Jewel in the Crown, and Passage to India. No polo was happening, did not hear the crack of any cricket bats, but in my minds eye it was easy to conjure them back.
Everywhere throughout the city the poverty seeps through the cracks. Even in these fancy areas we saw people sleeping in the median strips that separate the traffic lanes, as if they were mini-parks, oblivious to the cacophonous traffic sounds all around them.
Finally dinner, a banquet of Indian cuisine served in a private dining room. The food was great and the highlight was watching these chefs make our garlic naan in the huge clay tandoor oven. We are tired and over-stimulated and looking ahead to more tomorrow!

It is strange to be out of the US when such huge events are happening. Hope all of our loved ones weathered the big storm on the East Coast. We are thinking of you.
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Location:Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Marg,New Delhi,India

Monday, October 29, 2012

Arrived safely in Delhi

Safe and smooth flight. Computers all down at Indian customs so we waited in line for at least an hour. Krish, our guide, waiting on the other side to bring us to our elegant hotel.

First impressions from long ride through city to hotel: air very smoggy, grey, smoky. City fumigating whole areas against Dengue fever. Tiny impromptu markets dotted along streets on back of small trucks or on card tables, often a gas ring with someone ladling from one cooking pot into bowls. Men urinating along roadside, a frequent sighting. Lush, green trees and numerous parks. Trash and litter everywhere. Women in a rainbow of saris, often riding sidesaddle on small scooters behind men, with a baby or toddler tucked in the middle. Terrifying driving conditions, no obvious rules, horns blaring, cars and bikes and buses and trucks all jockeying for a space on the road.

An excess of laborers. We watched two men on a scissor jack hanging a huge sign at the airport while 6 other men "assisted" or supervised on the ground. One seemed to have the sole job of holding a spray bottle and moistening the back of the sign pieces before they went up. After checking into hotel, within minutes we had a man arrive to turn down the bed covers, then another to bring our luggage, and a third to check the plumbing. Very specialized small tasks seems to be the norm. Everyone seem to have at least one assistant.

Hotel room lovely. Delicious light dinner with Dahl, garlic naan, curried veggies. And sleep, blessed sleep. Now it is 2:15 am here, we are wide awake, but will surely sleep more before this night is through. Wifi very expensive at hotel ($9 for an hour) so posting blog will be infrequent, at least in this town. Excited!!

-Indian breakfast

Hotel pool and smog

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Location:Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Marg,New Delhi,India

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Namaste - The greeting of the Indian people

Next Stop India

We are leaving for India on Saturday.  This has been a lifelong dream of mine, and it is finally happening, partly as a celebration of this year being Daniella's and my 20th year as a couple!  Wow, did that whiz by!  We will travel with a group of 8 friends from Santa Cruz, and will visit both Northern and Southern India, as much as we can do in 3 weeks together.  We'll be going with Overseas Adventure Travel, the same organization who took us to Turkey two years ago.  So I'm packing, which is to say that I have a pile of stuff I'm sorting through and weighing:  take or leave?  Since it will be hot, in the 80's and 90's there, and here it has been cool, it's hard to imagine I'll bring the right stuff.  Layers, as always, but thin ones!  We've been getting all our shots, malaria pills, and various remedies for whatever might ail us as we travel (fingers crossed, we'll be fine).

If all goes as planned, I'll be blogging throughout this journey.  This depends on the availability of wi-fi, the compatibility of my camera/iPad combo, and the energy level I find at the end of each day!  But feeling as terrific as I feel, I'm not too worried about that aspect.

And so it begins, another thrilling journey.  I'll be missing the grandchildren like crazy.  When they are little, a few weeks makes a huge difference for their growth - especially the baby.  I hope someday that we will be able to travel with them on adventures such as this one!  Namaste.