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

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