Sunday Oct 2, 2005 - day 3 - Old Delhi - Kathy:88 photos, Bob: 109 photos

            Well, as predicted, we kind of sacrificed Saturday to the Gods of travel.  We flew to London, walked a half-hour through the maze of Heathrow airport and plopped on the floor in one of the airport waiting rooms.  Exhausted, we took turns sleeping on the cold hard floor.  Finally, our flight was assigned a gate number, so we proceeded to the gate, where we met some of our fellow OAT travelers.

            Eventually, we were on the plane, an eight-hour flight from London to Delhi.  The flight was long and boring, but otherwise not too bad.  Kathy and I watched the movie “Dark City” which we had recorded on our Tivo and transferred to the laptop before we left.  We brought noise-canceling headphones that cut out the sounds of the engine amazingly well.

            Our flight took us quite close to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other dangerous places.  I was glad we were 36,000 feet up in the air where Osama Bin Laden couldn’t shoot at us!  Well, we might have been more north than that, over Russia.  I drifted in and out of restless sleep for most of the flight, but still woke up completely exhausted.

            We arrived in Delhi at 2:30 today (Sunday) in the morning.  My poor tired body and pocket watch informed me it was 1:00pm on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.  I was surprised that India has a half-hour time shift from the rest of the world.  Much to our surprise, all of our luggage was waiting for us as soon as we arrived.  We passed through customs and immigration, and found our OAT guide, Sujay, without a problem.

            We stood in the Delhi airport and talked with other OAT travelers until everyone from our group arrived, which took about an hour.  We shuffled outside onto a tour bus which drove us for another hour to our hotel, the Inter-Continental Grand Hotel. 

It’s a beautiful hotel, but it was then 3:30 in the morning, and we were exhausted.  We got our room key, went to bed and slept as best we could.

            After breakfast, we had our orientation meeting next to an annoyingly loud waterfall.  We complained about the noise to Sujay, who asked the hotel if we could use a meeting room.  The hotel said no, so we huddled in a less-noisy corner of the hotel until staff decided we were blocking their way, then they graciously agreed to move us to a meeting room anyway!

            After the orientation, we did a short 20-minute walking tour of the area.  I think they’re taking it easy on us because we are still all jet-lagged.

            Now it is about 2:00pm and we are going for our first real sight-seeing on the bus.


Evening: At 2:00pm, we got on the tour bus and drove to Old Delhi.  It seems as if Old Delhi is half Hindu and half Muslim, and there are specific regions for each.

            We went to the Big Mosque, supposedly the largest in Delhi.

The courtyard was big and the facade was too, but strangely enough, there didn’t seem to be a large indoor building like other mosques we’ve visited in Turkey and elsewhere.  We spent some time exploring the grounds, then we met up at a agreed-upon corner of the structure where there stood a small white marble structure. 

Sujay had somehow persuaded (bribed?) the caretaker to open the structure and reveal its holy contents.  Inside, he showed us several holy relics of Islam:

two ancient verses of the Koran, written down near the time of Mohammed,

a hair from the beard of Mohammed, one of Mohammed’s sandals

and one of his footprints in rock, supposedly a miracle.

            Before we were finished, a crowd of devout Muslims had gathered around us to see the relics.  Many of these relics were one of two such relics, the other being in the Topkapi Palace in Turkey (I have some photos of these in my Turkey travelogue).

            After the mosque, we went for a rickshaw bicycle ride through Old Delhi. 

I tried to get photos of some of the people, which was very interesting.  However, we were almost always moving so the photos didn’t turn out very good.

            The ride did illustrate how some companies prefer to wash dishes: literally in the streets with a vat of local water and a heater. 

I packed a bunch of sanitizing alcohol wipes, and I think I’ll start using them on my dishes before meals!

            During our ride, we got caught in a minor traffic jam, and also we got into a minor accident with another rickshaw in which our rear wheels became intertwined.  Pretty soon spokes were broken, and it took some time to sort things out.  We took a shortcut to get back to the bus, but by then everyone was onboard waiting for us.

            After that, we drove to the grave site of Mahatma Gandhi, the great political and spiritual leader of India.  He was assassinated shortly after India won their fight for independence from Great Britton.  His body was cremated and his ashes scattered on the banks of the Ganges.  So the site wasn’t really a grave as much as a memorial, complete with an eternal flame and all.

            This was a special occasion because today happens to be Gandhi’s birthday, and because of that, the place was crowded with people and there were special flower arrangements at the site.

            Driving around Delhi, there are lots of people everywhere, but not as many as I expected.  It seems like the city is far less crowded than most of the cities in China, for example Shanghai.  There are children begging for food and money on the streets, but not as many as I expected.  I expected throngs and masses of people begging on the streets, but I was pleasantly surprised to find so few.  Some of the children did tricks for the cars to get money.  Sujay told us that most of the beggars were not poor at all, but they were slaves to the Indian Mafia, just trying to win the sympathies of the tourists to get their money.  There are lots of scams, we were told, including women who claimed to be pregnant who were not, mothers who falsely claimed to be without a husband and people who hid their arms inside their shirt so that they appear without arms or legs.  He recommended that if we want to help someone, give them useful things like pen and paper for their education rather than money that can be turned over to the Indian Mafia.

            We took the bus back to the hotel, and after an hour break there, we were taken to a fancy restaurant where we had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had.  They served us all kinds of wonderful Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Makhani and many of my favorite dishes.  To most of my fellow tourists, these were strange and exotic foods and they didn’t have any concept of Indian food, so I proceeded to explain the dishes to them.  Our guide, Sujay ate with us and we discussed all kinds of things.

            Throughout the day, we bombarded Sujay with endless questions about religion, people, the caste system, the relations with Pakistan, the dispute over Kashmir and many other things.  He was very patient with our endless questions and was very informative.

            For example, today we saw several men walking around with a red dot on their forehead.  It had surprised me, because I thought a dot on the forehead was the “bindi” mark reserved only for women, indicating they are married.  So I asked Sujay about it.  He said that on a man, it is a separate thing.  It just means that they have been to a Hindu temple.  If it is a long vertical line, it also means they received a blessing at the temple.

            On our bus ride back to the hotel, I asked Sujay to give us a Hindi Word of the Day, much like we did in Turkey.  Today’s first Hindi word was “Namaste” which I’ve seen badly misused by the various new-age communities in the U.S.  The word is properly pronounced like an English sentence used to convince your mother not to leave: “Nah, Ma. Stay.”  Namaste is a sign of respect, almost like a blessing.  It may be used for “Good night,” “Thanks,” “Hello” or any number of things.  Kind of like Aloha in Hawaii.

            Sujay also tried to teach us another Hindi phrase, “I’d like some water.”  I don’t know the correct spelling, but the words sounded like “Moojay pani Cha-He-Ay.”  Moojay is me, Pani is water and Cha-He-Ay is “I want.”

            Here are some observations from driving around Delhi:

            First of all, we saw tiny scooters driving down the street with a complete family of four riding on them!  The scooters would have mom, dad, teenage son and six-year-old daughter, all crammed onto one tiny seat.  Hard to imagine, but even harder to take a photo of.

            Second, the men outnumbered the women ten to one.  I guess that many families have tests done to determine the sex of a child, and if it’s a girl, the fetus is aborted.  I think that this was commonplace several years ago.  It is sad, but I suppose the reasons are many.  If you have a boy, he can help in the fields and farm work better.  He can carry on the family name.  A daughter requires an expensive dowry and you have to find a suitable husband for her, and if you don’t she can become a burden for life.  But now India has a big problem because there are lots of men and very few women.  I think the government outlawed the practice of aborting girl fetuses, but I think that perhaps it still goes on.

            Third, I expected to see lots of shanty towns, cardboard houses and street people in Delhi, but I was also pleasantly surprised about that too.  Those things all exist, to be sure, but I didn’t see it very much.  One of the problems is this: sometimes rural farm families are offered a very good wage to work at hard labor jobs like construction, so the father moves the entire family to a big city like Delhi and they have to find a place to live.  They find an adequate place to live, but it is fairly costly, but that doesn’t matter because the wages are twice what they earned in the country.  However, after a year or two, the company knows that the family is entrenched and unable to move back to the farm, so they say, “Well, we don’t need people as much as when we hired you.  We don’t want to fire/sack you, but we cannot continue paying you these high wages.  We are cutting your salary in half.”  Now the family is in trouble and can’t afford their apartment, so they start looking at other ways to supplement their income.  At first they start dropping the children off on a street corner on their way to work, so they can sell cheap trinkets to people who drive by.  Pretty soon it becomes drugs or prostitution and the children are making more money than the parents.  Thus, there is a huge migration of farm families into the big cities, and it causes problems for the cities for many reasons, and also less people able to farm the land and help feed India’s burgeoning population of more than one billion people.  And Sujay said that AIDs is also a big problem, as in other places in the world.

            Still, I didn’t see much of the extreme poverty around the city, and we did a fair amount of driving.  I wonder if the government has done something to hide the problems from the tourists.  Don’t get me wrong: the people here are “poor” by our American standards of money, but even the poorest seem happy.  Children here are laughing and playing in the streets, making their own entertainment from nothing, compared to American kids who walk around angry, unhappy and isolated with their countless gameboys, televisions, computers and gadgets.  The adults here are simple, but also happy.  The joy just lights up their faces.

Despite all the wealth we have as a people, not many Americans have that joy inside, or if they do, they don’t show it.

            Fourth, I expected to see large herds of cows walking around the streets, and I was surprised to only find a few.  Cows are considered holy, so people here don’t eat beef.  I was told that recently a cow-count was done and they found more than one hundred thousand cows in Delhi alone. These are just cows walking around town that no one owns.  However, I didn’t see any.  I did hear that the Indian government was trying to do something about the problem, so many of the cows were auctioned off, sent to other parts of the country, and possibly even slaughtered, but of course there would be rioting in the streets if that were publicly known.  I’m not sure whether this is true or not.  I only know that I only saw a few cows around town.

            We asked Sujay what the cows ate in the city, and he said trash.  People basically leave heaps of trash outside their homes and the cows wander around eating it.  He joked that the city cows probably wouldn’t know what to do with grass if they saw it.  It made a few of us wonder if Indian cows had a pallet for spicy curried trash.

            Last of all, I was surprised at the lack of air pollution in India so far.  I expected to find Delhi as polluted as Cairo (a very polluted place) but I learned that the government forced all busses and tuk-tuks to convert from gasoline to PNG, which we call Natural Gas, which is a renewable fuel that burns very cleanly.  I’m not sure if that is considered CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas).  At any rate, the city air is very clean, at least as far as cities go.