The mother of all sightseeing days
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 5 of 16 › view all entries
Another breakfast on the patio this morning in the cool early morning hours, but this time preceded by a short chat with Sanjay, the owner of the guesthouse, who made a quick appearance in the office where I was checking my email before breakfast. He was a small and clear-spoken man, very helpful and no-nonsense, with a lot of helpful information. I had a list of questions to ask him, and he didn’t seem to mind at all. Laundry, room cleaning, ideas about where to go • for everything he had information ready.
Today I had booked a tour and a car through an outside source, a woman I found over the internet this summer when I was looking for information on
The driver was a young guy named Anwar, who was quiet and rather shy, but friendly. First I asked to go to Red Fort, a huge complex built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It was another roasting day, and Anwar dropped me off as close to the entrance as he could. I walked the approach to the Fort full of unspoken anticipation, its giant, looming walls calling to mind other historical sites in my memory, the spaciousness of the complex already apparent. Many Indian visitors were also drifting towards the Fort entrance • men, women, and giant groups of school children, as well as the odd tourist, but because it was so huge it didn’t feel crowded inside.
It was another enchanting place, this Mughal fort/palace complex, with that particular feeling and style of architecture and aesthetics, a bit like the Alhambra in Granada, but even grander. Rather than one massive building or castle, the fort contained a series of palace buildings, large and small, including a hamam, a giant, open-air arched space where the emperor could give audience, living quarters for the emperor and his wives, free standing gates, etc. Everything was spindly, delicately carved stone, including heaps of marble: crenellated columns and arches, like spun sugar, decorative in and of themselves; inlaid geometric patterns and flowers • oh those beautiful inlaid flowers!; open spaces • no doors • only grilles of carved marble and stone in starburst patterns; etc. And all this within acres and acres of lush garden/park • waterways and fountains, emerald lawns that seemed to breathe with life in the humid air, bursts of colorful flowers, birds, chipmunks, trees.
Within the complex there was a small museum with artifacts from the palace complex, including a series of small scenes/pictures of the emperor’s lives, executed with very fine brush strokes and brilliantly colored. Some of the pictures especially caught my eye:
“Tanashah in fairyland, 18th c. AD” • a picture of Tanashah sitting thoughtfully under a tree in the background, while in the foreground bare-breasted, winged women cavorted.
“A lady lute-player, 18th c. AD” • an exquisitely painted picture of a woman holding a lute, sitting cross-legged on a divan.
“A love scene, Rajasthani, late 19th c.” • a couple gazing lovingly into each others eyes while seated on a divan on a beautiful patio, a girl bearing a tray beside them, a crescent moon in the night sky.
Not to mention “A prince enjoying dance,” and “Prince Aurangzeb’s adventure with an infuriated elephant” (the elephants! Painted in black and seeming to gallop right off the page!)
After Red Fort Anwar picked me up at the entrance (just enough time for half a dozen touts to descend upon me in a swarm, smelling a potential mark) and then took me to the
After that we returned to the guesthouse to meet the guide for the tour of Old Delhi. She arrived promptly at 2:30 and we set off by car for that part of the city, which was back by the Red Fort. The tour started with the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in
It was very impressive in its layout, and very busy. A long shopping street led up to it, filled with vendors selling all sorts of things from shoes to clothing to waterproof watches submerged in a tiny basin-sized blow up pool filled with water (to prove their worth). As we carefully wove our way through, the Jama Masjid rose up above us, raised up on a higher level at the top of a couple of wide stairway. After removing our shoes we passed through a gateway into a huge courtyard, at the center of which was a square, shallow raised pool where devotees purified themselves by washing their hands, arms, and faces in the water. Being barefoot, the cool marble of the pool’s platform was a relief to the soles of my feet, which felt slightly burnt from the tremendous heat trapped in the baking red stone of the courtyard.
The guide walked boldly through each part of the Jama Masjid • the square, around the pool, into the mosque itself where men were both praying, resting, and even stretched out sleeping on the cool marble floor. Had I been by myself I probably wouldn’t have dared, because for some reason I felt uncomfortable in that space.
We even were able to climb up inside one of the minarets, ascending a claustrophobically narrow and dark stone stairway up to a tiny platform no bigger than a large rug where we perched precariously alongside the other climbers. One false move and you would have tumbled right back down the stairway again. There at the top the whole city of
After the Jama Masjid the guide hailed a rickshaw driver and paid him to cycle us around Old Delhi for about an hour, during which time we rolled (quite slowly, because it was terribly crowded) through the narrow streets, wild with action. Many of the lanes specialized in one type of thing, and we saw the ones for handmade paper and wedding invitations, wedding saris, jewelry, pranthas (a type of food), snacks, spices, etc. There were single cows moving slowly down one or two of the lanes (the first ones I’ve seen) but mostly we were dodging hundreds – thousands? – of pedestrians as well as other rickshaws and even motorbikes. It was a feast for all of the senses, a sort of coming-to-life of the hazy postcard images I had in the back of my mind of historical “Old India,” except it was very much alive and thriving.
At the end of the tour the guide brought me to three houses of worship which were all along the same street, and only a stone’s throw from the Jama Masjid: the Gurudwara Sees Ganj (a Sikh house of worship), a Jain temple, and a Hindu temple. I especially liked the Gurudwara Sees Ganj, where a shallow pool with tiny jets of water purified and cleansed your feet before entering, and where inside men and women sat together on carpets while kirtan (music, chants) was played. The Gurdwara Sees Ganj also has a communal kitchen where free meals are offered to the public, which I found admirable.
I think this was the most fascinating day so far, and I would highly recommend a visit to Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi to anyone, including visits to all of these religious sites which coexist so close to one another, practically side by side.