Friday, December 31, 2010

Delhi delights

Brent has gotten his hands on a map of Delhi and circled a number of sights we need to see. True to his nature he books a car and driver at a very good price and we head out for an intense day of sightseeing.
First stop is the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Temple (Birla Temple), an impressive Hindu temple that was inaugurated by Mahatma Ghandi in 1933 as a temple for all people of all faiths and castes. The Swastika can be found throughout the temple and in contrast to the Nazi Swastika (although it is exactly the same symbol) it is a sacred and ancient sign (8000 years old) that signifies a prayer for success, accomplishment, and perfection for all people.
Next we visit Qutb Minar which are remarkable religious buildings constructed in 1193 by Muslim sultan Qutb-ud-din. The buildings remind me of ancient remains that can be found in Rome although these buildings seemed to be more in tack. The most striking building of the little town is the five story red sandstone and marble towel. Brent particularly enjoyed this place as a couple of young Indian women asked him for a photo. He is receiving a far bit of attention and a few remarks about being Ricky Ponting. So much for women receiving all the attention!
From here we visit Bahai house of Worship, otherwise known as the Lotus Temple. This lotus shaped temple looks like a miniature version of the Sydney Opera house and is surrounded by manicured gardens and lagoon blue pools. Similar to the Birla Temple it welcomes all faiths and is a place of silence for meditation and prayer. In true Indian fashion everyone files in silently and then ignores the ‘silence rule’ and resumes their conversation.
Next stop is Humayun’s Tomb. This amazing sight is an example of early Mughal architecture from the mid-16th century. The tomb resembles a smaller version of the Taj Mahal and is made of white marble and red-sandstone. The area is surrounded by smaller and equally beautiful marble tombs and magical manicured gardens.
We drive past Parliament House and the Indian gate but the end of and highlight for the day is Gandhi Smriti, a memorial and museum where Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead on January 30, 1948 at 5.17 in the evening. We didn’t spend nearly enough time in this museum as it closes at five and needs at least a few hours to explore. The walls are lined with pictures and paintings of Gandhi and his life along with his words of wisdom and his story.
Outside, concrete footsteps depict Gandhi’s last steps as they lead to the spot in which he was killed. Until visiting this museum I didn’t fully appreciate the work that Gandhi had done and in a way is still doing for India. I think I will soon be reading a book about him and his life.
Inside the museum there is a wooden pole of some sort standing in a room. An Indian guide asks Brent and I and two other Indian women to join hands around the pole, the pole begins to illuminate. She directs me and another Indian woman who have a free hand each to touch a circle on the ground next to the pole to make our ‘people circle’ complete. As we do this the pole illuminates brighter. The woman tells us that it takes the joining of all people of all races, religions and castes to make the world brighter. She asks us to let go of each other’s hands and as we do the light fades. I am overwhelmed by her words that have been influenced by Gandhi.
After a long and exhausting day in Delhi we drink chai and eat  dhal and naan and retire to bed early.

Delhi Nights

Delhi comes alive at night and the cockroaches lurking in our room are no exception to this. As the sun goes down, the shops seem to appear from every crevice as do the women, children and cows. Small fires made of burning rubbish and wood are dotted throughout Main Bazaar as the locals and shopkeepers try to keep warm.  There appears to be more people out and fewer cars and despite the dark I am comforted by the night.
We meet a man tonight outside an eatery. He is not Indian but is clearly well known and perhaps lives in Delhi. He catches us reading a menu and makes a suggestion. I ask him where he is from and he replies “Heaven”. I notice he has a young dog by his side wrapped in blankets. He tells us the dog is hurt and is dying. I ask if it will be Ok and he says “No, but I want it to go peacefully so I will sit with her and care for her until she goes”.
Tonight we feast on Channa Masala which is chickpeas and paneer cheese in thick spicy gravy scooped up in garlic naan. It is our favourite dish thus far. Later that night as we leave the eatery the man we saw earlier with the dog tells me to remember that “Not all angels have wings.”
Afterwards we share steaming hot chai with a young Indian man who has taken a liking to us. We end the evening high on Delhi.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The sounds and smells of India

Delhi is quiet for a few hours between 1am and 4am and then the chanting begins followed by drums, barking dogs, banging pots, tooting horns, spitting and yelling. It is a constant that almost makes the silence eerie. When we step outside our hotel the air is thick with an elixr of cardamon, incense, smoke, aniseed and urine. Strangely, the smell is not unpleasant.

So with a head full of noise and lungs full of smoke we brave the traffic, men and beggars and hit the town. Crossing the road at this stage makes my blood run cold. I feel like I am dancing with death and have quickly learnt to follow close to the locals. There is so much to look at and look out for that my head is dizzy in concentration. I can feel culture shock quickly creeping up. Nothing can prepare you for India!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Namaste India!

We hadn't even touched down in Delhi and we have been invited to a New Years Eve Party, have additional accomodation incase our hotel isn't up to scratch, have a dinner planned with our new Indian friends' parents and have the contact details of a hospital owner in Punjab (where we will be living) who will help us to find accomodation in our town and assist with anything we need because we are now 'family'. This all came about by being stuck at the airport in Beijing and having a friendly chat with an Indian man who has been residing in Australia for seven years. To say Indians are hospitable is an understatement. I hadn't left the airport and I already had a full page of contacts.

And then we left the airport...

20 minutes in to our journey and we had already seen cows lounging by the road side, monkeys scavenging for food, a motorcycle accident, barefoot children barely five years old roaming the streets begging, men squating in their slums around fires trying to keep warm (it's about 6 degrees), people doing their 'business' before your very eyes and of course hundreds of cars beeping at nothing and everything.

We are captivated and perhaps a little overwhelmed. :)