Sunday, July 20, 2008

Touring old Delhi--playing tourist....

July 18, 2008-(Friday)- New Delhi, India

Today, since I have the whole day in Delhi with no planned activities, I decided to get a taxi to take me to some of the famous sites. My first driver was a Seek, a very nice man who frequently drives for CCS. The first stop was Lal Qila, The Red Fort.

· The largest of old Delhi's monuments is the Lal Quila, or the Red Fort, the thick red sandstone walls of which, bulging with turrets and bastions, have withstood the vagaries of time, and nature. The Lal Quila rises above a wide dry moat, in the northeast corner of the original city of Shahjahanabad. Its walls extend up to two kilometers, and vary in height from 18 metres on the river side to 33 metres on the city side. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan started the construction of the massive fort in 1638, and work was completed in 1648. The fort sports all the obvious trappings, befitting a vital centre of Mughal government: halls of public and private audience, domed and arched marble palaces, plush private apartments, a mosque, and elaborately designed gardens. Even today, the fort remains an impressive testimony to Mughal grandeur, despite being attacked by the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah in 1739, and by the British soldiers, during the war of independence in 1857. Entrance to the fort is through the imposing Lahore Gate, which as its name suggests faces Lahore, now in Pakistan. This gate has a special significance for India, since the first war of independence, and has been the venue of many an important speech, delivered by freedom fighters and national leaders of India. The main entrance opens on to the Chatta Chowk, a covered street flanked with arched cells, that used to house Delhi's most skilful jewelers, carpet makers, weavers and goldsmiths. This arcade was also known as the Meena Bazaar, the shopping centre for the ladies of the court. Just beyond the Chhata Chowk, is the heart of the fort called Naubat Khana, or the Drum House. Musicians used to play for the emperor from the Naubat Khana, and the arrival of princes and royalty was heralded from here. The Fort also houses the Diwan-i-Amor the Hall of Public Audiences, where the Emperor would sit and hear complaints of the common folk. His alcove in the wall was marble-panelled, and was set with precious stones, many of which were looted, after the Mutiny of 1857. The Diwan-i-Khas is the hall of private audiences, where the Emperor held private meetings. This hall is made of marble, and its centre-piece used to be the Peacock Throne, which was carried away to Iran by Nadir Shah in 1739. Today, the Diwan-i-Khas is only a pale shadow of its original glory, yet the famous Persian couplet inscribed on its wall reminds us of its former magnificence: "If on earth be an eden on bliss, it is this, it is this, none but this." The other attractions enclosed within this monument are the hammams or the Royal Baths, the Shahi Burj, which used to be Shahjahan's private working area, and the Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque, built by Aurangzeb for his personal use. The Rang Mahalor the 'Palace of Colors' housed the Emperor's wives and mistresses. This palace was crowned with gilded turrets, delicately painted and decorated with intricate mosaics of mirrors, and a ceiling overlaid with gold and silver, that was wonderfully reflected in a central pool in the marble floor. Even today, the Lal Quila is an eloquent reminder of the glory of the Mughal era, and its magnificence simply leaves one awestruck. It is still a calm haven of peace, which helps one to break away, from the frantic pace of life outside the walls of the Fort, and transports the visitor to another realm of existence.

I took many pictures here, and all I can say is that the structure is incredible ! At first I was surprised at how many Indians were there, but then I realized that this would be the equivalent of Americans visiting Washington, D.C. Inside the Fort museum there were many exhibits of old swords, and other military items. I wondered where they were found, and who last used them so many, many years ago. If only they knew their possessions would be in a museum someday. I wonder if some of my possessions will make it to a museum in a couple hundred years…

It is SO much hotter here in Delhi, than in Palumpur. I can’t describe how hot it is! The only thing I can say is that I took a shower using only the cold water tap, and even THAT water was warm ! I kept drinking water, and didn’t have to pee ! I sweated the water out !

After the Red Fort, I looked for the next site, which was Jama Masjid, a Moslem Mosque. I made the mistake of asking someone where it was and a man came to me and said he was a guide. I told him I didn’t want a guide, only directions as I knew the Mosque was within walking distance. He was insistent and kept following me. Then he said he didn’t want any money, he would do it free. Although I knew he would want money in the end, I let him show me around a bit as I knew I could give him a few rupees at the end and he would be happy. First, I told him I needed to find a bank. I needed to get a cash advance off my Visa card. I have NO idea where my Bank of America, temporary card is. I didn’t get my new card in the mail before I had to leave for India. I didn’t have a PIN number for my Visa card as I never use it for cash, but the Visa help line said that I should be able to get cash at any bank with my card and my passport. My guide showed me the bank, and I went in. I was again taken aback. No computers, only paper forms everywhere. The crazy thing is that even the paper looked ancient. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but thought that would seem strange and put me under suspicion of something. How can they run a bank in today’s world without computers? At some point, computers must be used as they have an ATM system! Anyways, after “talking” with several people I was advised that no bank in India would give me money off a credit card. I would have to talk with Capital One about this! I needed a PIN number. I had my guide get me to a phone where I called Visa and they told me to call back in 2 hours as their computers were updating. Can I say FRUSTRATED, and a bit scared! I didn’t want to be in Delhi for 3 days without access to money. I wanted to take a taxi to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal ! When I came out of the bank, my “guide”, was there waiting. (I’d hoped he’d gone away.) He asked if I wanted to go to the market and go shopping, I said a loud “NO”, I just want to see the Mosque. He took me through a lot of back streets, very, very, narrow streets, and I was getting a bit nervous. Fortunately, the streets were filled with people, children, and shoppers, so at least I could scream if anything happened. I stopped him and said, “where are you taking me? I want to go to the mosque, which is only a short distance from the Fort”. He said that he was taking me through Old Delhi, which was a short cut and where I could see streets and houses over 500 years old. The man was true to his word. As we were walking the narrow streets I saw tiny, tiny, stone houses and shops which were obviously very old. We walked down one street which he said was the marriage street. This was because all the shops sold wedding items. Everything was red and gold. In India, Brides wear Red on their wedding day, not white. Weddings are a HUGE celebration here as 99% of marriages are for life. Even a poor family will have over 100 people at the wedding which lasts 5 days! The actual ceremony doesn’t last 5 days, the time includes the groom getting together with his male friends and family, the bride’s preparation, the actual ceremony, the reception, etc.

Finally we made it to the mosque. There were steep steps going up to it. I had to leave my shoes outside and wear a makeshift skirt (they gave this to westerners at the entrance) in order to enter the mosque as my ankles and calves were showing – I was wearing Capri’s. As I was walking up the steps, some school girls came over and asked me for my autograph !!!! this is NO joke ! I tried to explain to them that I was not anyone famous, but once they found out I was from America, they insisted. I signed my name in their book, then they wanted me to take a picture of them. I did, but I felt weird about it. Here is some information about the Mosque:

· The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama Masjid of Delhi, is the principal mosque of Old Delhi in India. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, and completed in the year 1656 AD, it is one of the largest and best-known mosques in India. It is also at the beginning of a very busy and popular street/center in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk. Masjid-i-Jahan Numa means "the mosque commanding a view of the world", and the name Jama Masjid is a reference to the weekly congregation observed on Friday (the yaum al-jum`a) at the mosque. The courtyard of the mosque can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers. The mosque also houses several relics in a closet in the north gate, including a copy of the Qur'an written on deer skin.

Inside, again I was struck by the beautiful architecture. I saw the Moslem women all in black with only their eyes showing. I can only imagine how hot they felt, I was dripping with sweat. I understand modesty, but to not be able to even show one’s face ! This seems crazy to me.

After taking MORE pictures, I went to get a taxi to take me to my next destination, the Jhandewala Deviji Temple.

To be continued….

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