Monday, June 13, 2016

New Delhi: It's Hot and Crowded, But There's Stuff to See

Lydia wrote this post and my hilarious yet informative quips will appear in [brackets].

We took an early morning, nearly empty, Air India flight from Colombo to New Delhi, India.

[Our seats had this very odd loan advertisement on them. You can get a car loan for 9.6% if you're a woman with a home loan... very strange.]

[Luckily the plane had screens in every seat. Unluckily this was about all they did.]

[This was the closest thing to a movie we got.]

[Interior of New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport]

The streets in Delhi are chaotic and smelly. It seems that one could live his whole life on the side of the road. We passed men getting haircuts, kids taking showers, old women selling fruit, and young guys fixing motorcycles. Add this to the barnyard of animals – dogs, chickens, pigs, cows, monkeys, and camels – and you see more life happening in five minutes on the side of the road in Delhi than you would in a whole week driving through the streets of St. Louis.

[I could see a definite yellow haze over the city through the plane window. I got out of the cab and was hit by this heavy sulfur smell. I was trying to find an ATM to get some cash to pay our driver and whatever else. We had to go to three different banks to find one that wasn't out of order. Traffic moves like logs down a river, really stop and go, the lanes mean nothing with everyone cutting each other off at every opportunity, and just honking constantly. It's like a river of bumpy sorrow.]

We eventually made it to our Airbnb in Hauz Khas Village, a neighborhood known for its large expanse of art galleries, clothing stores, restaurants, and bars. Our apartment has a seemingly traditional Indian design with ornate wooden trim and brown wicker furniture.

[There were big fragrant piles of flowers in a couple of the rooms.]

[We could see a historical site and a lake from the Airbnb window. Not too shabby.]

[Once we were on street level I spotted some monkeys over there through the fence.]

[Artwork in the hallway. They sure do love cows around here.]

After a quick chat with our host, we went in search of lunch. We settled with Wow! Momo an Indian fast food chain specializing in momos. Momos are popular dumplings in Nepal, Tibet, and Indian. They are quite similar to the gyozas found in Japan. [Our Airbnb host recommended that we not eat Indian food for two meal in a row else we may get the dreaded "Delhi Belly".]

Next, we headed towards Humayun’s Tomb in the New Delhi area. According to Lonely Planet, the structure is “the most perfectly proportioned and captivating of Delhi’s mausoleums” and “strongly influenced the Taj Mahal.” After walking across an expanse of gardens and through several red sandstone gates, we got a clear view of the tomb.

[Humayun's tomb was built for Mirza Nasir ud-din Baig Muhammad Khan Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor. The Mughal empire was Muslim and that definitely influenced their style of architecture. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughals as well. Fun Mughal fact: the modern English word "mogul" meaning an important or powerful person is derived from the word "Mughal".

[I'm really glad that we came here because previous to this visit the Taj Mahal was the only building of its kind I had ever seen(in photographs). So by default you sort of build this assumption that some wizard just conjured that magical building then flew away never to be influenced by other previous works. This visit fills in a bit of the Taj Mahal's history for you.]

[I found an amusing, maybe even true, story of Humayun's death on Wikipedia:

On 27 January 1556, Humayun, with his arms full of books, was descending the staircase from his library when the muezzin announced the Azaan (the call to prayer). It was his habit, wherever he heard the summons, to bow his knee in holy reverence. Trying to kneel, he caught his foot in his robe, tumbled down several steps and hit his temple on a rugged stone edge. He died three days later.]

Unfortunately, it was super, super hot, well over 100 degrees, so we didn’t spend too much time looking around. It was also around this point that I noticed my breathing feeling kind of funny like I couldn’t take a deep enough breath. John thinks I’m just being silly, but I’m pretty certain I can feel a difference in the air. I mean the forecast for the day was “dust” after all. According to an article in the Washington Post, the air pollution is so bad that some medical professionals consider it unethical for anyone who has a choice to raise their children in Delhi.

Leaving the gardens, we followed the signs pointing towards a canteen, hoping to buy some water. It was an interesting walk. It was so hot, that when we finally arrived, I caught the worker standing in the refrigerator trying to keep cool.

[The pathway to the canteen was very odd.]

After some water, we had a cabbie drive us to Qutb Minar complex. Among the ruins is the Qutb Minar, a five-story minaret, built by Sultan Qutb-ud-din in 1193 to proclaim his supremacy over the Hindu rulers. [Its construction marked the beginning of Muslim rule in India, and it's the tallest brick minaret in the world. Take that, other people!]

[If a kid selling something sees your delicious white face he or she will just press their nose against the glass and wave their wares at you no matter how many times you refuse. It gets awkward. Only the resuming of life-threatening traffic gets them to back off.]

[The minaret has these nice bands of calligraphy that wrap around it.]

[These little chipmunk type characters were always on hand for comic relief. They were funny because they stayed so low to the ground. I can only assume that they were being melted there by the heat.]

[The big stone tree stump looking thing in the background is Alai Minar. Alauddin Khilji was like "you know what's better than the tallest minaret EVAR? A minaret twice as tall, that's what." So he ordered it done. Then he died, and everyone was like "this is dumb" so they quit. The end.]

[This looked like a wild ferret.]

The other things at the complex include a mysterious iron pillar that hasn’t rusted after 1600 years, ruins of an old mosque, and the beginnings of a second tower that was never completed. Something to note is the lack of foreign tourists at these sites. Both were very crowded, but almost everyone was Indian. Perhaps everyone else is smart enough to know that Delhi is just too dang hot in June.

Once we’d had enough of the hot, dirty Indian air, we met back up with our cab driver. We learned on the drive that the cabby practices the Sikh religion. He explained to us some of the religion’s main practices: no hair cutting, wearing one bracelet, and no smoking. Sikhs make up 2% of the Indian population.

Just as I was starting to like our driver, he pulled the ultimate scam and took us to a “bazaar.” Clearly it was a tourist trap, and he was hoping to earn some commission. Bad move sir, bad move. [People don't seem to understand the word "no" around here. Even if there was something in that shop that I wanted, I feel like it is my duty to future tourists and humanity that if I say I do not want to go to a place, then you take me there anyway, that I buy zero, zero things.]

[I was annoyed by the bazaar scam but we didn't buy anything so joke's on him. I liked how much he told us about his religion and so forth. He really wanted us to hire him the day after our Taj Mahal day but we were just too hot and tired for it. Drivers in India are all up in your business to get more trips out of you. Have you been to old Delhi? Where are you staying? Etc. etc. Well you may recall I visited a little place called Senegal. And our creepy guide asked us our names so that he could call our hotel room and creep outside the hotel waiting for us all day. I keep telling Lydia I have Africa PTSD.]

[I would give him a call if I was ever in need of a future Delhi ride. Male Sikhs have "Singh" (Lion), and female Sikhs have "Kaur" (princess) as their middle or last name.]

[The word rang a bell and sure enough Thailand's singha beer is named after a mythical lion. Lo and behold Wikipedia has this to say about the name of our recently visited country Singapore:

The English name of Singapore is derived from the Malay word, Singapura, which was in turn derived from Sanskrit (Singa is "lion", Pura "city"; Sanskrit: सिंहपुर, IAST: Siṃhápura), hence the customary reference to the nation as the Lion City, and its inclusion in many of the nation's symbols (e.g., its coat of arms, Merlion emblem). However, it is unlikely that lions ever lived on the island; Sang Nila Utama, who founded and named the island Singapura, most likely saw a Malayan tiger.]

[Well after connecting all of those dots I do believe I just won myself an internet.]

Once we made it safely back to our neighborhood, we had dinner at a local Indian restaurant, Rang de Basanti, recommended by our host. We had butter chicken, Dal Makhan, which was kind of like chili, and plenty of naan. I also tried the Indian yogurt based drink lassi. So good, so good.

[Lydia enjoyed her rose flavored welcome drink.]


[I liked this place's Indian Super Mario mascot.]

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