On our way to Agra and the Taj Mahal today. Very excited. Had quite a day of sightseeing yesterday. We were up and on the bus by 8:30 a.m. We drove first through the diplomatic enclave as it is closest to our hotel. There are, of course, many, many different governments represented but there isn't too much to see/photograph because each building is located in the center of a multi-acre property and surrounded by high fences/hedges/etc.
Next up was the official district or "New Delhi". This area was built by the British who as our guide wryly commented that "clearly they were not expecting to have to leave India quite so soon". The area was modeled on Washington, D.C. so of course it contains lots of official-looking buildings and open space a la the Washington Mall. In fact there seems to be quite a lot of open green space in New Dehli -- parks, round abouts, etc. After taking in the sights we headed to Old Dehli where we visited the largest mosque in India called Jama Masjid. In order to go into the mosque we had to take off our shoes (and pay the guy who watches the shoes to make sure no one steals them) then we had to put on a sarong or robe and finally pay $5 for a "permit" to take photographs. But it was worth it. A peaceful spot in the midst of total chaos.
Speaking of total chaos, our next adventure (and I do mean adventure) was a rickshaw ride through the "streets" of Old Dehli. The rickshaw driver was a wisp of a man and R wanted to share a rickshaw so I felt awful sorry for the guy but our guide told us not too and we gave him a good tip which, I suspect, was much appreciated. Anyhow, the "streets" of Old Dehli are little more than wide sidewalks and they have to accommodate walkers, rickshaws, carts delivering goods and scooters. There is no sunlight and to top it off pre-"Holi" Day festivities were already commencing. Holi Day is a Hindu celebration involving the "throwing of colors" which you've probably seen pictures of and is pretty much as it sounds--people throw colored particles or dust at one another (not sure why except that it is fun). I am assuming that the color comes off in the shower or laundry but as I don't have my full compliment of clothing with me (only two bags!) I am anxious to avoid having color thrown on me. Anyhow if you don't have color to throw you can also throw water or water balloons and it was this hazard that we encountered on our "Mr. Toad's Wild" Rickshaw ride! Fortunately for us the water throwers were more interested in the women in our group than two old gay gays so we were mostly (but not completely) spared. It was certainly a crazy experience I won't soon forget -- a full dose of the "in your face", all your senses stimulated, unlike-anything-you've-ever-experienced India. After this it was back on the bus and to the hotel for lunch. But first we had to get our full-sized motorcoach out of Old Dehli--much easier said than done I can assure you.
Medieval like "streets" of Old Dehli
The traffic in Dehli (especially Old Dehli) was described by our guide as "functional chaos" to which I would add the qualifier "barely". There are no lanes, no lights, no crosswalks, just a big old mass of humanity surging forward. The only thing that differentiates Delhi traffic from a full-on stampede are the metal cages everyone is encased in that prevent actual suffocation and wholesale destruction! Fortunately, there is plenty of street life to observe while stuck in traffic. Eventually we were able to extricate ourselves and we made a brief stop at the Mahatma Ghandi memorial. It was another peaceful spot in an otherwise busy megalopolis (17 million people).
Ghandi cremation site and eternal flame
We had a brief break for lunch and a rest before heading out for our afternoon sightseeing. First stop was Humayun's Tomb. This building was built in the Mughal style by a wife for her deceased husband. It was later used to house additional family tombs. The Mughal style of architecture involves symmetry, geometric design motifs, onion domes, and luxuriant gardens. Humayun's Tomb is considered a precursor to/inspiration for the Taj Mahal. I didn't know anything about it and was not really looking forward to visiting it--thinking "How interesting can a tomb be?" Answer: very. I was especially impressed with the geometrically laid out garden (meant to be a reflection of paradise). It featured water in pools and runs that were highly reminiscent of the Alhambra. Unfortunately there was no water when we visited:(
Details of tomb
Alhambra like gardens
Last up on the schedule was the requsite "buying opportunity". This was at a cooperative (?) store that sold gorgeous, silk, hand-tied carpets. The sales presentation was very slick but inoffensive (if that's possible) but R and I managed to resist buying anything.
Dinner was at the hotel--a buffet with lots of vegetarian options (yeah). Then it was lights out and fortunately there was apparently no loss of power during the night because my C-PAP machine stayed on (double yeah). Now we are ready for yet another boring old tomb -- the TAJ MAHAL!