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Lessons in History – Delhi – Message #3 – Thursday, September 8, 2005

on March 19, 2013

Hey all,


I spent all day today touring around New and Old Delhi…in the hot sun. It probably hit 40 degrees today. The temperature itself would be fine were it not for the humidity. Although I have been wearing sunscreen I think my left ear is slightly burned (I forgot to wear my hat earlier in the day…won’t make that mistake again!) Hey but on the bright side, Deep Woods Off works on Indian mosquitos. I haven’t been bit yet. I have heard the skeeters are the worst in Agra so we’ll see how DWO fares there.


Three other people were on my tour, one person was from West Africa and spoke only a little bit of English so I spent a fair bit of time talking to him in French and talking to our English-speaking tour guide in Hindi (once he figured out I understood him and the driver he insisted I practice my spoken Hindi…yup, this is my life) and now I’m having trouble writing in English.


Okay so the tour…that will help me focus my writing…we started the day at the Mirla Mandir (Hindu Temple) and our tour guide provided a lot of information about Hinduism. Most of the historical stuff and the info about the idols was interesting but at one point I think I did an eye-roll as I thought, “Why is he giving a sermon?” when he started encouraging the tour members to try doing “pooja” (worship) and see if after a year of practising we feel enlightened. I didn’t mention at that time that I was Muslim, which in hindsight was a good thing…hang tight.


Our next stop was the Presidential Campus, the President’s House, and the Parliament buildings. Wow are those three areas well-guarded. I was in Cuba in February and Castro’s residence is not known/advertised and I expected the same thing in India (although I can’t really explain this misconception).


Next stop was India Gate followed by Humayan’s Tomb. Humayan was the second Mogul Emperor of India and is the great grandfather of Shah Jahan (the 5th Mogul Emperor and the builder of the Taj Mahal). We had to pay 250 rupees for this UNESCO World Heritage site (although the price is only 10 rupees for locals and I was told that if I wasn’t on the tour I’d have been given the local rate…damn!) The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (part of Aga Khan Development Network and parent organization for Aga Khan Foundation Canada, which sponsors the World Partnership Walk) sponsored a two-year restoration restoration of Humayan’s Tomb and surrounding buildings. Made me proud to be a volunteer with an organization that has such far-reaching impact.




Okay, final stop in New Delhi was Qutab Minar which was built in 1190 AD by the first Muslim ruler of India. This is where our guide got a bit nasty and I was glad I hadn’t volunteered the fact that I was Muslim earlier in the tour. Basically, the first Muslim leader “destroyed” 27 mandirs to build Qutab Minar, India’s first mosque. The pillars the mosque is made from used to depict carvings of the Hindu gods and were part of the 27 mandirs. When the pillars were used for the mosque, the carvings were defaced so that they Hindu gods were no longer identifiable. Rather than just provide this information in a neutral manner, he became quite agitated and was fairly critical (I see his point, I honestly do, but man did I feel uncomfortable!) Turns out the West African is also Muslim but since he spoke only a little bit of English, he didn’t really get why the guide was upset. I didn’t bother explaining…can you imagine! Qutab Minar is also a World Heritage site.


Lunch at Janpaath hotel, South Indian vegetarian cuisine. I had a thali (basically a tray with small amounts of a few vegetable curries, chutneys, chapatis and rice). Way too much food and spiced just right…wahoo – way better than last night.


After lunch we tackled Old Delhi. I say tackled because Old Delhi is way more crowded, dusty and kinda dirty in comparison to New Delhi. I think I sneezed every time I was in a confined area where the dust had a chance to gather. Way more stray dogs in Old Delhi, too. They mostly stay away which is a good thing since I skipped the rabies vaccine. First stop was the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. The tour guide, still harbouring a bit of a grudge against the Muslims for Qutab Minar suggested we skip the mosque since it costs 150 rupees to photograph the inside of the mosque. (Does that sound like a good reason considering we had just spent 250 rupees on the two World Heritage sites and another 200 rupees on lunch? Yeah, I didn’t think so either!) So we went to Jama Masjid and we didn’t bring our cameras (I don’t think mosques should be photographed from the inside, anyway…. I didn’t take pictures inside the mandir either, so not being a hypocrite here!) Anyway, the guy from West Africa ended up doing a mini-namaz (prayers) while we were there and he was quite the hit – not that many Africans in India and he was probably 6 and a 1/2 feet tall so quite hard to miss. It was neat to observe him going through the prayers because his sect of Islam has some practises that are different than what is typical for me. Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan (5th Mogul Emperor, builder of Taj Mahal).


Shah Jahan also built Red Fort, which was our next stop. It was the physical location from which India was ruled for many years. Today, India Day celebrations are organized Red Fort, including the address from the President. Also the Indian Flag is unfurled each day at sunrise from this location. By the time we got to the Fort, I think every person on the tour was too hot to really enjoy it and we were all looking for shaded areas for refuge.




Final stop of the day was at the Gandhi Memorial, which is where Gandhi was cremated in 1948 and that was the highlight of the day. Partly because Gandhi is such a powerful person and holds a significant place in Indian history (his face still appears on the currency) and his family and his wife’s family were prominent figures in India’s history, too.




But, the other reason this was the best stop of the day was because there were about 50 school children at the memorial and their faces lit up when the saw Killy (West African) and David (“white guy” from Minneapolis). They rushed up to both to touch them and say hello. It was like a school lesson when a few girls came up and said “Hello sir, how are you?” and David said “Good. How are you?” and they all replied “I am fine.” in clear, well-enunciated English. Guess ya had to be there. I had about 30 Canadian pins on me and gave them to David (more than 6-feet tall so saved me from being mobbed by the kids) and he handed them out to the great delight of all the kids. They did end up mobbing all three of us and I almost saw my life flash by…but they were mobbing us to get our help with pinning the flag on. Then they all asked if the pin meant they could come to Canada (sorry Juli…I take full responsibility for misleading the kids!)


One last thing that I keep forgetting to mention…lots of trees in Delhi (old and new) and I don’t know why I didn’t expect this (Bollywood movies always have a forest scene and lots of rolling hills, parks, etc) and given the regular monsoon season, I should have concluded that Delhi would be lush and green. But it still surprises me when I stop to notice just how many trees surround me. It’s nice.


Alright, time for supper now…and then I’m not sure what…although at this point, staying in an air-conditioned building sounds pretty pleasant to me!



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