In Delhi I learned that I am very glad that I am not famous. My local friend said it was like walking around with Minnie Mouse. Everyone stares, and people stopped me all the time to ask if they could take a picture with me. If I wasn’t assertive enough, I would’ve been held up for hours posing for photos with strangers. One young kid said that I was the first foreigner he’d ever talked to, and then he made me watch an Eminem video with him. It is a strange thing to be so conspicuous. I felt like an alien.
Delhi is exactly as I pictured it. It was like stepping into my own imagination. The British imprint left behind in New Delhi is so deep that you could almost forget that you’re in India — until an elephant saunters past. Crossing the threshold from New to Old Delhi is time travel. It’s a riot of people, street food, goats, scooters, rickshaws, dogs, cows, all jockeying for space on narrow, winding roads. Delhi has been sacked and rebuilt eight times; it is the very definition of resilience. Old Delhi feels timeless, the eye of centuries of political storms. At night, all the hotel signs are lit up in neon. It’s the Las Vegas of India.
Religion is everywhere. All sorts of religions have a presence here, the temples and mosques and churches coexist together like a buffet of routes to heaven. We visited the biggest Mosque in India, the Sikh temple, the Stone Mason’s temple, the Jain temple and the Bahai’i Lotus temple. The Lotus temple looks a little like the opera house in Sydney from the outside. The inside is unremarkable except that is probably the only truly quiet place in India. The only thing I could hear was the tinkling of bangles.
The city was gearing up for Diwali, the Hindu celebration of lights and the triumph of good over evil, and Eid, the Muslim festival of sacrifice. Two of the most important festivals at the same time meant that traffic was nuttier than usual — to put it extremely lightly. Crossing the street was a festival all in itself. There were fairs and carnivals, performances of the Ramayana (the Hindu story of the god Rama and his wife Sita, who is kidnapped by the evil Ravanna, and Rama goes on a quest to save her); lights and music everywhere. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirl of people and colours; Old Delhi was pulsing. Eid marks the end of Ramadan and people congregate in Delhi to celebrate with gifts and feasting. Villagers brought herds of brown and black goats to market for sale; on the highway I saw a goatherd nonchalantly urging his cluster of goats across four lanes of heavy traffic.
My dreams will never be the same now…. I’ll see the beggar woman with no face; the men sleeping on their wheelbarrows on the street while children race around and the police clear the street for a parade of Hindu gods at midnight; goats with tinsel around their necks walking between bicycle rickshaws and rows of grilled kebabs; the cows serenely eating garbage.
Agra: The City of Love
Agra used to be the capital city during Mughal rule (16-19th centuries), but now the only thing of interest is the Taj Mahal. I read somewhere the whole, decidedly less romantic story behind the Taj: Shah Jahan killed his beloved’s current husband so he that could marry her, and then when she died, he married her sister. Ah, romance.
The Taj Mahal lives up to all of the hype. It’s absolutely amazing. I went at sunset and it was stunning. The hordes of people don’t detract from it at all; on the contrary, everyone’s excited energies make it all the more magical.
Inside the mausoleum, it was dark, and everyone was talking and jostling for space, and the noise reverberated off the marble chamber. It was like being inside a bell after it’s been rung.