Day 3: Jantar Mantar and Street Dogs

Good morning everyone,
Oh my, we’re still on Day 3?  Can’t you speed this up?  Ha, relax.  I plan to take a ton of pics but there are going to be days when my activities aren’t going to be photographed and posted and I would hate for you all to miss a day of photographs from this immensely beautiful, dichotomous country. 
So Jantar Mantar was missed on Day 2 with my paid, private guide.  Frankly I was so frustrated with him by the end of a long day that I did not even notice until I was back at the hotel.  I’m assuming he skipped it so he would have more time to try to convince me to go shopping at the places he shilled for.  

I arranged with Shiv to return there for Day 3, unguided.  He explained to me that there is a larger, working Jantar Mantar in Jaipur just a few hundred kilometres away.  Most people in India consider that to be the correct Jantar Mantar (not sure what he meant by correct) and that they used the Delhi one as just a park.

The Jantar Mantar is a huge observatory and this one in Delhi does need some major renovation work, which appears to be underway.  There are towers for making near horizon observations, for triangulating, for tracking the movement of starts and planets over the course of a year, and what is a truly massive sundial which can get the local time correct down to a few seconds.  Or could at one time that is, it is also in need of major restoration work.

Authorities have built a beautiful set of gardens around the observatory itself.  The lawns are well manicured, which is good because while I was there, most of the lawns were taken up with picnicking Delhites (Delhians?, Delhi’rs?).  Though it is a pay for entry park, it is obviously very, very popular.  Clearly visible in the park were groundskeepers.  Not so visible was any sort of security.

Delhi, I am told, wants to improve it’s tourist traffic.  Given some of the issues that have made international news here in the last few years, that attempt at increasing tourism includes security.  Visible security everywhere you look (or everywhere a typical tourist is bound to look anyway).   So either the security was slacking at Jantar Mantar while I was there or they don’t see it as a site to promote to tourists.  If that’s the case, it’s too bad.  If security was slightly better (we’ll get to that in a minute), I would gladly spend hours in this park, just wandering among the plants and exploring the observatory.

So on to the security issue I guess.  Hawkers and shills are obviously not the only dangers in Delhi (or any large city that attracts tourists).  Pickpockets, thieves and other criminals are also a concern.  Again, this really isn’t unique to Delhi.  India has the very extremes between poverty and wealth, extremes in education and opportunity… there are a lot of people living on a very thin edge of sustenance here.  And most of them are honest.  But there will always be some that are not.  Add to that other social issues like corruption, addiction and homelessness and you are bound to have a lot of opportunistic crime.  It’s going to happen anywhere, here in Delhi as much as at home in Canada.

The addition of security everywhere helps to reduce that crime rate, at least as far as tourists go.  I wonder if it’s not really just redistributing it to other parts of the city, but that’s a topic for another time.  Tourists make for good opportunity, especially given the differences in currency and what that currency can buy you.  1 Canadian dollar is about 53 rupees right now.  And given that my host family pays less than $1 CDN to feed three for more than a day, you can see why foreign currency is very attractive.

Anyhow, I noticed the lack of security in this park almost right inside the entry gates.   Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time, enjoying a sunny, warm afternoon.  Until you get to the Ram Yantra (the circular building shown above), the park is fairly open and everyone is visible.  Then the structures close in a little, leaving lots of spaces where activity might not be as noticeable at first.  That was the case this day.

A very tall American man with a very, very expensive camera (why? why? just why?) had entered the Ram Yantra area before me.  I would not have taken much notice of him except that he was being mobbed by a group of about a dozen young men.  One had offered to take a picture of him.  Another jumps into the picture and starts demanding cash for having his picture taken.  The original guy, now holding tight to the tourist’s camera, started yelling aggressively demanding cash for taking the picture.  And within seconds, the entire crowd of young men is directing a flurry of demands at our tourist.

The reaction was typical.  A few people stopped and looked concerned, more walked past pretending not to see, and one woman said something to them in Hindi, which they ignored.  I looked around to see if there was anyone to call on for help when the one security guard I saw in the park arrived, said something in Hindi to the young men who stopped harassing the tourist and returned his camera, without the cash demanded.  The tourist looked grateful but very, very shaken by the experience and obviously not even the worst kind of experience you could have.

I could only tell the tourist was American by his deep southern drawl – probably Georgia.  I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t speak to him and didn’t offer any sort of help after the incident was ended.  He went off in the direction of the more open area and I went into the Ram Yantra area.  Yeap, that’s what I did.  Why?  Because obviously, I’m confident and I am more than able to take care of myself and… I’m not that bright.

No one mobbed me but man, there were a lot of stares, a lot of cat calling and a lot of “Madam, madam, please over here.”  Yeah, no thanks.  I minded my business, waved no at everyone and took my pictures with my equally good, much less expensive camera (that I would totally be willing to give up in a fight).  I steered clear of groups of young males and I was fine but I can tell you that I felt a little unsafe being there.  So, if you’re going to visit this place, until the security situation is a little better, maybe travel in groups and avoid groups of young men.  Also, and this has always been something I found strange when traveling, leave the mega-expensive camera at home.  Unless you’re photographing for publication, you don’t really need it.  That super big lens?  Well, save that for what it is meant for – taking pictures of griz from a mile away.  What do you suppose you’re going to capture with that thing anyway in this place?  And if you are on a project for a publication, bring a group, hire an assistant, something to make you less of a freakin’ target than your huge ass, obviously expensive camera. Don’t give me “well, they have no right to the camera anyway.  It’s a criminal problem.”  Bull.  You have some responsibility for your own safety.  Relying on things just to be ‘right’ is naive and, if you are that naive, well maybe stay home and padlock yourself inside – the world just isn’t meant for you.

There are dogs barking up a frenzy while I type this, so let’s talk about India’s street dogs.  Plenty of Indian residents have dogs as pets.  In fact, I saw a man walking a Bernese this morning.  Or maybe the Bernese was walking him… India also has a lot of street dogs.  A LOT of street dogs.

Shiv told me that they are cared for in a way – people think that they will be blessed if they care for the dogs so they leave the dogs extra food.  Other than that, the dogs are left to fend for themselves.  I find them fascinating.  They seem timid of people, which most feral dogs anywhere would be, yet they stroll right past you.  It’s only if you pay the slightest attention to them that they run away.

Shiv also told me that they are rounded up by charities, who sterilize them and set them back out onto the street.  That’s great but I’ve also noticed a lot of puppies, so I wonder how well the anti-breeding program works.

There is a feral dog on the street where I am living in Amritsar.  She is aggressive to strangers but apparently considers the hundred or so people in the colony to be her pack and they are unmolested by her aggression.  And she has puppies, which she has carefully hidden in the brush behind the house I’m living in.  I’ll post pictures when I can (i.e. on the few occasions they poke their little heads out AND mom will trust me to take their pics.  Right now I’m working on gaining her trust.  She’ll let me photograph her but the minute I speak or approach within 10 feet, she leaves).

The other thing I’ve noticed about these dogs – whether in Delhi or Amritsar – they all seem to be exactly the same breed.  They aren’t your typical Heinz-57 that we see among strays in the Americas.  They all seem to have the same long face, same height and bone structure, same short coat that comes in four colours – tawny, black, white and a mix of those three.  That is part of what makes them so fascinating to me.  How are they not breeding with some of the pet dogs to create more variety?  I spend way too much time thinking about it.  Way, way too much time.  Yeap.  And now I’m spending time writing about them…

So … next post will be about Lodi Park and PDA in Delhi.  Yeah that’s right, good old PDA right out there in the open!  My very Asian mother-in-law would be having a coronary right about now… from laughing right along with me that is.  Get ready to smash a stereotype or two – nothing makes my day more.

Peace & love
-Preet

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