There is a series of very large, very pretty trees outside of my hotel room window. Delhi is a lot greener than I would have thought. Trees are just about everywhere, as is poverty and hawkers. Damn the hawkers! This morning, after a lovely buffet sort of breakfast at the hotel, I stepped outside to get some air and get away from the air conditioning for a little break while I waited for my private tour to begin.
I decided to take a walk around G Block, the block that the hotel is contained in. That was no small undertaking, let me tell you. There are some shady characters out there, lots of shadowy bits and the streets are filthy. But what the hell? I can take care of myself and I wasn’t straying far from the hotel anyway. I didn’t make it 20 metres before I had company in the form of a 30ish man named Suraj. Suraj asked whether I was at the hotel, what “beautiful country” I am from, and whether I had a map of Delhi. I wished him a good morning and told him that I had all I needed and that I was just meeting a friend for breakfast at the restaurant across the street. He insisted that I should not be walking out on my own, I needed a map of Delhi, and he would at least walk me to the restaurant (after he got me a map). He stepped into … you guessed it, a tour shop and beckoned me to enter. No thanks man. No thanks. Seeing I was not following him but instead was walking into a restaurant, he came and said “do you smoke anything?” ??!?? Huh? “Do you smoke anything?” he repeats and then lists heroin and hashish for clarification. “Do you see the head cover and kara, Suraj? Have a nice day. Go away before I get the police over here.” As Suraj gave up and walked away into the shadows, I wondered what the hell? Heroin? What?!? Wow. If I look to him like a typical customer for narcotics, then there is a serious issue.
After my walk, including a brief diversion into a little hotel restaurant to rid myself of Suraj, my guide appeared at the hotel. He was early. That confused me just a little since all my subcontinental friends operate on what they refer to as Indian time, between 1 and 2 hours late for everything. There was a lot on the list for the day – including a visit to the Jama Masjid, said to be the largest mosque in India.
It is an active (i.e. NOT abandoned) open mosque in the Old Delhi part of town. My good camera battery was completely dead and charging in my hotel room so… all of these are taken with my phone’s camera. Sorry.
There is a 300 rupee fee in order to enter the mosque with a camera. That amounts to less than $6 Canadian at the current exchange rate. (Little hint – exchange in India, the exchange rates are much cheaper than buying rupees in Canada ahead of time). I paid the fee after being assured that it wasn’t just a money making venture aimed at tourists. The mosque’s management uses the funds to provide free meals to those in need. As a Sikh, I can get behind this idea and $6 is so little to spend to help feed people.
You remove your shoes before entering the mosque, as you do in most sacred places. I was offered a pair of slippers to wear but I decided to walk over the stone courtyard as the devotees do, in their bare feet.
I dress as a Sikh woman – head covered and dressed what I believe is modestly. After the slipper station, there is a gentleman who had robes that he was handing out to women (and some men) who were less modestly dressed. Just a question – why would anyone coming to visit a holy place, knowing in advance that is not an abandoned ruin, dress in short shorts with a tank top? First, it was too cool in Delhi in the morning to dress that way and second, whatever way you choose to dress for yourself, you have come to a mosque… a little respect for the place that you are visiting would be great. Anyhow, the young man with the robes began to hand me one. (You can see the robes covering many of the women in the pictures below. One of the elders then stopped him and a conversation began between him and the young man. I took a quick look over myself, because I do not understand the Arabic they were speaking to one another, wondering what they deemed unsuitable. They didn’t. Another man, very kindly translated that the elder told the young man not to just hand robes to white ladies but ones who are more exposed. He should not insult a sister by suggesting she is dressed improper. A sister, that was actually one of the only words I understood. That made me smile, not because I care what any man thinks of the way I dress and not because I had chosen correctly for the situation but because that is the way we should all think of one another – as brothers and sisters. I thanked younger brother for his thoughtfulness and moved on through the arches of one of the most impressive mosques I have ever seen. Or at least I tried.
I was stopped by a Hindi man of approximately my age and height. He smiled broadly and said “Namaste”. I responded with “Namaste ji” when he said “Bonjour”. I thought, this is a fun game let us just see how many languages we can greet each other with. I actually wasn’t thinking that. I was wondering what he wanted. I replied with “Bonjour. Ca va?” And then he spoke English to me. He said “Oh my. Your French is from France. I knew that we have met before.” Apparently, he had met a woman, many years before who looks a lot like me. She was French from France and had spent a year in a central area of India, learning Hindi. Her Hindi was like music, he said. You were in love with her, I thought. His story also made me smile as I said goodbye and finally walked into the mosque.
The courtyard of the Jama Masjid in Delhi can hold 25000 devotees. It has a lovely bath in the centre facing the prayer hall. The designer/builder of this massive structure is the same Mughal Emperor – Shah Jahan – who built the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. It was begun in 1644 and would be his last extravagant project before his death. It is built of red sandstone and white marble brought almost 180 km by land to the build site. It was built over a hill in the city and overlooks the Red Fort which is below it. In a part of the courtyard, someone feeds some of Delhi’s hundreds of thousands of birds (pigeons, green parrots and an impressively large hawk that imposes itself over the skies) with a large buffet of seeds.
|Bath in centre courtyard at the Jama Masjid|
The mosque has been in continuous use since it was constructed, Unlike many buildings in Delhi, it is obvious that people spend a great deal of time caring for this spot. Which made it even sadder, despite the garbage found all over Delhi, when a couple of visitors used a small stone shelf along the back of the mosque to discard their garbage. Really?
My private guide was very impressed by the Mughals generally, which surprised me a little given he was a Hindu man. I questioned him a lot about the history of the Mughals in India, particularly around the Emperors Aurangzeb and Jahangir. He conceded that the Mughals wanted to convert all of India to Islam, by force if necessary and that the Sikhs prevented India from a) experiencing wide scale slaughter of the Hindu population and b) from becoming an Islamic state.
He also ripped me off, which I will take up gently with the tour company this morning. He took 250 rupee entry fees for each of the 3 UNESCO heritage sites that we visited yesterday but one ticket covers entry into all three sites as long as they are each visited on the same day. So, he pocketed 500 rupees (less than $10) for himself. That was only the beginning of my frustration with him but whatever, it’s India. This is part of the way things are often done here so I’m not going to complain. I chose to play tourist, which is unusual for me to begin with, so I’m totally going with the flow. His presence while I wandered around prevented pickpockets and harassment and also was, despite the frustration, informative. It was also nice to have company, especially when a particularly scary individual began to follow me around the Red Fort. So was that worth the money and the frustration? Hell yes.
|Another view of the Red Fort from the Jama Masjid|
Yesterday, when I visited the Jama Masjid, was a Muslim holiday in Delhi. I’ll post more on this later, including some video but for now, the mosque would be closed to non-Muslims for the entire afternoon. You could, if you wanted, climb to the top of the gates to get views over the city. However, given the thick haze that has permeated Delhi since I arrived, I opted out of that experience.
Back at the hotel last night, I kept hearing fireworks. I couldn’t see anything but the glow of fireworks appearing in various places and they were too far apart to be part of an official show. Then I was told that people fire them off themselves to celebrate things – weddings, promotions, new business ventures. births of grandchildren, etc. They just do it in crowded, garbage filled, shack filled Delhi. Apparently fires are rare but injuries are not and they continue to do it anyway.
I’ll try to get some film of the action at some point. Once I’m out of the hotel and not targeted as a tourist any longer. Because that, my friends, is taking up all my time right now.
Tonight, I’ll post about the Red Fort visit and lovely, crazy, insane Delhi traffic. This post is long enough as it is.
Have a great day all!