Way back in the early 1980s, when faced with the choice of moving to Dublin or making the 20-mile commute up and back each day, it was a no-brainer. It would be unthinkable to drive that distance every day. Fast forward through life in Alaska when I’d happily drive 612 miles round trip just to play 18 holes of golf, to life in twenty-first century Ireland where people commute to the capital from all over the country and some even commute to London . It’s all a matter of perspective. So when faced with a 70km drive to see Delhi when staying in Greater Noida, the only question to be answered was ‘Am I likely to be back this way again’ – and as the answer was far from a convincing yes, I hired a car (and a driver) and took off.
The only place on my list of must-sees (given that the city was shrouded in either fog or smog) was where the great Mahatma Gandhi had been cremated. Raj Ghat is where the ashes of the great man are entombed. Inscribed on the memorial are the last words he spoke on being assassinated – Hey Ram. I never knew that. The eternal flame that burns is testimony to the lasting influence he has on so many people from so many different cultures. I’m glad I took the time to drop by and pay my respects.
One of the more famous temples in Delhi is the Baha’i Lotus Temple. And as with all other temples, shoes have to be removed before entering the grounds. This involved a rather clever underground room open at both sides – one to drop off your shoes, and the other to pick them up. No exceptions. The temple, while visibly stunning from the outside, is so plain inside that it seems almost half-finished. Not one picture or statue. No ornaments or embellishments of any kind. It was quite a shock to the senses. It’s this way because it’s open to all people of all faiths to come and pray and have some quiet time with their god, whomever he or she might be. Quite something.
We stopped by India Gate, another must-see on the Delhi tour and I was struck by how similar it was in feel to the Arc de Triomphe. And yes, on checking, I discovered that this national monument of India was inspired by its French counterpart. The walls are inscribed with the names of the soldiers who died in WWI and the Afghan Wars with the monument itself taking 10 years to build. There was a lot of writing. The eternal flame that burns here, though, is a later addition. The flame of the Jyoti burns in remembrance of those soldiers who died in the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971.
Delhi is famous for its Red Fort, which, apparently, was originally white but painted red by the British and while Rampor was quite keen on my visiting it, I was forted out. Hyderabad and Agra had done it for me. Likewise with the Qutab Minar, but some cross-communication fated otherwise. I wasn’t sure why I was paying to go into a market but didn’t argue the point until it was too late. And I got a right talking to, as well. He was a little pissed off at me because I was in a mood (amazing how intercultural my moods are). Eleven days into India and being told what to do was taking its toll. Worse, not being listened to was making a dent. [No, I don’t want to go to another bloody government shop.] And I’d decided that for some unfathomable reason, I preferred Southern India.
The Minar, standing some 73 m tall, was started back in 1200. It took three generations of rulers to finish it over 115 years and it is yet another amazing testament to the craftsmen of old. Although blanketed in fog/smog, the detail up close was more than impressive. As to why it was built, the jury is still out. It might have been to commemorate the start of Muslim rule in India or it might have been built as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. Decide for yourself which you’d prefer it to be. Apparently 27 Hindu Temples were razed to build this compound … a sore point for some I’d imagine. The colours were amazing and in full sunlight it has to be spectacular.
One thing I’ve noticed is that Indians have little regard for statistics or facts or figures. Few could tell me the population of whatever city I was in. These trivia simply aren’t an issue. Were I to relocate, that would take some getting used to. Another would be not getting my own way. But I’m stubborn. And eventually we made it to Janpath Market – I could spend a day there being bullied by the stall owners who told me in no uncertain terms that IT WOULD FIT ME … but, of course, it didn’t. And yet no amount of arguing would do – I had to show and tell. Colour, life, soul, and certainty – the key essence of India – were all encapsulated here. And if I were to return to Delhi, this is where I’d head for.