Don’t worry, I rolled my eyes at the post title, too…
However, I chose it for a reason.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say New Delhi is a microcosm of India (given that 80% of the one billion + population resides rurally and Delhi is an industrial business centre), it is truly a city of much contrast and many, MANY faces. From the four year-old girl whose caste resigns her to a life of hawking monogrammed hemp bracelets to the forty year-old driving a brand new Ferrari off the lot, the juxtaposition in this place is undeniable.
Autorickshaws, SUVs, and even police cars are stickered with “I ❤ My India," and for good reason: India is an incredibly subjective, personal experience. That's not to say every experience is a pleasant one, but I must say I do admire the resilience of the Indian people. To see smiling faces even in the slums is a powerful reminder that happiness and light can find you in the darkest of places. I'm holding that fact very close to my heart.
There are many stories I can share but in the interest of time (mine and yours), I will keep posts to a minimum and speak more to the overall experiences than every last detail.
We stayed at the Cottage Yes Please in the heart of Paharganj, a rough-and-tough backpacker area in New Delhi. I will say the price (appx $30/night) was tough to swallow after $8 rooms along the coast of Vietnam, but a clean, spacious room with bathroom and AC is hard to beat when you're faced with 40+ degree heat day after day after day. Case in point: it was a cool 27 degrees when we landed in New Delhi… at three in the morning.
As any tour guide or website will tell you, if there's one month to avoid traveling in India, it's May. The swell of humidity is practically unbearable until it gives way to monsoon season in late June. For this reason, fellow tourists are few and far between, but I give kudos to those we've seen and met so far. If the locals can tolerate it, so can we. …right?
Much like when I visited Thailand last winter, the three of us decided (read: were semi-consciously lured) into booking our trains, accommodations, and a few of our tours through a local Delhi agency. Although it claimed to be a subsidiary of the Government of India, we still aren't wholly convinced. Oh well – we agreed at the outset a few extra rupees (keep in mind $1CAD is roughly 50 rupees) was a small price to pay for comfort and convenience. Unlike my last backpacking experience, time is not on my side and there is so much I'm itching to see and do here.
A definite bonus to booking with an agency was our introduction to Singh ("Singh is King!"), a humble and cultured Hindu man who spent two days showing us Delhi in all its shapes and forms.
Of all the places we visited, two really resonated with me that I thought I'd share with all of you:
• The Lotus Temple.
Otherwise known as the Baha’i Center for Worship, the temple is a recent fixture in Delhi, designed by an Iranian-Canadian in the mid-80s. As you can see, it is made up of 26 marble petals and surrounded by a natural cooling system of nine adjacent ponds.
We mistakenly visited on a Sunday which made for the queue of all queues to gain entry (Southern Indians are currently on holidays from school, on top of Sundays being a typically auspicious day), but it was worth the wait. The premise behind the Baha’i temple is that people from all religious denominations can unite under a shared worship of whatever God, deity, plant, animal, etc. you identify with. Ushers somehow manage to retain the semblance of order outside the temple entryway and demand silence once inside. Again, the contrast from audible chaos to total quiet brought a very serene sense of peace. For a nation rife with conflict and struggle, it is something else for combatting faiths to sit side-by-side as civil neighbours and respect the right to worship. I took this time to sit with my new mantra from fellow wanderluster Jack Kerouac:
• Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.
This Sihk temple is a thing of unrivaled beauty. Renovations are ongoing to ensure the temple is perfectly manicured and offers a warm welcome to the millions of pilgrims it attracts every year.
Of the pilgrims there that day, we were the only three foreigners. I’m not joking when I say we garnered more attention than the temple’s glistening golden interior. After sitting in on a musical performance (artists travel from afar to sing hymns here), we were invited to the kitchen area to help prepare dal (a spicy lentil-based stew) and chapati (thin flour tortillas). Despite being an impoverished nation, this Indian temple commits to feeding every mouth who comes to worship… and they feed and water them well! It was a very moving display of humanitarianism and community. I’m pretty sure the locals had a good laugh at our amateur bread-making skills, too…
After three full days spent sightseeing and jetlagging, we are ready to see what else the North has in store for us. So ready, in fact, that I’m blogging this from my upper berth sleeper cabin en route 18 hours to Jaisalmer with our new British bunk mate in tow.
Oh, and no Delhi Belly… yet! I’ve decided to go vegetarian for the remainder of the trip (one chicken dish was enough to turn me meatless), and so far our fare has been the perfect spicy and the most delicious.
Dom: if you’re reading this, I dibs co-chef for our next Indian dinner party.
Next up: navigating the Thar desert by camel.