We finally went to bed around 5:00 am. This was as soon as we could since we had just flown in at 2:00 am. We tried to sleep as much as possible, but by midday the constant blowing of horns from cars and motorcycles outside our window woke us up. The horn noise from vehicles was constant and seemed to be coming from every direction.
As we woke up my wife reminded and congratulated me since it was my birthday. I was going to celebrate it in India. We were remembering that two years ago we were in Shanghai, China on my birthday.
We got up and walked outside to the public street to see the vicinity in daylight. We saw cars, motorcycles, bicyclists and pedestrians moving in all directions. Traffic direction here is like in England, mainly on the left side of the road.
It quickly became clear that in the metropolitan area, any open space anywhere on the road was an open invitation for anyone, regardless what direction they are going in, to drive on it. The streets also seem to be full of tiny yellow and green 3-wheel motor taxis. They are referred to as auto rickshaws. There is enough space for the driver and two passengers behind him. During the days we visited, we saw some with at least four persons "sitting" in the passenger space. I guess they pay by the trip and not by the number that riders in the back seat. I guess the more that can fit in the back, the merrier.
I couldn't help wonder why it seemed that everyone driving vehicles seems to be constantly using their horns. I learned that driving in all directions on a road is the norm and that when they blow the horn, they are only informing vehicles and persons in front of them that they are about to come through. They don't expect vehicles and persons on the road to get out of their way, they are just trying to prevent an accident.
In addition, to what seemed to me as traffic chaos, we could also see many of their sacred cows, donkeys and pigs walk unconcerned as they crossed or lay in the middle of the busy streets. It didn't seem to bother the animals as vehicles swirl, twist and turn around them. The monkeys also don't pose much of a traffic issue since they live primarily among the buildings and they-groups of them-move freely from one building to another. If they need to, they can also use the big bundle of dangling electrical wires on poles to cross over. Probably 20, 30 or more electrical wires may go from one pole to the other so the monkeys have many improvised swing sets for their personal enjoyment.
We returned to our hotel to meet with our tour group we had the opportunity to meet our professional tour guide which we refer to him as "Jay". His given name is Jayanta Kar.
Jay had the major responsibility of guiding 17 of us through the many locations and sites of India and Nepal over 17 days. He would help us navigate through a diverse country that has thousands of years of history that offers many unfamiliar and spicy foods. We were now moving into locations where traffic conditions were fluid and quickly changing. He was also responsible for our safety and helping to communicate in a highly populated part of the world (1.26 billion people. India has 17% of the world population).
I think it would be very challenging for people in their profession as tour guides to constantly communicate where there are 18-major languages spoken and many dialects under each one. He also had to speak English to interact with our group from the U.S. Jay, and others like him, would also have to listen carefully in order to understand and deal with the variations of English when working with travelers from the United Kingdom or Australia. Getting an experienced and quick thinking tour guide is critical to make the journey a successful one. I think we were very fortunate to get Jay and I think he did an outstanding job.
One of the main reasons we selected Road Scholar tours was it emphasis on providing additional educational opportunities to learn firsthand about this mystical country.
We had the pleasure of meeting our fellow group members. All are experienced travelers from different parts of the U.S. and who shared a deep sense of curiosity to understand this area of the world. If memory serves me right, none of us had ever visited India or Nepal. The majority were either retired or close to it. Everyone was arriving at different times and flights. We finally met as a group at dinnertime.
Early in the morning we went on a daytime city orientation trip in our tour coach. We drove past the Indian Gate, the Parliament House, the President's House and the Government Secretarial buildings.
Our next stop we had the opportunity to visit a major Sikh Temple. The men do not cut their hair and wear a turban (daster). I did not know about the religion and I was impressed with what I saw. The Temple was a place of worship and much more. In the Sikh philosophy, one of the major points is to share one's fruits. Clearly they practice what they preach. Believers donate their time with building projects and preparing and serving food for the people regardless of their own religion. Each day they receive donations from the public of rice and other food items. Many volunteers workers prepare food over large stoves for thousands each day. We had the opportunity to visit and walk through the kitchen area (Sikh langar). It resembled a small steel factory and an assembly line layout. Some langers feed 100,000 people a day!
We ate lunch in a great restaurant that felt removed from daily life in the busy streets. It was a restaurant that one could sit both outside and indoor. I think the restaurant was meant to provide an open forest setting. It was in the area where you would find the majority of the foreign embassies. One could hear a mixture of diverse languages being spoken by restaurant guests.
Our final visit for the day was to visit the Qutub Minar. It was built 815 years ago and is symbolic of the presence of the Muslim religion in India. It's the tallest brick minaret in the world. This is one of the multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites we would visit throughout our travels.
We returned to our hotel in time for dinner. It was our first full day visiting sites and trying to overcome our jet lag. Sometimes as soon as we sat in our coach we would immediately fall asleep. Our stomachs were trying to adjust to the new time and the Indian foods which are typically very spicy. I admit that I am of Mexican decent that can only eat very mild chili. In India, because the majority of the people are Hindu, the food is mainly vegetarian cooked with strong tasting spices. I would eat very little in order to give myself time to get use to the diverse culinary selection.
Immediately after dinner we went to bed and let our bodies catch up to being 14-hours ahead from our time back home.
After having our continental breakfast in our hotel, we attended a presentation in the hotel given by Dr. Nilotpal Mrinal who is a political science professor at the Delhi University. His 60-minute presentation on "Relevance of Gandhi in Today's World" was very informative.
We got back in our bus and went on to visit Jama Masjid which is one of the largest mosques in India. This mosque is still in use and the beautiful red sandstone courtyard can accommodate 25,000 worshippers.
Our following stop was to cross the street from the mosque to take a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk which is the oldest and busiest market place in New Delhi.
The ride was an experience of a lifetime. This was the first of many experiences that made us realize that India was a distant, unique and exotic country.
The ride on an old and flimsy two-passenger bicycle rickshaw quickly became, for me, a life-long memory experience. The market place is an area of extremes! Extremely narrow streets, extremely crowded, extremely active and extremely exhilarating to be in it. These shops have been doing business like this particular day we visited for thousands of years. I'm certain that this area has not changed over the centuries. [b]I tried very hard but I never found a shop that sold flying carpets nor lamps like the one Aladdin found.
If one could imagine removing the huge pile of electrical wires that dangle and crisscross everywhere above you and remove all the compact motorized vehicles that run everywhere you would, in a second, be immediately transported back 3 or 4 centuries. I would call it a historical site. It more of a site that is actively used as it has been for centuries.[/b]
When one travels in Rome, one sees the archeological sites that is set aside and preserved. You visit the Roman Colosseum but it's not being used. St. Peter's Basilica is used today and it will soon be 500 years old. Yes, it's old but not in comparison to what one finds in India.
As I stated, there are areas like this one which are still teaming with commercial activity in much the same way they were centuries ago.
I quickly realized that as we were going through this feverish area that one can go back in time and back in time we did.
We had lunch in a restaurant within the Chandni Chowk vicinity. Once we entered it, it reminded me of a quaint English pub. The conversation amongst our tour group was mainly about what we had just witnessed and experienced. I think we were astounded as to how crowded and densely populated the area was.
We continued our journey and our third site for the day was something I had been looking forwards to for a long time. I was certain that it would be a great experience and it was.
We visited the memorial tomb of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He is remembered and commonly referred to worldwide as Mahatma Gandhi.
As I stood over his site I recalled the books I read about him when I was in college. I wondered then and still wondered that day. How can a man who preached non-violence be considered dangerous and lived through five failed assassination attempts? How could someone consider a frail man who was 78 years old to be regarded as a threat? On the sixth time they took his life.
At Raj Ghat everyone that walks up to the memorial is required to remove their shoes. It was a great honor to walk around his tomb and think about the great lesson of peace that he left to all of us. I felt deeply moved to have been there and additionally felt sad that we had to leave. I made a commitment while I was there that I will continue reading books that he wrote. He wrote extensively.
We returned to our hotel and we felt emotionally drained from the day's exploration. We rested a while and then prepared for our next activity of the day.
There is no rest for the weary!
The agenda for the evening was for our tour group to be split into smaller groups and we would be transported to have dinner with a local family in their home. The families that participated in the hosting program are part of India's middle class and we had the opportunity to interact with them.
We visited a delightful family of four. Both parents were entrepreneurs. Their only daughter was attending college and the grandmother, which we never met, made up the household.
We talked candidly about the political, social and economic conditions of India. We asked about their views on arranged marriages-theirs was arranged. We invited them to ask us about what they wanted to know. Their question made us all chuckle. They wanted to know if the majority of Americans were aligned and supported the views of the GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. This question and many others that followed electrified the conversation even further and we found it hard to find closure and return to our hotel. The hospitality of the host family was wonderful. They made us feel welcomed and comfortable. We shared a curiosity of world affairs and were aware and sensitive to the great needs of the people of their country.
In view of our visit and conversation, I left with a feeling that this family, and perhaps their extended family and friends, feel hopeful about the future of their country. They acknowledged the many challenges that they face in their country and they also highlighted that they have a vital role and responsibility to bring about change. It was an enriching experience to have met and talked with the family. We were so engaged that we forgot our time and left later than we were suppose to. I guess that happens when you are having a great time meeting with a wonderful family.
We were sorry to end the evening but we had to return to rest since day two was going to also be a very busy day. We would be leaving New Delhi early in the morning and traveling southwest by bus for 6-hours, to visit the city of Jaipur.