Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Trip to India: Day 2: Delhi

Day 2: (I forgot to get all of the pictures off of my mom's camera from Delhi, so I'll put those up later!)

We woke up after a few hours and took a look around the very chic and glamorous Hyatt Regency. Our room, and the hotel in general, had more mirrors than I have ever seen in one place before. In our bathroom, we had one mirror hung on a mirrored wall across from another mirror in the shower so that we could see ourselves no less than 10 times in one room. I'm assuming this is because us wealthy tourists like to look at ourselves a lot, much like a parakeet or a monkey. We had breakfast in the gargantuan dining room in which every surface was covered with marble, and again, had an entire fleet of people to help us. One to lift the lids on the buffet dishes, one to pour the juice, one to pour the water, two to check on us, one to bring us our check, and the manager to come by to make sure everything is to our liking.

Knowing very little about Delhi, we decided to get a taxi for the day to bring us to the only couple of places we had heard about. Once we hired the taxi, which turned out to be 1200 rupees for the entire day (about $25), we realized how badly we had been duped at the Hyatt for their airport taxi which had cost us $85 for about 15 minutes. Oops. Our cab driver, a friendly older man named Baldev, took us first to the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi.

Cars are not allowed into the old city, so he found us a bicycle rickshaw man who took us to the mosque. The ride to the mosque was another extremely alien experience. As we got closer, we rode down a wide pathway with a makeshift market in the center, and a field of garbage, feral dogs, and garbage/feral dog-eating eagles. The market was our first real experience seeing the poverty in Delhi. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed everywhere around the emaciated dogs and crowds of people selling scrap metal, some type of meat, and other odds and ends. We pulled up to the stairs in front of the mosque and I felt as though every person we passed was looking at us (because in large part, most of them were. The mosque was oddly devoid of tourists, so we stuck out like a couple of pasty sore thumbs.) The mosque itself was less impressive than we had been expecting. It was one of those places that looks better in photographs. It all felt run-down, disheveled and somewhat abandoned.

From the first seconds on the steps to the mosque, every person we passed tried to get money in some way. People were begging on the stairs, or trying to get us to go into their hut-shops. At the top, a man told us we had to buy a ticket to use a camera (which I think, although we paid, was hooey, because no one was inside to actually look at the ticket...), could pay the man near the doorway to hold our shoes for us while we explored the mosque, and tried to get us to see his other friend about a tour of the mosque. We held our own shoes and walked around the mosque by ourselves. Inside, one of the previously mentioned adorable Indian children came up and started talking to me "What's your name?" "Where are you from?" "Do you have American coin?"

After we looked around, I plopped down in the center courtyardish area and started to draw. A few seconds later a gaggle of kids and surrounded me and started watching intently as I was drawing. Since they stood in front of the mosque, I started putting them into the drawing too, which really got them going. The kids were so cute. Some of them got very shy and bashful, while some of them just stared at me while I stared back at them. Soon their families and other families came and crowded around to watch me. After a bit, there was about 20 people (including one older woman who had pushed my mom out of the way so she could see).

We were all laughing and smiling and watching. It was an amazing experience because, for the first time at the mosque, I wasn't Mr. America Moneybags and they weren't trying to ask us for anything. We were all just smiling and watching each other.

After I finished my drawing, we stood up to go, and one of the men who had been watching walked with us back to our rickshaw trying to get us to come to his house to buy his jewelry. Oh well.

We hopped back on the rickshaw and headed to the Red Fort where we sat and drew for a little while, but didn't end up going inside.

After that, Baldev took us to the Baha'i temple in New Delhi. Here we found a completely different experience. The families here looked to be very wealthy, with all of the women wearing the brightest colored saris with the most intricate gold patterns and beading. The lines of people looked like streams of glittering gems leading up to the enormous white lotus flower that is the Baha'i temple. From the entrance on, the temple was another very strange experience. First, all of the people working at the temple were European or American. Second, we were not allowed to utter even a whisper once inside the temple. Third, we were not allowed to sit down anywhere on the grounds (even though there were many areas roped off for seating), and had to walk all the way back to the parking lot for me to be able to finish my drawing. The whole thing felt very much like a cult for urban hippies and Indian tourists.

After the temple, Baldev took us to a restaurant for dinner (which had the most fantastically tacky Christmas decorations!) and back to the hotel where we promptly fell asleep at five in the evening and didn't wake up until the next morning.

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