The 8 Cities of Delhi

December 19, 2010

Since our last note, we've been on the run discovering more of Delhi and building on our overall impressions of this intriguing country.

First, there are actually 8 cities of Delhi. Over several thousand years, succeeding conquerors, kings, sultans, and cultures have each added their own city. But unlike other old metropolitan areas of the world, the new cities were always added to the old. There were no mass destructions or building on top of previous civilizations. So Delhi today is an amalgam of these various cultures and influences.

The tour officially began Saturday morning. Over these two days we have visited the Qutb (or Qutub) Minar - the world's tallest brick minaret (237.8 ft), which was built in 1193 to celebrate the victory of Mohammed Ghori, the invader from Afghanistan, over the Rajputs.

The Mahatma Gandhi Museum, which includes the house where he lived his final days and the courtyard where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948 (the tragedy and exhibit were eerily similar to Dr. King's as memorialized at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis). We also went to Raj Ghatt, the site where Gandhi was cremated (in front of the entire population of Delhi - 2 million at the time) where there is now a permanent black granite plinth and eternal flame. Next was the Red Fort - a 17th century fort and emperor's living area constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (yes, the same guy who built the Taj Mahal) in the walled city of Old Delhi.  It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857, when the last Mughal emperor was exiled by the British.

The best part of the Delhi tour was what we did off-tour--when we visited Old Delhi.  This area of town is "off limits" to our tour company as it is very congested, not "freshly scrubbed," the laws of physics would not permit a tour bus to navigate, and there have been some "issues."  (Those who read our blog last year know that we did a private tour of the favellas in Rio; this was comparable.)   Anyway, Wendy was not going to leave town without doing this, so we did.  It was amazing. 

As it was Sunday, the markets were doing a brisk business. The streets were teeming with humanity, tuk tuks, bicycle-rickshaws, cars and taxis, and we even saw some goats running around! No cows however, as our guide told us that the law was changed a few years ago prohibiting cows from running loose in Delhi.  While tooling around, we heard the call to worship from Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque(with capacity for 20,000 worshipers). 

Wayne stepped out of the car to take a picture but we did not go in.  In this part of the city, the population is 80% Muslims. To this point, we had noticed a distinct bias against the Muslims in comments made by our local tour guide and driver (both Hindus). And, indeed, we have been interpreting "it's not safe" as code for "there are too many Muslims there."  We pressed the concierge on this as it was disconcerting at best.  She (who is is also Hindu) said that the Muslims are an integral part of Indian society and culture. With obvious pain she said that her country and the world is being held hostage by a few people. "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims" is how she put it. Whether or not this is actually true is besides the point, we were thrilled to see Old Delhi, get a glimpse of the mosque, and get a feel for the community.

By coincidence, there is a story in today's Times of India about Delhi, as it prepares to celebrate 100 years as the nation's capital.

Of course, we're also learning about the food.  Here are two d'ohs... First, when you ask the waiter if a particular dish is spicy, they will always say "No, it is not spicy at all"; and they are telling the truth. It is Not spicy to THEM! Foreigner beware!  When you think of Indian food you are most likely to think first of curry. Well, there is no such thing as "Indian" food and no such thing as "curry"!  The food of this land (which is not even called "India" by its inhabitants, but "Parat"), varies widely by region. The food predominant in Delhi is actually of Afghan origin.  A "curry" is actually a sauce. Though they do occasionally use curry leaves for seasoning, what we would call curry is actually a combination of 5 or more spices including cardamom, coriander, chiles, etc.

And, speaking of food... did you think we forgot to eat over the last few days? Ha!!!  Friday night's meal at Bukhara was memorable. 
The restaurant features tandoori foods (which means they're cooked on a spit over charcoal in a clay oven). We started of course with pappadams, red onions, and green chutney. The menu has two sides - vegetarian and non-vegetarian - with only about 6 choices for each. Wayne had Kastoori Kabob - big chunks of chicken with peppercorn and ginger in an egg batter. Wendy created a vegetarian sampler including dal Bukhara (black lentils and tomatoes), tandooraloo (potatoes stuffed with potatoes, raisins, and cashews), tandoori simla mirch (capsicum with beans, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, cashews, sultanas and chiles), and tandoori phool (fried and grilled cauliflower). We also had the most amazing onion nan. Wendy went totally native and ate with her hands! For dessert, India's answer to Dunkin Donuts munchkins, served with rosewater.  Very delicious (and quite unnecessary).

Saturday night was the group welcome dinner. We were served a choice of chicken soup (which was RED - and tres spicy) or almond saffron soup, prawns with spices, chicken, lamb, mushrooms, vegetables, and of course rice and yogurt  (to counteract the heat of the spices). There has been way too much eating so today we opted to skip dinner and had Italian food for lunch!  Time for a quick break from dal.

Tomorrow we have an early departure for Varanasi. We are scheduled for a river cruise but our tour guide tells us that the boat workers went on strike today! Stay tuned to see what happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment