Monday, March 19, 2012

The Good

The first time I flew to New Delhi, I remember taxiing in to the terminal with rain pouring down so hard that I couldn't see out of the window. It was the end of the monsoon season, and we arrived in the midst of the last, really big rain of the season. The rest of my memories are quite fragmented (not surprising given the intervening 37 years, right?) but are present in pictures - the bamboo walls of the playhouse in our back garden, the lizards that climbed up the walls of my bedroom, tiny gas lights lining the wall around our house on Diwali. And there were the less pleasant memories - being in a car surrounded by lepers at a stop light, dust and dirt and people living in squalor on the side of the road,

My expectations for returning were pretty open ended, given that I didn't have many memories of living there. I was amazed at how big Delhi is - maybe it was that way in 1979 as well - but it is a massive, heaving, roiling pile of a city. There is a sense of rampant growth in every direction (which could be both good and bad), and an overwhelming enthusiasm for more, more, more! This was evident both in the never-ending construction that seemed to be everywhere, and in the seemingly indefatigable pressure from various peddlers of goods, ranging from cheap toys to postcards to random knicknacks of every variety.

But what did we actually do? After discovering our neighbors just down the road,
we went sightseeing. One of the amazing things that has changed is the vast work that has been done in restoring and renovating the endless ancient architectural sites. The first one we visited was the Red Fort in Old Delhi.
(note: the good quality pictures were taken by Himself, the crappy ones are from my mobile)
We had a lovely time just wandering around the Red Fort - I remember seeing it as a child, but not anything about the inside.
Boo was appropriately attired, of course...

After wandering around for a while, the girls and their grandparents went off back to the hostel for a rest, while Himself, my brother and I went off with one of our hosts to the depths of Chandni Chowk and had a fabulous time wandering through the old markets, bravely trying the local foods. We would never have been so brave if we hadn't been with a local, but she directed us to some of the most exquisite food I've ever had - samosas and jellabies fresh out of the pot (of ghee!), sweet biscuits that were sort of like shortbread cooked over open coals, creamy lassi served in earthenware cups, dal halwa with almonds... It was Sunday, so the market was relatively uncrowded and we could look around more or less at leisure.

After eating ourselves into a stupor, we headed back to Humayun's Tomb, where there is a huge amount of restoration ongoing, using the original techniques.
So to replace a jaali (stone screen)* that has been broken,
they have stoneworkers cutting a new one using the same techniques and tools used back in the 16th century. I found this to be more spectacular then the Taj - the contrast between the red and white stone is unbelievable, and it's surrounded by grounds that contain numerous other burial sites and memorials. We wandered around, with the place mostly to ourselves - it was so peaceful and quiet. Just lovely.

The following day, we headed south to Agra. And once there, we went to the obvious place,
by somewhat less-obvious means.
Boo was in heaven!

The Taj was, well, about what you'd expect (and as I remembered): very crowded, and overwhelming in a "Oh, so that's what it really looks like" kind of way. It's familiar since there are pictures of it all over the place, but none of the pictures can quite convey the enormity of it all.

The next morning, we headed off bright and early to see the Agra Fort, which I think was my favorite place of the entire trip. Hang on for a multitude of pictures...
Yes, I took a lot of detail pictures. The things they did with stone are so extraordinary, and that's well before you get to the inlaid stuff!

From Agra, we piled back into the car and headed west to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. It's also known as the Pink City, not (as I had thought) because the sandstone used for building was pink, but because they painted all the buildings pink for Prince Albert's visit in 1876. Highlights of Jaipur included the Jantar Mantar, an ancient astronomical observatory that's been beautifully restored,

Jantar Mantar

and the Hawa Mahal,
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
We also spent a wonderful evening at Chokhi Dhani, which is a reconstructed Rajasthani village, complete with craftspeople, dancers, puppet shows, elephant and camel rides, a maze, a fortune telling parrot, and traditional food served en masse on plates made from palm leaves. The girls were stellar about trying the food (Dev in particular, which is quite a good job for her!), although Boo made do mostly with plain white rice. However, when the jellabies came around (by the kilo!), she went into ecstatic reverie, which could only be assuaged by lying down with her head in one lap and her feet in the other. I was on the other end of the table from her, but every so often a little hand would rise up dramatically over the side of the table and swoop down for more sweets. Absolute bliss!

On the way back to Delhi the next day, we stopped at the Amer (Amber) Fort, which is set in an area that reminds me of the Great Wall.
Amer Fort
Amer Fort
The fort itself is hard to describe - it is a massive conglomeration of buildings with lots of narrow passages leading from one place to the other. A fantastic place (as most of these were) to wander with the girls, who were in absolute heaven.
There were (lots more!) carved stone screens, and some very brave parrots/cockatoos that the girls watched for a long time...

From Amer, we headed back to Delhi, well touristed. Or last day was a whirlwind of shopping (pottery! textiles! more textiles! ALL THE TEXTILES!) and packing and enjoying the last bits of time with my parents, who had to leave well before dawn the next day. And then it was slowly getting ourselves sorted out and to the airport and onto the plane, full of new sights and sounds and smells.

Up next: The Bad (none of which was very much so, and most of which was self-induced)

* I must admit that the majority of my pictures are photos of stone screens - for whatever reason, I found them absolutely fascinating!