A day in New Delhi
New Delhi was the first city we explored on our trip to India. We booked a privately guided trip in India with a company called India Beat, that I found on Wendy Perrin’s Wow List. I followed Wendy Perrin while she was with Travel and Leisure magazine all those years, and continue to follow her on social media. I like her expertise, candor and sincerity, so I felt comfortable with her recommendations. I’ll also say that I am not a big bus tour type of traveller and since Gabi put me in charge of our trip, I wanted it to be remarkable. Hiring India Beat to arrange for our hotels, drivers and guides in each city, as well as flights within India was a really smart decision. They also helped me narrow down what cities we should focus on. We were given lots of choices for hotels in each city, and different price ranges. None of this trip was sponsored, and as always, all opinions are my own.
There are lots of tourists that book their own hotels and work with the concierge to arrange guided tours for the day. I chose India Beat so that I could enjoy the trip without feeling the pressure of making sure everything was going as planned. And since it was our own private tour, we could change our plans on a whim. They tailored the trip to our interests. We wanted a good balance of history, culture, relaxation and shopping. In addition to our guide and driver, we had a city manager at our disposal, should we need them. It also helped us feel safe as two women traveling together. Anyway, we arrived in New Delhi, India around 5am on a Sunday. After checking into our hotel, showering, and breakfast, we started our sightseeing around 9am. The early check in was arranged by India Beat, of course.
Before our trip, I had little knowledge of the history of India. I assumed most of it would be based upon the Hindu religion. However, the original Mughuls were Muslim and arrived in India from Mongolia in the early 1500s. There were even Muslims in India a lot earlier than that. I was thankful for our knowledgable guides, even though sometimes my brain hurt from so much history. Certified Indian tour guides have to go to school and take a series of certification tests, so they certainly knew what they were talking about!
Anyway, our first stop was Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. It was built by Shah Jahan (he also built the Taj Mahal) and can hold more than 20,000 worshipers. Everyone had to remove their shoes, and women had to cover with a robe that was provided. Because it was a Sunday, there were few people there, and was lacking the reverence of other places of worship I have visited. There was a large pool for washing before prayer, and a few rows of prayer carpets. It was a large and beautiful structure, but it felt more like a monument than a house of worship. It was at this first stop during our trip, that I began to realize the Muslim influence in India. Some of the time periods the guide was talking about were a little hard to comprehend when you come from such a young country as the United States.
Just outside of the mosque is the famous Chandi Chowk Bazaar. It’s held on the narrow streets of Old Delhi. We took a cycle rickshaw through the market. Because it was Sunday, there were very few vendors out. While I was a little disappointed by that, we didn’t have to endure super crazy traffic and hawkers. In some ways, experiencing a slow market day helped ease us into the crazy traffic and prepare us for being asked if we wanted to buy something every 2 minutes. My method is to simply ignore the person asking me to buy something. I look in the other direction, or talk to Gabi or the guide. Gabi has a big heart and would look at what they were offering in order to let them down easy. She quickly realized this was the wrong tactic, but she never stopped doing it. Once you indicate any interest, the sellers would follow and hound her to the ends of the earth. It’s just the way things are done in India. Our guide would occasionally order them away, but the Indian etiquette is to at least let them have a chance. Amongst the sellers we saw all the crazy wiring along the streets, monkeys, and even a wrapped body being escorted and walked to the crematorium.
Oddly, our next stop was the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi. It is commemerated by a platform and eternal flame. His ashes were spread in the Ganges. The park was a little drab with empty fountains and renovations going on. I’m not sure I’d make a detour to stop here, but it was a short visit and somewhat interesting. In the same park you will find memorials to Indira Gandhi (who I learned was not Mahatma’s daughter) and other important people in Indian history as well. It was during short stops like these that the history that the guide was telling us was just as, if not more important, than the site. We asked endless questions and stopped him for clarification many, many times.
Our third stop was Humayun’s Tomb. He was the 2nd of the Great Mughal emperors, and the tomb was built by his widow in 1565. It has been recently restored and is a great example of Persian and Hundu architecture. The four gardens are meant to symbolize the Islamic version of paradise. I think it is amazing that we can walk up the steps, in and out of the tomb areas and through the gardens. We don’t have any structures that old in the United States, and if we did, we certainly wouldn’t be able to touch it all! His tomb had a special alcove that was used to bury his barber. After all, his barber was the most trusted member of his household since he held a sharp blade to his face and neck area almost every day!
Our last stop for the day was Qtab Minar. It was the first large mosque in India and was built out of the remains of 23 Hindu temples that originally stood on the site. The 11th century “victory tower” was designed to pronounce the arrival of Islam in Hindustan. Minarets were used back then for the call to prayer. With modern sound systems, these have become unnecessary. Some of them are open for tourists to take in an amazing view, but not this one. The entire site felt more like ruins than anything else we visited that day. The idea of using Hindu bricks for Muslim temples just shows how much countries, religions, kingdoms, regimes, etc. can change over the centuries. And now it is a tourist attraction visited by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and everything in between.
As a started to learn more about the history of India on this trip, I was taken aback by one thing. For the most part, the Hindus and Muslims that make this country home seem almost at ease with each other. I guess when we are used to hearing about extremist religious conflict in the news a lot, the overall atmosphere in India was a little bit of a surprise to me. We had both Hindu and Muslim guides on our trip. They all seemed very proud of the history of the country itself, no matter what religion was ruling at the time. It makes me wonder how India did not end up a country in constant conflict like Israel? Maybe the British colonization of India had something to do with that? Maybe the English became a common enemy for them in the end? I don’t know. I realize that I am voicing a simplistic view, but probably not an uncommon one. I may be painting the picture of India with a broad brush, but I’m just sharing what I encountered. Each guide did mention how there is still quite a bit of conflict to the north with Pakistan and Kashmir, etc. Lots of merchants from those areas live in the south from November to March in order to sell their goods. Knowing that domestic and international customers alike, are scared to travel there.
While I’m sure that there is lots more to see in New Delhi, I felt like we enjoyed a good overview. Truthfully, I didn’t know enough to feel like we missed out on anything. The next morning we were headed to Agra, India. Next up on the blog, Agra and the Taj Mahal!