We have a driver.
Mr. Raj will be taking us around Delhi today and then driving us on to Mathura and Agra tomorrow. Raj introduces us to his car. “This car the Prime Minister drives. All made in India! Very hard to get.” The car is the Ambassador VIP, the first car ever manufactured in India by Hindustan Motors and it’s been around since 1948. Color me pleased.
We pack in and it’s off to the sites. We drive through the city for about 10 minutes before parking in a lot surrounded by bicycle rickshaws. Apparently cars can’t go any further, so Raj tells us to hire a rickshaw for the day and he will take us to the Red Fort and Jama Masjid the largest of the Mosques in Dlehi. Raj will wait and meet us back here. We don’t know it yet but this will become a familiar song and dance. Apparently the car can’t go most places in India. Or at least our driver’s car can’t. Those other cars you see whizzing by and driving right up to the gate of whatever…? “I don’t know.”
So we grab our rickshaw and off to the Red Fort. The ride is short and it’s early so the streets are only crowded. In an hour or so they will be come the hurling screaming horn honking insanity that we experienced on day one.
We walk up to the Red Fort and find that we, being non-Indian tourists have a special line to get our tickets. No waiting for the Westerners. Lisa has a guilty flash. I walk right past the queue of locals and get our tickets. Fuck it. We’re paying 100 times what the locals pay. Literally. I’ll take the short cut.
Now I see the sign. No bags allowed in the Red Fort! Brief but total panic. Can I really trust my pack to a locker manned by a guy who gets paid less in a month than I spent on this backpack? Still the gentlemen with guns are probably serious about this rule. So I pull out my camera, back up hard drive, flash cards, lenses and spare battery, along with my cash, passport, a pen and my sketch book and put all of this in my pockets. I now look like the biggest idiot tourist in the city. All I’m missing is a fanny pack, a neon hat and a t-shirt that says Made in America.
We tour the red fort. I venture a few coins on a guide book "with map" ‘cause I’m that kind of person. After an hour or so we’ve seen enough, marveled appropriately at the architecture (which is amazing) and posed for pictures with about eleven families. Celebrity us. Taking pictures of the white foreigners seems to be a popular Indian past time. And judging from Lisa’s reaction, for her this seems to be right up there with being felt up on the subway.
Every few minutes I would get a tap on the shoulder from a small Indian man with his wife and four children motioning at his camera and then pointing back to the family. The first time I thought we were being asked to take their picture and the man looked horrified as I went to take his camera. No no, they would like to take a picture WITH us. So the children gather around and the wife stands shyly next to Lisa who towers over her, as the proud patriarch snaps a few for the family album. While he does, I notice a bit of a queue forming up and we go through this several more times, like white giants at a Hindu Disneyland, before politely begging off to continue our tour. Despite her almost visceral aversion to having her picture taken, Lisa puts up with this quite well.
We walk, we marvel, we pose for more pictures.
As we leave, the line at security has grown from 20 people to around 500. It curves through the plaza around a bend and down the street. People are queued for hundreds of yards. We’ve come during holiday season, but I’m still awed at the sheer volume of people, and we’ve seen almost no other westerners.
The mosque is a stark contrast. A holy place but a scene of total chaos. Our rickshaw driver warns me to keep my bag in front of me as we approach the fountains that lead to the steps of Jama Masjid. A sort of impromptu market has formed around the base of the steps and I can’t help flashing on the story of Jesus throwing the money changers from the Temple in Jerusalem. Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in Delhi built on a hill with spectacular views of the entire city. We remove our shoes and pay the entrance fee, along with an additional fee of 200 rs to bring in a camera. The Moorish architecture is incredible. The detailed carvings of patterns within patterns domes and arches provides an exquisite contrast for the human element surrounding the mosque. Beggars and vendors, children and guards. You get the feeling that while you are permitted you are not welcome. You are an outsider here, and while you are here, you will be watched. Do not offend.
The courtyard inside is vast and groups of people stand or sit. Looking at them you can’t tell if they’re waiting for something, possibly for the next prayer session to begin, or if this is simply where they happen to be. Some are clearly tourists like us, here to see the sites, and others stand or sit as if they own the place.
It’s their gaze that let’s you know you are tolerated, not welcome. The children make it pleasant. The children are at play. They’re not interested in the politics of culture yet. They aren’t old enough to resent western imperialism. They’re young enough to stop their games long enough to gawk at white faces as we pass by.
A man walks barefoot over the marble floor swinging a heavy rag on the end of a rope cleaning the floor with each pass. He fascinates me, the motion of the rope, the arc of its swing. Over and over, without changing pace he moves around the pavilion as if, more than anyone else in this place, he belongs. And so I take his picture.
Raj takes us back to Chandi Chowk to get lunch and explore the Sikh temple outside the Bazaar. We take our first food risk and have street samosas at this little place near the Sikh temple. For 90rs (about 2 dollars) we each have a couple of samosas in hot sauce and a plate of lentils. I’m in heaven. The food is incredible. Sated, we walk a few steps down the street to the Sikh temple.