Our final train ride in India took us through an apocalyptic sandstorm, fertile plains, crowded slums, and shiny stations, finally depositing us in Old Delhi Station. This time, though, we were armed with a phone number. Little did we know that it belonged to a member of a sweet and hospitable family…who had no idea we were arriving that day!
Back in Malaysia, one of our fellow Workaway volunteers hails from Delhi, and he set us up with his friend’s family. They just weren’t sure which day we were coming, so they were a bit surprised when we called from the train station. That didn’t phase them, though…by the time we rode the subway to their neighborhood, a room had been made up for us (despite the fact that they are in temporary housing due to construction) and a light lunch followed our arrival. They also provided us with many recommendations and other good advice for exploring the city in the short time that we had.
We followed their advice and spent our first afternoon hanging out in (…and finding) Lodhi Gardens. In an already green part of the city, this park and gardens is an oasis. Most of the people in the park appeared to be locals out exercising or meeting their friends, enjoying the lush paradise hidden away in this quiet corner. Within, there are beautiful mausoleums and other tribute buildings, being circled by the crows and pigeons that make their homes around their domes. In contrast to the stately architecture, brightly painted trash bins caught the eye at every corner, exhorting the passersby to “Use Me.”
The next day, our sightseeing tour of Delhi began in earnest. It was the day of Eid festivals and it is an official day off in the country, which promised pressing crowds at any of the sights. We started with Swaminarayan Akshardham, only a few stops away on the subway. We arrived as the complex was opening for the day. Their rules about bringing in cameras or even mobile phones are stringent, to say the least, so our only photos are from a distance, across the parking lot. It is worth a Google search for the interested reader, as the inside of the temple is jaw-dropping. Endless intricate carvings line the halls, and stone elephants and human scenes surround the exterior. Then, there is the Disney-esque model exhibition, telling the story of Swaminarayan’s life…complete with moving robotics and dioramas. In case you did not get the full story from that exhibition, you are then ushered into an IMAX theatre (English comes on the headphones) where there is an eye-filling film following the seven year walk that Swaminarayan took around India in his teens…all filmed in the appropriate locations! Finally, my favorite part was the boat ride through dioramas of India’s cultural history and contributions to humanity.
Next, we rode the subway clear across town to see the Bahai Lotus Temple. I was really keen to see this one, as I had been to its sister temple in the US several times…the first time in 1994! And that was the only reason we stayed to see it…because there was an hour and a half long line up the street to get in. It gave us a good excuse to try a whole range of the street snacks they were selling, though. When we finally got through, it was worth the wait. The Lotus Temple perches in impeccably manicured gardens that all draw your eye back to the temple itself. Photos are not allowed inside, and silence within is strictly enforced. Inside the geometric contours of the blooming lotus, there was a special atmosphere of peace. Our second sacred space of the day.
We had one more sacred place on our agenda for the day. Nizzamuddin Dargah is the mausoleum of a Sufi saint and considered a holy site of pilgrimage. On the big celebration day of Eid in India, we were curious to see what would be going on at the site. Before we even got near, we were met with mobbed bazaars where the festive mood permeated everything. We were pushed along with a huge herd of worshipers into the main courtyard. We did not get to really explore the place,as there were so many people it was difficult to even move. But there were musicians, flag wavers, blessings, beggars, hundreds of people lined up to venerate the shrine with green cloths and pink rose petals. Outside in the Eid bazaars, we found yet more tasty treats to refortify us after a long day full of beautiful sights and strong emotions.
Our final day we dedicated to exploring just a small area of Old Delhi. Taking our time, we wandered through the twisting alleys, taking the opportunity to fix our shoes and nose around the different stalls. Short on cash, we did not go into the Red Fort, but we went to the Jain Temple (also called the Red Temple) across the street and took a picture of the fort from the balcony there. Within the temple grounds, there is a Charity Bird Hospital, which was the priority for two animal lovers, like us. Hundreds of injured and sick birds are cared for, fed, and allowed to stay in the hospital where they can recover and live safely.
Drifting through side alleys and random fun fairs, we made our way over to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Delhi, where Eid prayers were still going on full force. Due to the special occasion, were asked to come back a couple hours later, as there was something going on. So instead, we just decided to avoid another entrance cost and took a couple pictures outside. We did, however, attract the attention of a large group of young boys who swarmed around us to pose in the pictures until a mosque leader told us all to get lost. On our way back home, we stopped at Connaught Place to take daytime photos of some of the places we had visited there in the dark, including Nizam’s…supposedly the best kebab in Delhi. Highly Sangbyeong approved.
Our last hours in India were spent feasting with the Jain family, who treated us to a huge spread and showered us with gifts and attention. This may have been the end of this trip to India, but it was one of those trips that just shows how much more there is to see. So, really, our relationship with India is just beginning.
BONUS: Our second time using airplanes on this trip…our first flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Kolkata, and this time we flew from New Delhi to Almaty, Kazakhstan, then onto Tbilisi, Georgia. The first leg took us over the Himalayas with some truly spectacular views out the window. The three hours in Almaty’s airport were also fun…because, seriously, how many times do you get to hang out in Kazakhstan?