ARRIVING IN DELHI
We flew into Delhi's very modest, 1950s concrete-block airport named for Indira Ghandi. As promised, a man with a sign met us, but he needed to meet the next plane in as well. Then our driver left for lunch and more time slipped quietly away. When we finally pulled up to our hotel, 3½ hours had passed. I hoped this was not going to be the pattern of our weeks in India, and it didn't turn out to be.
We were taken to Hotel Jukaso in a walled-off, upper-middle-class residential area of New Delhi called Sunder Nagar. The hotel is a 1940s sort of place with a small and atmospheric feeling. Inside we learned that the tour company, Imaginative Travel, was running two similar tours simultaneously for about 30 travelers, and that Dave and I had been assigned to one group, with Scott, Louise and Bob in the other. This initial confusion got straightened out, we checked into our surprisingly iffy basement rooms, met in the interior courtyard lounge with our groups for orientations, and the tour was launched!
Scott, Dave and I hired a very agreeable driver (Ashok Yadav, phone 981913135 or 9312523528 for 24-hour, bilingual, good-natured service) for the morning. First stop: The Baha'i House of Worship, which feels like a world apart. Silence and order prevail. Set in a 27-acre park of lawns and reflecting pools, its design makes it one of Delhi's more unusual buildings dating from the 1980s: an unfurling, 27-petalled white marble lotus, resulting in its more popular name, the Lotus Temple.
Our next stop was at the Quwwatul-Islam ("Might of Islam") Masjid, the earliest extant mosque in India, begun in 1193 and added to over the next two centuries. Cloisters surround its immense rectangular courtyard, with the carved columns and other architectural members of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples still in place. One feature is a tall sandstone minar, for centuries the world's tallest tower. Like other components of the temple, it is profusely carved with geometric designs. Another prominent feature is a tall, solid iron column dating from the 4th century, a testament to India's early mastery of iron work.
He next took us to an arts emporium, crammed with sandalwood carvings, woven silks, saris and other clothing items, carpets, bronze and marble sculptures, small and enormous decorative pieces. Scott found a mirrored skirt and blouse for his niece, Elinor, and our Indian shopping spree was formally launched.
We departed the ultramodern Hong Kong airport and arrived 6 hours later in a small, dusty terminal in Delhi, the capital of India. This noisy and chaotic metropolis of 14 million people is a mélange of shanty settlements and gated communities. During our stay, it was difficult to see the extant of the city due to the heavy smog.