NEW DELHI CITY TOUR
Delhi is truly an ancient city, with countless monuments dating from its many distinctive historical periods. The best known of these are found in the walled city-within-a-city known as Old Delhi. I'm told it feels almost impossibly crowded, but as events unfolded Dave and I never got into that area. That was just fine, because "impossibly crowded" aren't unique descriptors in India and we'd had our fill of that by the end of the tour.
New Delhi was surely a much easier environment for recovering from jet lag and adjusting to the inevitable culture shock. It was planned and built quickly by an Englishman, with the hybrid aire of classical European, Mughal and Indian architecture. Originally dominated by grand government buildings of European style, wide streets and greenery, interspersed with old and modern market areas and yet more ancient monuments, the city's burgeoning population and hideous air pollution have now cut into its appeal.
The first afternoon we loaded up and were bussed around to see some of the main sights of New Delhi: India Gate, an ecumenical Crimean War memorial arch, the Parliament Building, and the Rashtrapati Bhawan, once the imperial palace of the British viceroy and now the official residence of the President of India. We visited the extravagant Birla Temple and a Sikh temple before ending the afternoon at Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.
The government center became a drive-by for us, since the upcoming Indian independence day (January 26) parade was being rehearsed and it's a really, really big deal. Streets were cordoned off, military tents filled in large field areas, monuments themselves were off limits. Not much of a loss in my book, though as these turned out to be the sort of monuments and public buildings Europeans have built everywhere.
Next: The extravagant Birla Temple, a complex confection of orange plaster towers and domes trimmed in white and bustling with people. Built at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi, it contains numerous shrines to the Hindu gods and goddesses.
Third: A large Sikh temple, quite packed with worshipers who said their prayers indoors, were blessed and given a small dab of sweet nut-butter (it seemed) on their way out, and who bathed (feet, legs, or whole body) in the shallow outdoor pools before leaving.
Lastly: Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, a large, rectangular slab of black marble set in a quiet park. Visiting families lined up politely to have their photos taken beside it; a turbaned man sat on his haunches close by, rhythmically drumming a prayer.