Day 2 in New Delhi
NOTE: Having much difficulty with iternet on the boat so will try sending pictures a different way. We may have to resend with photos later.
“Your Happy is My Happy”
Today was New Delhi tour day. The smog was noticeably improved and the cool and comfortable weather was a good match for being out and about all day. Our local guide, Ravi, was a font of knowledge, and even though we missed about a third of what he said, the parts we did understand were fascinating.
First stop was the incredible Humayun’s Tomb, a 16th century landmark of Mughal architecture honoring an early emperor built by his second wife. We loved the story about how the emperor’s barber was given a special burial place near the head of the emperor in gratitude for his many years of service. It immediately inspired me to ask John to build me a special tomb, being a second wife and all, with a special place of honor for Denise, the medical assistant at my foot doctor’s office, as a small token of appreciation for the countless hours she spends hearing me complain about my feet problems.
The highlight of the day, and for the trip so far, was our rickshaw ride in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi. Two by two we were assigned rickshaw drivers, and John and I were paired with Raul, a young man in his twenties, with a strong back and a ripe body odor. He spoke a little English and made a joke about the piece of wood nailed to the floor board as an “Indian Seat Belt” as he started to pedal, moving us slowly but surely in line with the other pedi-cabs.
The first half of our ride started out on a wider street with motorcycles and cars interspersed in our sea of rickshaws. Raul pointed out occasional landmarks for us to notice, but nothing impressed us as much the massive spider webs of electrical wiring hanging in front of dilapidated buildings. How they manage to work effectively was half of the mystery; the other half was why weren’t sparks flying like the mother of all electrical storms.
Soon the wide street disappeared, and we found ourselves on a narrow lane no more than 10 feet wide like a tunnel through a sea of visual stimulation. Color everywhere—silver garland overhead with clusters of red, yellow and blue balloons, vendors on either side displaying mannequins in stunning red saris with glittering gold designs and other jewel toned long dresses, and shiny eggplant, green beans and tomatoes at our feet artfully displayed on sidewalks.
Either traffic picked up or the lane got smaller as motorcycles zigged and zagged around our rickshaw as if we weren’t even there. Pedestrians crossed the lane walking right in front of us without concern, barely looking to see if it was clear. Raul soldiered on unbothered by the insanity, and the lane seemed to get more narrow and more busy as we moved on. Pungent smells of incense, spicy street food, and body odor wafted in and out.
After we had been riding for a while, the traffic got very thick and I figured out quickly that I needed to keep my elbow in the rickshaw unless I wanted to rub shoulders with the motorcyclists zipping by. Raul seemed to stop pedaling for a bit because apparently the lane was a dead end, and that meant we needed to turn around. I’m guessing this was not Raul’s first rodeo because he expertly maneuvered backing up and turning the rickshaw without killing anyone. We stared like bystanders watching an accident in slow motion as the long line of other pedicab drivers expertly pulled off the same feat.
As the trip wound down, and my involuntary grunts got louder and louder over each bump in the road, Raul looked back toward us and asked, “You happy?” Both John and I enthusiastically said yes and reassured him about what a great time we were having. “Good.” Raul smiled. “Your happy is my happy.”
We made our goodbyes to Raul, happy to know that we made him happy, and returned to the tour bus where Ravi led us through the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and ended the day at Qutab Minar, the second tallest minaret in the world. The mosque, minaret and grounds at Qatar Minar were especially impressive as we learned about the history and studied the faceless pillars.
Our day ended with a group dinner at the hotel and another early night for John while I stayed up late writing trip journals. We leave tomorrow for a plane ride to Kolkata where we will board our river boat for a 7 day cruise on the lower Ganges.
We are loving India. My plan to knock out all the cultural discomfort on day one isn’t working out quite that well, but even better, I’m seeing the world from a different lens and apparently making people happy by my happy.