India & Nepal

November 2005

Part 1:

Delhi


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About Delhi

Delhi was made the capital of India in 1931 by the British, who built a new city - New Delhi - with wide avenues next to the old one. They built some imposing government buildings that are still being used today, but what makes Delhi interesting are its many old monuments, especially those from the time of the six great Mughal emperors (1526-1707) who controlled most of India.


October 29th (day 1)

We flew from Belgium to Delhi via London, arriving around midnight and heading straight to the hotel we'd reserved in the Paharganj area. On our first morning we set out to the Jama Masjid, passing through much of central Delhi on foot.

Station area

These are some street scenes near the New Delhi train station. Notice the rickshaws and the three-wheel taxis, which are called autorickshaws.

Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in India. It was completed in 1656 under Shah Jahan, the sixth Mughal emperor and the one who also built the Taj Mahal in Agra. We climbed one of the 40m high minarets, but the smog in Delhi is so thick that the view wasn't too great.

Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk is the main street of Old Delhi. It starts at the Red Fort (which we largely ignored and which I ignore completely here because we saw better Mughal forts elsewhere) and has at least one temple/church/mosque of each of India's many religions.
The latter picture is taken from the terrace of the Sikh temple Sisganj Gurdwara. Visitors were welcomed in a very organised but friendly fashion. Combined with the Sikhs' dignified posture, their tolerant attitude and the gender equality in their temple, this instantly made Sikhism our favourite religion in India. More about Sikhism when we get to Amritsar, their holy city, at the end of this trip.

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun was the second Mughal emperor, from around 1535 until 1556. He spent most of that time in exile, having been driven away by the Afghan chief Sher Shah Sur, but eventually recaptured his throne. His widow built him this fantastic tomb which is the first important Mughal monument and already has all the elements of the style that would culminate in the Taj Mahal a century later.

Nizam-ud-din's Shrine

Nizam-ud-din was a Muslim Sufi mystic and saint who died in 1325. He preached religious tolerance and hence his shrine is a pilgrimage site not only for muslims but also for hindus and others. It is surrounded by narrow covered alleys that very much breathe the atmosphere of a middle eastern souq.

We felt rather uneasy in those alleys because we were the only foreigners and people kept yelling at us to take off our shoes, though they were wearing sandals themselves and the dirty alleys could hardly be considered hallowed ground. None of them understood English so we just pushed on until we found the mosque and took off our shoes there.

The mosque itself was nice enough, and we sat in the courtyard for a while. A young guy came to talk to us, and after he asked for my religion I had to explain why an atheist would visit a mosque coz that really puzzled him.

Baha'i House of Worship

Baha'ism is a young religion that kind of amalgamates other religions. I already visited one of its holiest places - the shrine of its founder, the Bab - in Haifa in Israel. Here in Delhi they built a temple in the shape of an upside-down lotus flower - chosen because the lotus is a symbol of all of India's main religions - hinduism, islam and buddhism. The temple was completed in 1986 and it looks fantastic.
Unfortunately what should be an open, friendly atmosphere was completely ruined by smug attendants who forced everyone to walk in a single line and walk through the temple in complete silence. As a result, the only thing you could hear inside the temple were the attendants at the entrance telling everyone not to take pictures, and a lot of foot steps of course. It all felt a lot like elementary school, was completely pointless and just left a bad impression of the Baha`i religion. It didn't help that the guards forbade us to walk to the sunny side of the temple to take good pictures, for no apparent reason other than that they too liked asserting needless authority.
When we left the Baha'i place the sun was setting, but we decided that before returning to our hotel we'd go visit one more place, Qutb Minar, hoping that it would be lit in the dark. This was a fortunate decision, on the one hand because Qutb Minar proved to be very nice, but mostly because around this time a bomb exploded in the street to our hotel.

Qutb Minar

The Qutb Minar complex dates from the late 12th century, when Afghan warlords conquered the north of India and muslim rule over India began. It is now a Unesco World Heritage site. When we arrived it was all dark so we just walked around it and had a smoke, but just as we were about to leave the lights went on and we got to visit it after all.

The Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid, or the Might of Islam Mosque, was the first mosque in India. It was built over the remains of a hindu temple that the invaders destroyed, and an inscription over the gate subtly states that the building materials for the mosque were obtained by demolishing 27 'idolatrous' (i.e. hindu) temples.

Other cases of hindu temples that muslim rulers destroyed and replaced by mosques still cause deadly violence between muslims and hindus to this very day, but this particular case doesn't seem to bother anyone anymore, probably because the location has no special religious significance in hinduism.
The centerpiece of the complex is the Qutb Minar itself, a 73m high minaret built in 1210 and later expanded in 1368. It is impressively ornamented from base to top and is slightly tilted, though nowhere near as much as the tower of Pisa.

Da bomb

I don't remember where we were (either near the Baha'i temple or near Qutb Minar) but in the early evening we heard a loud explosion. We figured it must be firework or something and didn't think much of it. After visiting Qutb Minar we took an autorickshaw back to our hotel, but the entrance of the street was blocked by the satellite trucks of TV news crews. We tried to figure out what was going on but none of them were reporting in English. Danny laughingly said that that bang we heard earlier may have been our hotel exploding, not knowing he was almost right.

We walked into the street and after a while saw a small crowd being driven towards us by soldiers with sticks. I asked an American guy what was going on and now we learned that there had been a series of bomb explosions in Delhi two hours earlier, one of them a bit further down the street. The soldiers drove back the curious crowd every now and then, but in between I had a good look at the bomb site where they were still looking through the rubble.
A TV news reporter wanted to interview me and a little crowd gathered around us. I still had hardly a clue what had happened and told him so several times because I assumed he wanted to talk to an eye-witness, but he insisted. It turned out he just wanted to know whether this terrorist attack made me afraid to be in India and whether I was planning to leave the country now. I truthfully said I had a flight to Nepal the next day but that I was coming back to India after my Nepal visit, but that wasn't interesting enough and thus I blew my chance to appear on Indian television :)

Anyway here's a summary of what happened: Kashmiri separatists set off three bombs which killed 55 people in total, 16 of them here. This area (Paharganj) is a busy market place, and it's also the central hub for western backpackers like us because of the cheap hotels, so it was a nice target.
After soaking up the atmosphere for a while we went to the hotel. It was just 150m down the street beyond the bomb site, but we couldn't pass and had to make a big detour. Along the way we found a phone shop and called our parents to say we were alive and well; Danny's mother had already been calling around for news. Back in the hotel we watched the news channels and saw the same reporters we'd just met in the street, which was strange.

To Kathmandu

The next morning we took the plane to Kathmandu. If you want to read this report chronologically, skip to part 2 now and I'll link you back here later on!


November 24th (day 27)

After almost four weeks of traveling we arrived back at our starting point, Delhi, by night train from Jodhpur. That evening we'd take another train to Amritsar, so we just left our stuff at the station and started touring Delhi to see pretty much all the sights we hadn't seen yet on our first visit. These 'left-overs' turned out to be very much worth our time, so I'm very glad we had another day in Delhi.

Safdarjang's Tomb

Safdarjang was the vizier of one of the later, weak Mughal emperors. His tomb was built in 1753 and is the last example of a monumental tomb in the Mughal style.

Lodi Garden

Lodi Garden is a nice big park that contains the tombs of various pre-Mughal rulers of the 15th century Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. These tombs had some architectural elements that would later be adopted in the Mughal tombs.

New Delhi

The above places are actually located in New Delhi - the part of town built by the British next to the old city - but of course they precede it by several centuries. Now then for the actual New Delhi, which the British designed to embody their imperial power over India. It is characterised by sometimes ridiculously broad boulevards (ridiculous because there are few buildings alongside them and little traffic on them) and a group of big imperial government buildings in a Victorian style with Indian touches. They now house the presidential palace and various ministries.

To Amritsar

After visiting all these places we spent a few more hours looking for an area with silver shops, and after resisting a series of attempts by one Indian after another to lead us to shops where they'd get a commission, we actually found such an area near Chandni Chowk. We ended up having to sprint to the luggage room in the train station to catch our train to Amritsar, our last destination.

If you were reading this report in chronologic order, you should jump to the last part of this report now to read about Amritsar, otherwise we continue with our flight from Delhi to Kathmandu on day 2.


                                                   Back to Index    -    Part 2: Kathmandu Valley >>






Godsmurf Sun 04 Nov 2007 @ 14:52
Assuming you're talking about Everest BC trek: I didn't see any snakes and can't imagine there being any that high.

Carole Davt Fri 02 Nov 2007 @ 13:59
Wonderful pictures and story-----a real girly question--are there any snakes up there??? and how tough is it to complete??


Della Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:55
Nice pictures and writing! Your photos really bring back to my mind the days i spent in Nepal!
Go ahead and share with us more your travel notes and experience in the future!

Godsmurf Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 13:41
Hehe. Should be up within a few days!

eleni Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 01:56
Great! i was anxious and still am for no. 7 :)
It's like you are reading a book and when it starts to get really interesting you realise that some pages are missing...


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