I always found going back to Delhi exciting and this blog is an amalgam of back to Delhi from Nepal, and ten months later back to Delhi from France before a road trip up to Kashmir, which apparently was on the FCO blacklist of things not to do.
I remember a couple of months before leaving Chandni Chowk metro station and heading up to the Red Fort we must have smelled of ‘new arrival’ and looked like two rabbits caught in the headlights of full glare of raw India. Looking over to the south with trepidation was the edge of the old City of Delhi with it’s warren of streets not really wide enough for modern vehicles but teaming with rickshaws and people and above all noise. Then I thought that wandering the streets of the old city was perhaps a little too daunting especially as the short distance then between the Metro and the Fort was fraught with hasslers for money, peddlers of Indian tourist trinkets, and a very free guided tour of the 800 metres to the Fort.
After a couple of months of India including the unique experience of Varanesi and the fading humid tumultuous Kolkota I must have smelled of India as now exploring the old city, the beating heart of the capital, nobody hassled me except for kids wanting their photographs taken. In fact the opposite, people smiled, artisans and even butchers were keen to show off their skills.
I have a great affection for Delhi. It’s a vibrant city or two cities and I was pleased to be back.
The old City of Delhi along with Jerusalem and Varanesi is one of the longest continually inhabited sites in the World and despite having become extremely crowded and dilapidated, it is still is the soul of Delhi and the market place for jewels, beads, brassware and weaving.
The old city is pretty much a Muslim enclave but there are important Jain and Sikh temples and St James Church ( or Skinners Church) near the Kashmiri Gate had up until the 1857 Indian mutiny a sizeable British population around it. For the most part the Hindu and Muslim populations get on well It is probably Indian politicians, and recently Modi’s BJP party who stir up trouble. Modi’s choice of leader for Indias most populous state Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has been described even by the Hindu press There are no two ways of saying the obvious truth. Installing such a divisive and thuggish figure at the helm of India’s most populous and volatile state is a terrible, terrible decision.’
The old city took in many muslims from other parts of India during partition as it was probably safer there than other parts of Northern India. The city historically was peopled by centuries of immigration especially the Persian and Turcoman craftsmen and labourers who worked on Shah Jahan’s magnificent buildings..Mosques including the great Jama Masjid in the centre of the Old City and the Red Fort with it’s beautiful Marble pavilions, on the North Eastern Corner.
Near the Red Fort a charity hands out lunch each day for the poor. But the flip side though of crowded streets, heat, lack of social services, health care and especially mental health is that one comes across some unpleasant third world sights.
The Urdu language emerged from the Urdu Bazaar section of Old Delhi, and today is spoken by about 100 million people in India Pakistan and now Britain.
The Jama Masjid Mosque is raised above the rest of the Old City and one can sit on the steps outside and look out over the crowded narrow streets and all the action. The inside of this beautiful sandstone building the plaza with a large pond in the middle is an oasis of serenity in comparison with the city below.
Whole family groups seem to inhabit their own corners and spaces. One such group, dominated by one rather agressive guy, of about 10 adults and 20 children was straight of Dickens’s London with it’s Faginesque leader and his troupe young thieves. I sat fascinated watching for some time.
The Old City with it’s narrow streets, thousands of small shops, on -street fast food and a Chai shop on every corner, lots of smiling faces and life played out in the open is such an entertaining and life affirming place to hang out.
Our two friends arrived late at night and somehow we were ready for an early start to Haridwar .
Early one morning the sun was shining
We were standing by the side of the road..
Waiting for our tour driver,
Heading off to the Himalayas
All four of us and our luggage squeezed into one of those stretch Toyota tourist cars and we did head off to the foothills of the Himalayas. The 220 Km journey, our last on India’s hot plain, took most of the day. The terrible roads with no discernable rules, and occupied as much with Holy Cows as with cars and lorries is as tiring for a passenger as a driver as one is incapable of closing ones eyes. It is not just fascinating India sliding by but the survival need to warn the driver of another cow, a lorry in the outside lane doing 15 miles an hour or a family wandering in the middle of the road..all the causes of accidents can be found in any 250 metre stretch of Indian road.
We finally arrived in Haridwar after torrential monsoon rains.
Of course it’s India and our driver had little idea of where our hotel was. Yes he had visited before with Indian tourists and knew the cheaper hotels that lined the main road outside town, but Abid had put us up in the Radisson Blue out of town to the west of the Ganges..We spent a good hour driving around, through enormous lakes of water, fearing that we might never make it to the other side. No one we asked seem to know where it was but finally we found it by luck.
Haridwar is the first Indian city on the Gangetic plain (that stretches across India) that the Ganges arrives at after the Himalayas..It has been a holy site for millennia ever since nectar was dripped onto to the waters by the gods. There has been settlements here since 1,800 bc.
Haridwar is a triply blessed as it is linked to all three major Hindu Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. With all these mythological links attached to its name, it’s little wonder why Haridwar is often referred to as ‘gateway to god’. Pilgrims believe that they can go to heaven by getting their salvation after a holy dip in the river Ganges at Haridwar.
Haridwar in the rain and grey skies is not exceptionally pretty but the colour of women’s saris and the general colours of India, even on a dull day bring life to a place. The Ganges river is diverted into a canal that runs through that part of the city with all the temples. Overlooking all is a huge statue of Shiva.
It rained on and off for most of the day we were there, but the presence of thousands of pilgrims in groups or just a family having so much fun bathing and purifying themselves in mother Ganga that one forgot about the weather and was carried away with celebrations. Hindu pilgrimages and festivals are so so colourful and full of joy that one cannot help but be caught up in this rapturous moment of other people’s lives
The water is fast flowing here and there are chains across the river for those swept away to try cling to.
The ghats or steps down to the Ganges was full the day we were there as there was a major festival a few days before. Families and groups of friends were washing away their sins and having a great time as well, there were so many happy smiley faces.
People queued up to give offerings at the many little shrines barely 1 meter square, with little statues of gods and with their own priests. Religion is a business as well.
We were invited to be blessed, a little prayer for each of us based upon brief information we gave about family and circumstances and a Bindi or red spot was placed on our foreheads after accompanied by a little sweet. Only a few annah was asked for, unlike some places like Pushka where one could be hussled for your life savings.
We left about lunchtime and the sun had arrived and it was so much warmer.
The sun had bought out a great collection of Babus or Holy Men and they found comfortble seating on the bridge. As everyone had to cross the bridge over the Ganges back to Hotels or campsites it was a propitious spot. They were not actively begging but open to donations.
We came back that evening for the Ganga Aart . This ceremony at the Har Ki Pauri ghat is famous across India. Everyday hundreds of people come here for the ceremony. During some festival days it is visited by more than million people in a day. The Ganges is worshiped in this ceremony.
We arrived early, one tip from our driver, and managed to get a great spot right by the water directly across from the Ghat, and managed to keep it during ceremonial washing of the ground. We could see all the lights and hear the chanting from the other side.
Many people put little clay oil lamps ( Diyas) on leaves in the river. Bigger offerings were blessed by the priests of the Ghat. Again it rained but this holy festival overcame any discomfort.
I will always remember Haridwar for all the jubilance of a Hindu ceremony.
In the last few days we had witnessed two very different religions and they both had so much in common.. Joy and innocence.. Shame it gets corrupted
As I live at the limit of Internet access (next year Fibre optic..well they say that every year) The Photos from ther Blog are also on Flickr ..usually better quality..Click on the Pic below