New Delhi is a somewhat frustrating city to visit because it is so big and the traffic is so heavy. It reminds us of Los Angeles where everything that you want to do is an hour away from where you are. We’ve noticed that OAT does not visit Calcutta on any of its tours. Perhaps it is even more difficult to access and more depressing when it comes to slums and garbage. There are newer parts of the city where we pass buildings that we could imagine seeing at home and homes where we could imagine living ourselves, but these areas are in the minority.
Krishnan gave us a funny but accurate handout describing the driving rules here, such as they are:
• The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.
• Indian traffic, like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to cows, elephants, camels, buffalo, pigs, goats, dogs, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, pedal rickshaws, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, hand-carts and pedestrians.
• All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with this maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat. This is the Indian driver’s mantra.
• Use of the horn (also known as “the sonic fender” or “the language of the road”) Cars: Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, i.e. in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from the path. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e. to oncoming trucks “I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die.” In extreme cases this may be accompanied by the flashing of headlights (frantic). A single blast (casual) means: “I have seen someone out of India’s 1 billion whom I recognize.” “There is a bird in the road which at this speed could go through my windscreen", or “I have not blown my horn for several minutes.” For trucks and buses all horn signals have the same meaning: “I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could.” This signal may be emphasized by the use of headlights.
• All maneuvers, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.
• In the absence of seat belts car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept on at all times.
• Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle. Lane discipline: All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of the direction of travel shall be ignored.
Not so funny, when we think about how accurate this description is.
We started the touring day at Jama Masjid, built in 1650AD. This is one of the ten largest mosques in the world and can hold 25,000 people in the courtyard. Unlike other mosques we have visited there is no "inside" under roof. Once you walk through the gate you can kneel down and pray anywhere in the vast interior courtyard after you have done your ablutions. All the female tourists are required to wear colorful bathrobes. We didn't think a thing of it, because religions are always quirky and the Moslem religion is not known for being female friendly. But Krishnan told us that this is a recent requirement, caused by the headgear ban for Moslem girls attending schools in France. Kind of a tit for tat. On big holidays even this big interior space is not large enough and the streets outside are closed and lines are painted on them to line up all the worshippers.
Gandhi holds a special place in the hearts of the Indian people due to his role in their liberation from the British colonists. We visited the home where he was shot by Hindu extremists and the park where his body was cremated. It has an eternal flame a bit like the one on JFK's tomb. Krishnan said they borrowed the idea for their flame from us. He also questioned whether the British would not have given up India anyway since their armies and men were so burned out and exhausted from fighting World War II.
We had the obligatory stop at a carpet store today. As we sipped tea, a very dignified man told us about the Kashmir silk carpets sold here. He lamented the fact that young people today are not interested in this craft. Larger rugs take well over a year to produce and require great skill and years of practice. The silk carpets are especially beautiful, but having already bought a runner on the southern tour, it was easy for us to say no. I think everyone else did too, but there were other souvenirs sold in the shop that made it on to our bus.
Vendors here are more aggressive than they were in the south. The procedure here is to let the guide know what you're interested in and get on the bus. He holds a bus bazaar where he holds up the products inside the bus and negotiates for us with the seller who stands outside. One of the many valuable services a guide can provide here.
Tomorrow will be a long driving day so we headed to Lodhi park for a brisk walk and a little exercise. This green oasis in the city is built around some ruins of the Lodhi empire which headed one of the many versions of Delhi that existed in the 1400's.