Feeling: INSIGHTFUL, IMMERSED IN INSANITY
Yesterday I did Delhi.
Well when I say Delhi I mean Old Delhi, one of six parts to the city, and a mere few mosques and several side streets at that. Delhi is dauntingly massive – 10 million people – so “doing Delhi” would take a fair few weeks.
So today I dipped in Delhi.
My Intrepid guide arrived at my hotel at 8.53am. Indian time tends to run slightly behind, so to have my little leader ready to roll seven minutes ahead of schedule was quite the surprise.
Debagni was a bundle of smiles. We gelled straight away, and she confessed she’d been stressing about the tour because she didn’t usually do the Delhi run. So it was an experience for both of us.
We took off in our “tourist” marked car where I met my personal driver for the next three days, Prahalad. I breathed a massive sigh of relief; I had been a bit nervy at the thought of a five-hour ride to Agra on my own with a middle-aged Indian man, but he assured me he’d been working for Intrepid for more than five years and his daughter was about my age so he’d keep me safe and secure.
Prahalad parked and us girls continued on foot. Debagni escorted me through thronged bazaars, mazes of narrow lanes and the resounding sights, sounds and smells of pure India. We visited the Masjid-I-Jahan-Numa (a Muslim mosque which name translates to “view-of-the-world”), a spice shop, rode in rickashaws and, my highlight of the day, dropped into a Sikh (relgion, not “rad”) (though it was this too) temple.
We had to cover our heads with bandanas before entry, and thoroughly wash our hands and feet. Initially I was a little bored with it all (see one, seen them all right?), but the sight inside rendered me speechless.
Unfortunately aside from the sneaky pic above, photography was prohibited so I couldn’t capture the scenes on screen. But they are picture-perfect in my mind forever.
The people in the first room of worship were engaged in nitnem, daily prayers. It was a rainbow of coloured saris, head covers and jewellery, with all fully immersed in their proclamations. I was awestruck.
Debagni lead me through a few doorways to the kitchen, where masala chai (tea) was pressed onto us by a wizard-like fellow with a big brass kettle (well steel, but brass sounds so much better). I almost hurried my usual “no”, but halted in haste and gratefully accepted my chipped cup of cha.
We then went into the expansive hall space where about 100 people were in langar. This is the sititng together of people in rows to partake in food consumption from a common kitchen regardless of caste, creed, sex, age or social status. Symbolising selfless service, love and brotherhood, the meal was free for all; all that was required was the washing of your own dish on completion.
I was in absolute awe. It was incredible! There were people all doing their part, preparing paratha by the plenty. Copious curries. Reams of rice.
I asked Debagni if it was a Sunday thing, or is it was a special occassion.
She said this happens everyday. Everyday.
How beautiful is that? All these people from all different statuses and caste systems, sitting side-by-side to eat samosas. For no fee. I was touched.
After a further stint of street sights, Denagni deposited me back with Prahalab for my drive to Agra.
Along the way I slept most of the time (eventually I stopped sleeping with my eyes open in suspicion), overcome with sudden exhaustion. Whenever awake P and I would yarn, usually about family and such. With a wife and two daughters, he sees them once every two months or so when he can afford the eleven hour drive home for a few days. It broke my heart. But for him, it’s normality.
Prahalab dropped me at my hotel and after a little run and yoga practice, I ate a pomegranate and banana and fell into bed. (Well, also after two calls for aid from the front desk. 1. I couldn’t figure out how to unlatch the chain lock on my door and was rendered imprisoned until two workers explained that I had to press the button marked “release” – I swear it hadn’t been there before – and 2. Again on retirement to bed when I couldn’t figure out which switches turned off which lights and required help to darken my room. Poor sods. Bet they were cursing the silly white girl in room three-oh-three).