Thursday, February 14, 2013

More from Delhi: A fort, a mosque, Hare Krishna and more

This was written a few days ago, on Feb. 8. Because of spotty internet access, I just got around to posting it now.

We had intended to wake up early today to make more of our daylight
hours, but jetlag got the better of us and we slept until almost noon
again. However, just because we slept in doesn't mean we had a quiet

On our way to the metro, we sought out a dhaba that we had heard
served a really excellent chole bhatura, a spicy chickpea dish served
with fried bread. We had tried to find it yesterday without success,
but today we asked a few people and found it.

The place had a line, which seemed like a good sign. It was a bit
more...informal than the previous places we've eaten, but it seemed
clean and like a real establishment, so we went for it. It was really
good, but left us a little nervous if we'd be sick (spoiler: so far,

From there, we took the metro to the Red Fort, one of the most iconic
sites in Delhi. It was built by the same emperor who built the Taj
Mahal (I think). It was very cool and majestic, but it has not been
kept up well so it could really use a good restoration. Caroline will
post pics, I'm sure.

After the Red Fort, we went to a nearby mosque that is the largest in
Delhi, and was built around the same time as the Red Fort (1600s). You
can really see the resemblance.

When we first arrived, the prayer service was happening so we could
not go in. We waited a bit, and then when we tried to enter, a guy
stopped us and said we needed to buy tickets. We had read that entry
was free, and this sort of seemed like a scam, especially since Indian
people were just waking right by (including ones who looked like
tourists, not just Muslims going to pray).

We tried to argue with the guy, and he showed us the official tickets,
little printed slips. An indian guy inside tried to signal us not to
pay. We tried to just walk past him, but he grabbed my arm and
wouldn't let me go. We were quite sure it was a scam, but not sure
what to do.

We approached a family that was leaving the mosque and asked them if
we could enter. They seemed pleased and said of course. We asked if
there were tickets and they said no, and when the scammers came over,
the family argued and berated them in Hindi a bit, and then told us to
just go in. We did, and this time no one stopped us.

Inside we saw some beautiful architecture, and lots of people sitting
around in circles that looked like study groups. There is a minaret
tower that you can go up to get a great view of the city, and of
course there were people selling tickets for this too. However, we
asked a few people and this time it seemed legit, so we just paid and
went up. The view was really worth it! (Caroline will post pics)

After this, we hurried back to the metro to try and reach the Baha'i
Lotus Temple before sundown. It was a long ride so we didn't quite
make it, but it was lit up so it was still beautiful to see at night.
Also, near this metro stop was a huge modern shopping mall and fancy
western hotels. It felt like we had ridden the metro to a whole
different country.

While walking back from the Lotus Temple, we noticed another
illuminated building nearby. As we got closer, we saw the letters
ISKCON, which we recognized as something recommended in our guide
book, though we couldn't remember what it was!

As we got closer, we saw that it was a very fancy, ornate building,
and quite modern. It was very busy, with lots of cars in the parking
lot and people going in and out. We asked if we could enter, and they
said yes, and then said "hare Krishna"

Turns out we were at a major hare Krishna temple, and it was very
interesting. There were sculptures and paintings of Indian elephant
gods, serpents and women in pleasure gardens. There was also some sort
of robotics show and spiritual movie, but we didn't do those.

We wandered around and found a long line of people waiting for food.
As we got closer, we saw that the food was served for free, so we
thought it might be feeding the poor. But as we pondered that, we
noticed that everyone in line looked very middle class, not poor and
hungry. While we were trying to figure this out, a guard came and took
us to the front of the line to get food. It made us feel very
welcomed, but it was a bit weird since he cut us ahead of a group of
kids - I didn't need my food before them!

We ate the small bowl of spicy grain and spinach, then found a stand
that was selling some desserts. These were really tasty. The guys were
very friendly to us, especially to Caroline, but the spoke to us in
Hindi so we don't know what they said. Caroline says she thinks one of
them might have asked her out.

Finally, we went to the main part of the temple, and feeling brave, we
checked our shoes with the clerk (barefoot only) and went up to the
sanctuary. Inside was a very relaxed scene: a bunch of people sitting
cross legged on large rugs, chanting a mantra to the accompaniment of
some drumming and a lead singer, who also sat on the rugs. Considering
how out of place we were, no one made us feel awkward. We looked at
the various altars with ornate sculptures of hindu gods, spent a
little more time, then made our way out.

It was definitely a peculiar experience, and made me want to read more
about Hare krishna. Our guide book used the word cult, and we could
kind of see signs of that: there were "life membership" offices,
people encouraged us to participate, and the very nice building had to
be paid for somehow. Still, it was a very welcoming experience and I'm
curious to read about it - and I'm very curious about the robotics seems to be related to some beliefs they hold about

From there, we headed back to the restaurant where we ate the previous
night. The guy at the counter remembered us, and seemed happy that we
had come back. We ordered chole bhutara, same as lunch, so that we
could compare. The verdict? Both were delicious! Our whole meal, with
naan, was about $2.00. Wow.

Our night ended with the most unexpected surprise of all. As we were
walking from the metro back to our hostel, we heard music and saw some
parading lights down the block. As we got closer, we realized it was a
wedding procession, complete with groom on a white horse. We stood by
the side of the road and had a very cool chance to see a real Delhi wedding!

What a fun day. I feel like we have packed in so much, but still have sample
only a tiny portion of what India has to offer.

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