Friday, November 30, 2012

NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT! India 2012 part 5

Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi
Today, our tour leader took us on a walking tour of Old Delhi. We all gathered bright and early in our hotel lobby and walked the few blocks to the metro station. It definitely was a unique experience. Our tour leader, Saurabh, mentioned that the metro might get kind of crowded. The first rail car ride was not so bad. Our transfer car however was packed! Our group pushed our way into the car. I felt like I was in the pit at a Slayer show. For this reason, female passengers have their own cars. Saurabh said that once we got closer to our stop, that it would be advisable to start making your way to the exit. Considering the car was densely crowded, the second that door opened, my hardcore instincts took over and I shoved my way out of the car. No problems. Our passengers had the same thoughts and I was instantly swept off my feet in a powerful river of human bodies. Once off the train I made sure my face was still intact, brushed off my shoulders and made sure that our party had made it off the train. They had, and we all laughed off this intense experience! Welcome to India. 

We journeyed through the dusty underground station and walked up to the steps to the street. Old Delhi was alive with the sound of honking cars. The neighborhood we were in was called Chawri Bazar and was one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi. There were so many interesting scenes and so much going on it was mind-blowing. You cannot fathom the intensity of the place. There are a million things going on at once here. Again, the Apocalypse Now references were very strong here. The main road was once again our infamous river. There were alleys everywhere and down each alleyway was the exact same chaotic scene as ours. The amount of life in this city stupefied me. There were tiny shops set up everywhere selling everything from baked goods to firecrackers. Rickshaws were speeding down the street, wheels creaking and moaning at every turn. I even spied a makeshift barbershop in the middle of road. Chawri Bazar is notorious for the electrical wires that power the city. They hang like thick black spiderwebs knotted up in impossible configurations. This would be an American electrician's worst nightmare. But it works for Old Delhi.

Grab a rickshaw! Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi.

Check out those wires! Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi.

Hard at work! Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi.

Next to our group leader Saurabh Joshi, this dapper gentleman would be the second coolest guy in India. Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi.

Heading into the mouth of Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi.
Our first stop was the Jama Masjid. This is Delhi's largest mosque. We first had to go through a rickety metal detector (I don't think it even worked). We had to take off our shoes and leave them with a gentleman who charged a fee. All of the females had to wear a special dress. These were free. My mom wore a green floral patterned one. Inside the mosque, men were in prayer. There was a fountain in the middle of the courtyard where people were washing themselves. Pigeons were flying around everywhere. We sidestepped the bird poop and walked around the hulking building. We purchased two tickets (and two camera tickets) for a tour of one of the large towers on the side of the mosque. A small gentleman dressed in white guided us through a small tower which lead to the larger tower. Then a younger man named Taj took over and walked us to all 130 steps of the big tower. I know there were 130 steps as that's how many Taj said there were. He walked these steps at least 10 times a day, he should know. Taj was a nice guy. He took my camera and started taking photos of my mom and I and of the awesome view from the tower. I knew I would have to pay him for his services. Oh well, at least he was a good photographer. 

View of the Jamal Masjid from the street. Old Delhi.

Jamal Masjid.

View from the small tower. Jamal Masjid. 

Old Delhi view from the larger tower. Jamal Masjid.

Jamal Masjid.

Alternate view of Old Delhi from the large tower of Jamal Masjid.
The mosque cat.
We finished our tour, paid our fee to the shoe collector and leapfrogged our way back into Old Delhi. Our tour leader then lead us down more impossibly tight alleyways to his favorite chai cafe. I couldn't believe Saurabh remembered where this place was. We must have walked for only a few minutes, but the twists and turns had me lost in my own head. The chais were passed out in small paper cups. They were hot and smelled delicious.  Unfortunately I was not able not finish mine as a group of monkeys had decided to play right above where we were standing. The monkeys bounced on a canopy that dropped a bunch of dirt directly into my cup. Bummer!

Saurabh then led us down further into Old Delhi. As we walked through these alleys, hawkers were in full force, selling all every kind of product imaginable. Again, electrical wires hung over our head. Monkeys, swinging from them like vines were even biting the wires. We made our way into the tiniest restaurant in the tightest corner of the city. Apparently Bollywood movie stars come here. This was evidenced by the pictures of them on the wall eating their favorite dish. Because there was not enough room for our group at one table, my mom and I elected to take a table in the back of the room. We sat at with the locals who were staring at us with interest. Two teen aged boys came in and sat at an empty spot in front of us. They were two students who decided to take a break and have a small meal. Thankfully one of the boys spoke a little English. He told us that this was the best restaurant in the Old Delhi. A little boy who was blind in one eye took our order. The place looked real sketchy and I was afraid to eat. I saw the cook and he was practically making the food with his feet. I made some small talk with one of the students and I always ask, to break the ice, what type of music they listened to. The boy told me that he liked Eminem and Britney Spears. What diverse tastes. The blind boy came to take our order and with some hesitation I ordered the potato chapati. My mom ordered the same thing. They brought a large silver platter with all sorts of garnish on them. Since our group was a few tables away from us, we were on our own. I did not want to eat here. My mom, fearless, dug right into the garnish. I did too. I figured, if I'm going to get sick, I might as well get sick in the best restaurant in Old Dehli.  

I was trying to make conversation with the diners at our table. They asked where my mom and I are from. We told them USA, and they all kept saying, "Obama, Obama." That was pretty funny. Over the course of our trip, the Indians always asked where we were from. Sometimes I would ask them where they think we are from. I got some pretty interesting answers. One guy said Germany. Another said New Jersey. Towards the end of my trip I would give some colorful locations. More on that later. Our food came and damn, if it wasn't delicious. We didn't get sick and I kicked myself for not ordering more. 

Here is where I learned about local Indian table etiquette. In the middle of the table was a pitcher of water. This was a communal pitcher; everyone shares it. In the US, that may seem kind of strange. In India, they have mastered a method of drinking where they drink without ever touching their lips to the container. Brilliant. I saw this happen everywhere. They balance the pitcher, or bottle in their hands and pour the drink into their mouth. My mom and I practiced this procedure throughout our trip. 

After eating our meal, Saurabh walked us to our next destination, a Sikh temple. Our group was invited inside an old office in the temple. There an older Sikh gave us all a brief introduction to his religion. He made us take off our shoes and put on an orange bandanna on our heads because the Sikh religion does not permit men or women to show their hair. We also had to take off our socks and shoes. We had to wash our feet before entering the temple as this was customary and showed respect. There was a tall Sikh dressed in black robes standing by the door with a huge brass spear making sure everyone washed their feet before coming in. 

At the Sikh temple. Old Delhi.

Making food at the Sikh temple. Old Delhi.

Cooking lentils at the Sikh temple. Old Delhi. 
Once inside the temple we sat in front of a small group of men playing instruments and singing worship songs. Groups of worshipers were in front of the musicians, praying. The elder Sikh mentioned that the majority of the temple were made from volunteers. Everybody does their part to keep the temple going. One minute you may be in charge of the cooking, the next you would be working the door. We left the temple and entered the kitchen. There, I saw two men mixing flour and making the dough that would be used to make bread. The next room had a few ladies rubbing the bread with flour and preparing them for the oven. There was a guy flipping the dough and another lady flipping them again over a hotter stove. We were invited to help prepare the food. A few of us accepted.  

We were then invited to eat but not of us did. I like the system of this religion. Everybody helping each other out for the greater good of the people. The temple was well organized and very clean. We all gave small donations and headed back to the office to collect our shoes and bags. I was very glad to have experienced the Sikh religion first hand. I had always seen followers of this religion but never knew anything about them. 

We then walked back to the metro where our group split up. Our tour leader headed back to the hotel and a few of us took a train to a different market. We still had some shopping to do. 

Our section of the group took the metro to an area called Connaught Place. We walked around the Central Park taking in the sights. The Delhi haze was still in place and this ghostly hue hung over the park. Tons of people were lazily relaxing on the grass. Seemed like a great place to chill out. We then decided to visit Palika Bazar. This was an underground market that was right across the street from the park. Because of a bomb blast here in Connaught Place in 2008, there were metal detectors at the entrance of the market. Once we were inside, we descended into the belly of the beast. The place was crazily decorated with tiny booths selling the latest Indian fashions. Most places had their stores lit up with black lights giving the market a head-shop sort of vibe. My mom was looking for a hair straightener and luckily she found one quickly. The vendor tried selling me a shaver. My mom made her purchase and we headed out of the madness of the bazaar. I saw someone selling Iron Maiden shirts.

Our group was hungry. I spotted a Mexican restaurant called Rodeo. It looked fun and maybe I could score some food other than Indian food. Not that Indian food was bad. It's not, it's delicious, but it would be interesting to see India's view of Mexico. The place was upstairs and was decorated like a saloon. You walked through these wooden saloon style doors that swing outwards. The place was charming! Garish red wallpaper decorated the walls. The bar stools had real saddles on them. The waiters were dressed like cowboys; black cowboy hats, red scarfs around their necks and wooden cut-out guns in real holsters. There was even a stage where a live band played on the weekends. I felt right at home! The restaurant was serving a Mexican buffet. I met the chef and he showed me around the menu. Here's what was in the Mexican buffet. Paneek Paneer, pasta, Beef Stroganoff, tomato soup and a taco bar. The menu had standard Indian cuisine, but you could also order nachos, quesadillas and burritos. Not too bad. I ordered a few tortillas and a Kingfisher. We finished our meal and headed back into the Delhi sun. 

We took our first tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel. It was amazing! The tuk-tuk is a motorized, three-wheeled rickshaw. Typically, they are designed to hold a minimum of three people, but I've seen up to 6 people crammed into one. Traveling down the congested Delhi highway in one of these was a life changing experience. I never felt at one with India until risking life and limb zig-zagging through sleeping cows, honking cars and half-crazed bus drivers. It was one third Mad Max, one third Mr. Toad's Ride and one third spiritual journey. I would be riding these many times during my trip. 

My best friend in India. The tuk-tuk. 
Went back to the hotel for a quick nap. Met our group later that night and we all went out to eat for dinner. That's one thing we did on this trip; we ate! My mom joked that we would be losing weight on this trip. No such luck! Saurabh took care of us!! 

Went back to the hotel and geared up for an early sleep. The next morning we would be traveling to Agra, home of the great Taj Mahal! Well, not so great!

Roadside barbershop. Old Delhi.

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