We spent another three days in Delhi, slowly taking in the sights, and taking in the culture as much as possible. Day three of Delhi sightseeing took us to Humayun’s tomb. This building was the precursor to the Taj Mahal, being similar in style. It was commissioned in the 1500s by the wife of an emperor as a mausoleum. It was not crowded at all, and we took our time strolling through the grounds. It bears repeating that for all the chaos and crowds of India, it is still a wonderfully tranquil country. There were no paparazzi at the tomb. In fact, we found quite a few places off the beaten path there, where we had old stone structures to explore and no one could find us. We even found some wild peacocks, which was super cool.
On our fourth day in Delhi, our host took us out for some street food. It’s important here in India to realize you have two choices when it comes to the food: 1) be extremely careful 2) count on getting sick, after which your body will build immunity and you’ll no longer have to worry. Our host encouraged us to go for option 1, so we did not even try street food the first few days. This was a tall task for me, as I had been looking forward to trying the street food ever since we planned to come here.
We started with another hair-raising auto rickshaw ride to an area where our host assured us the food would not make us sick. We started with Pani Puri: fried dough “cups” filled with veggies and spiced, green water that looked like something out of a pond. The whole thing has a sweet yet spicy taste. After so carefully avoiding the water in India, I was a bit nervous, but I trusted our host and forged ahead. Of course it was delicious, and my stomach was absolutely fine. Next up was Papri Chaat which is hard to explain. It’s kind of like homemade chips smothered in yogurt and chutney. This one was also fairly sweet, and Stephanie liked it even though it looked like sour cream mixed with ketchup and relish!
Before we could continue with the food, we realized we were running out of time in Delhi, and we had one more tourist site to check out – the Lotus Temple. This is a massive Baha’i temple in the shape of a lotus flower. It is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, and was well worth the afternoon detour. I didn’t (and still don’t) know a lot about the Baha’i faith, but in their information center, we learned a bit about how they respect all religions, and preach what I consider to be basic concepts such as equality among races, castes, religions, and gender. They even believe in science and religion as coexisting peacefully. Once again, I found myself touched by the spirituality of India, and found myself quietly having a word with my Creator. The religious beliefs here are so gentle and loving, and it makes me wish that all of humanity could find it within themselves to be a little more tolerant.
On our last day, our host picked out a place for us to have brunch with him and some other surfers staying with him. It turned out to be a somewhat high-end place, and cost about the same as an Indian buffet in the States, but the food was amazing. I am always excited to discover something new, and this time it was a dish called Diwani Handi. It consists of vegetables in a ginger/garlic/chili sauce, and is a dark green color in exactly the sort of shade that would make Westerners pass on it. (…if it didn’t smell so awesome!)
That sums up the things we did in Delhi, but to sum up the culture we absorbed is so much harder. I’ve already talked about the traffic and the saris. And just as the loud and obnoxious traffic seems almost incongruous with the serene and beautiful saris and temples, there are many more oxymora (oxymorons for you non-Latin speakers) around us here. In and among the horn-blaring traffic, we constantly came across auto rickshaws and bicycle rickshaws parked haphazardly with their drivers lying across them, fast asleep! We passed a local police station that consisted of only a shack large enough for two people. Later the same day we marveled at the amazingly modern and clean metro in the city, with very easy-to-understand signs and directions indicating how to get around. It even has air-conditioning! Then again, there are no machines whatsoever from which to buy tickets – you have to stand in long lines to do that! Delhi is very dirty – from the burning and sometimes rotting trash on the side of the road, to the piles of poo left by various animals walking by, to the bacteria-infested water. Yet the people here are very clean, and there is a sense of happiness from everyone. No matter what their lot in life, people seem grateful for what they have, and eager to share with others; a lesson we Americans can learn from.
Another interesting thing about Indian culture is the presence of the swastika. It is everywhere from vehicles to temples to the front door of our host’s house. The sign is an Indian good luck symbol which pre-dates Nazi Germany by a good 3000 years. As a westerner, it can be a bit unnerving at first – and very ironic when juxtaposed over a six-pointed star – but soon it just adds to the general sense of Indian culture. It would be wonderful if the rest of the world could undo the damage that the Nazis did to this ancient symbol.
Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu (May all beings everywhere be happy.)