A Day in Delhi
A personal reflection on my first day in Delhi, India.
Sometimes, the most exhilarating point during a trip is when the plane begins to descend, and your destination comes into view–a beautiful skyline, a mountain range, a wide expanse of country, all foreign to your eyes. Landing in Delhi, I couldn’t see a thing. You can thank the smog for that.
Here in Delhi, the sun doesn’t shine…at least not directly. With heats between the mid-90’s to the upper 110’s, Delhi in June is most certainly heated, but has proven to be an experience worth sweating for.
Arrival in Delhi
As we exited the airport (“we” being a group of my high school staff and associates…and me), a wall of heat smacked us in the face. We walked through stray dogs, men in button-up shirts and trousers with shovels constructing a wall, dragging our bags across a three-lane highway and nearly being decapitated by a rickshaw and a motorcycle. We handed our bags to a crouching man in the trunk of our bus and boarded the overly air-conditioned vehicle. Pulling away from the curb, we experienced driving in Delhi for the first time. You will never value your life the way I do now until you survive Delhi motor traffic.
Jet lagged and overtired, I dozed on the bus to be awoken by a terrifying leap of the bus over one of the many potholes on the road, reminiscent of a work by Pollock. Upon arrival at the hotel, every other second a honk let us know our bus was too large for this street, parked diagonally across a roundabout, yet somehow traffic moved on. Crazy. After a far-too short forty minute nap and dinner on a rooftop terrace, we crashed for the night, prepared for our first official day in Delhi.
Day 1 in Delhi
After a broken night of sleep due to jet lag, we walked up to breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Breakfast was sweetened oatmeal, curried potatoes, toast, chow mien-like noodles and naan. Different, but delicious. We headed off for what was probably one of the most exhausting days of my life.
We hopped on the bus, excited and fully prepped… and sat in traffic for twenty minutes for our first site only 1.2 miles away. Oh, India. The Laxminarayan Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu primarily, one of the many Hindu gods. When he is with his consort Lakshmi, Vishnu’s name is Narayan, hence the name of the temple. The temple and it’s symbols would certainly scare off any unknowledgeable individuals, as the swastika reigns supreme in this building. Originally a Hindu symbol, the swastika is an auspicious and sacred symbol that was manipulated by Hitler and used in Nazi Germany. It is believed to be the source of ancient Asian, European and Mediterranean languages. Inside, the temple is adorned with statues surrounded marigolds from offerings, intricate carvings cover the doors and large murals depict the different gods and deities exhibiting their awesomeness. We received our Bindi’s, the red dots that many Hindu men and women place on their foreheads, and almost immediately forgot about wiping our foreheads, which led to a large, sloppy mark. We accepted defeat against the Delhi heat and trudged on.
Rashtrapati Bhavan is the official home of the Indian president. It’s big, it’s fancy, and it wasn’t anything spectacular to look at except for the fact that there is a stark difference between how the president lives and how the people live. This contrast is much more prevalent than I’ve ever witnessed, and I honestly wondered if the Indian president ever took a stroll down his street to see shanty-tents next to garbage piles and poverty-stricken children selling bouquets of flowers and toys during lulls of traffic. Nonetheless, the presidential house and the other government buildings take up a large expanse of land with a road directly leading to India Gate, a memorial for soldiers. Similar in design and stature to the Arc de Triomphe, the India Gate was buzzing with tourists and locals alike. It seemed to be a central hub of socialization for those in government work. Street vendors sold grilled corn and bowls of chickpeas, rice and curry–it smelled divine.
Our next stop was my second favorite of the day, and possibly of the trip thus far (it’s only been two days so who am I kidding). Gandhi Smrti, formerly named the Birla House, is the location where Gandhi spent his last 144 days before he was killed. The complex, with gardens and houses, opens visitors to walk along Gandhi’s last steps to the Martyr’s Column, where he was assassinated. With a mini-museum, a timeline of Gandhi’s life and his personal prayer spot, the oddly peaceful location brought a sense of tranquility and awe over me. Simply put, it was beautiful.
We departed from the very Hindu and Indian-focused day trip to visit a mosque. Qutab Complex in India is the second most visited place in India . It’s minaret used to bring people up 379 steps, and from a sky view looks like a blossoming lotus. Very fitting for India. Walking through, I felt as if I was walking through Mesopotamia, or some ancient Greek or Roman ruins. The beautiful architecture and intricate carvings were completely open to visitors and exposed to the elements yet somehow remained in tact. Our guide eagerly showed us the best location to stand, with an arm above our heads, to look as if we were touching the top of the minaret. Perfectly touristy; I loved it.
Finally, exhausted and worn down, we arrived at our final location. I had not paid attention during the explanation of where we were going, but when our bus creeped around a corner, a giant lotus flower-shaped building came into sight. It hit me right in the feels–this was one of the eight Baha’i Houses of Worship in the world. I had already been to the one in Chicago multiple times, as I only live 20 minutes away from it, but I had finally added to my bucket list going to all of the locations of the temples. This was beautiful and utterly surprising. Upon entering, we noticed we were one of probably thousands of people visiting. It was stunning, enormous and simply a work of architectural genius. The temple does not have air conditioning, but rather the lotus structure was created to channel air through the temple to provide a natural fan effect. Brilliant. As we departed, the Delhi haze set an illuminated background to a beautiful finish to the day.
Back at the hotel after a dinner comprised of an Indian version of chowmein and dumplings (very disappointing but the spices weren’t bad), we settled on the terrace. With a bottle of Absolut vodka purchased at Duty Free (India is a dry country given the predominant religion), we requested Sprites to make mixed drinks and wind down. The waiter brought us Mountain Dew, trying to convince us it was the same as Sprite. We didn’t put up much of a fight. We poured, mixed and settled. “Let’s do the Dew in Delhi,” someone said.