I can’t believe it’s our third day in India already. We leave Delhi first thing Friday morning for a weekend in Agra. I’ll miss this loud, chaotic city!
If you’ve read my post from yesterday (find it here), you’ll understand why I was a little nervous about what our tour guide, Vikas, had planned for us today. Luckily, there were no elephant rides or riding backwards on motorcycles (which I imagine would be as thrilling yet uncomfortable as yesterday’s rickshaw adventure)! On today’s itinerary was a historical tour of New Delhi, concluding with free time at a large mall nearby. Our first stop was a photo op at India Gate, a 1931 war memorial for Indian soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. The arched gate and long stretch of road in front of it took me back to Paris for a few minutes – it’s strikingly similar to the l’Arc de Triomphe and, in some ways, the Champs-Élysées.
Vikas gave us some history about the city’s politics and army, then we made a quick U-turn and parked on the same street in front of Rashtrapati Bhavan, or Presidential Residence. It’s a palatial estate where – you guessed it – the President of India resides. The country has a President and a Prime Minister, but apparently the Pres. has a lot more power and influence.
We got a close-up look at the red sandstone of the buildings (such as army offices) surrounding the Presidential Residence. The construction for these structures began in 1911 and finished in 1931 – imagine taking 20 years to complete a set of buildings! It was mainly because the workers back then would have had very few tools to work with; they did almost everything by hand.
After dodging cars and rickshaws in order to take pictures from the perfect angles, we took a leisurely drive down roads lined with palm trees and beautiful pink and white flowers. Vikas mentioned that behind the greenery were palaces built for maharajas, some of whom currently live there with their families. He described maharajas as people with Western educations who were once able to manipulate the government in the days when they ruled (“maharaja” is Sanskrit for “great ruler”). From what I understood, nowadays the maharajas are still regarded as elite and educated members of society but don’t have much influence on the government.
Next, we made our way to Humayan’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Humayan was a 16th-century Mughal Emperor who died after consuming too much opium and falling off a second-floor balcony. (A good reminder to not do drugs!) It was commissioned by Humayan’s son, Akbar, in 1570, but the former emperor isn’t the only person buried there – over 150 Mughal family members have underground cells and graves there. The tomb is surrounded by a lush garden, a fact that is culturally significant as this site was apparently the first garden-tomb combination in India. We climbed a steep staircase to the second floor of the tomb, where we found amazing views of the lush gardens surrounding the various mausoleums and monuments.
Hot and a little dehydrated, we headed for the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i Faith house of worship. (On the way there, the traffic slowed on a main road and men came up to the sides of our car, offering homemade crafts and plates of cut-up coconut for sale. They didn’t pose any threat, but just for my own peace of mind I inquired as to whether or not the car doors were locked. Vikas laughed and said, “Yes, they are locked. You know, the men can sell to you, they can disturb you, they can even dance in front of you – but they will never harm you!” That was good to hear, especially given recent rumours that some parts of Delhi have become unsafe for women.) Completed very recently in 1986, the temple was built in the shape of a lotus flower and resembles the Sydney Opera House.
Vikas wasn’t able to give us much information about the Baha’i religion as we were quickly ushered inside to sit within the Temple (shoes off and no cameras allowed) and either pray or look around. It would have been nice to hear more about this mysterious faith, but I was happy to just sit back and marvel at how calm and serene the atmosphere made me feel. Outside the Temple, my parents and Vikas stopped for fresh coconuts at a busy roadside stand. While the few sips I had were perfectly sweet and refreshing, I didn’t want to risk getting sick from a dirty knife or hand. Better safe than sorry, right?
Our final stop of the day was the mall in the south end of New Delhi. You’re probably thinking that the last place anyone should want to go to in India is a shopping mall, and I would have to agree with you on that. However, my parents were looking for specific British items that they can’t find in Canada, so they did have a good reason to go. Satek Mall was a mix of local and global stores including H&M and Marks and Spencer, but what really stood out was an ayurvedic facial and massage parlour called Inatur. The masseur and masseuse gave my dad and I truly wonderful express massages that included a personalized scalp oil massage, deep-tissue neck and shoulder massages and a reflexology foot treatment. The application of lavender oil on my scalp made for a heavenly 20-minute head massage, and the reflexology and deep-tissue treatments were a little uncomfortable but very effective. The masseuse worked out the knots in my neck and shoulder and greatly reduced my foot and heel pain, not to mention the tension in my head and neck. I highly recommend getting an ayurvedic treatment to help relax your mind and reduce chronic pain. 🙂
Tomorrow, I’ll let you know our first impressions of Agra. See you then!