Today, Tuesday, February 28, was our day to do a bit of Delhi exploration. And even to do a little dab it takes quite a while if you are using surface transportation as we were.
Right after breakfast, we inquired at the travel desk about the possibility of having a car and driver for half a day so that we could see some of the sights. Unfortunately, all the hotel’s cars and drivers were engaged for the morning, so, we made arrangements to head out at 2 pm for a four hour excursion.
We decided on a very abbreviated itinerary: Humayun’s Tomb, the Bahá’í Lotus Temple and a quick spice shopping trip to the Durga’s Masala in the INA (Indian National Army) Market. Seemed straight forward enough when looking at a map and the travel desk fellow seemed to think it was quite doable.
As soon as we explained to the driver what we wanted to do, he suggested that we go to the temple, then the tomb and, finally, the market. Apparently that made more sense navigationally. That was okay by us and off we went. Even though the traffic was relatively light by Delhi standards, it still took us over half an hour to cover the 4 or 5 inches indicated on our city map.
The temple is a striking edifice; somewhat reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. It is set in beautiful grounds and provides a pool of tranquility in the chaos that is Delhi, population 19 million and growing. We got in the stream of visitors and made our way down paths and up stairs to the temple itself before taking off our shoes and entering the building. Although the exterior of the temple is very dramatic, the interior is quite simple. Better to focus on one’s prayers, I suppose. We arrived at 2:53 and were told that a 10 minute prayer service would begin at 3 and, that once it began, no one could leave the building. Looking at the marble bottomed benches, we decided we needed to vacate the premises post haste.
After another long (time-wise) drive in traffic, we made it to Humayun’s Tomb. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Humayun was the second Moghul emperor . . . Right after Babur (not to be confused with Babar the Elephant), the founder of the dynasty. And, Humayun was the father of Akbar of Fatehpur Sikri fame and the great grandfather of Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal. Don’t you just love it when history starts to make sense?
Unlike the Taj Mahal, which was build by a bereft hubby for a cherished wife, Humayun’s Tomb was built by a bereft wife for her dear departed husband. And I have to say the Empress Bega Begum (not to be confused with Begin the Beguine*), did proud by Humayun. The tomb is made from the same red sandstone that we saw in Agra and at Fatehpur Sikri and the grounds are laid out with beautiful Islamic water features. The stairs to the main level were very high and Joan didn’t know if she should do them but she did and tomorrow will tell the tale on how wise a move it was.
Our trip to the INA (and who knows what the Indian National Army has to do with it) Market was aborted when we arrived there at 5:15 to find massive messes of cars trying to get into and out of the small parking area. The whole place looked pretty crazy; it would be better done when one is not too tired and is on full alert. Although our driver took us to another market where he thought I could find spices, I wasn’t able to get all that I wanted and the sewer smell was oppressive enough that we weren’t interested in prolonging the experience.
All in all it was a nice taste of Delhi but a nibble was enough for now. Perhaps another time but more likely perhaps not.
*I feel certain that if the empress had heard the song, she would have wept:
“When they begin the beguine/It brings back the sound of music so tender/It brings back a night of tropical splendor,/It brings back a memory evergreen.
“I’m with you once more under the stars,/And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing/And even the palms seem to be swaying/When they begin the beguine.”