Trip Start Mar 12, 2012
48Trip End Aug 06, 2012
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Fatigue was a factor when I arrived shortly after noon (I’d been up since 1:30AM Indian time), and against my better judgment, I set out for town upon checking into my room. I was told not to pay more than sixty rupees for a ride to the subway. A man with a cycle-rickshaw approached me, and I bargained hard. After pedaling my fat ass four kilometers in the hellish heat, I felt guilty upon realizing that I’d only paid him the equivalent of one US dollar. The security at Moolchand Metro station was invasive, carried out by sweaty men in berets armed with antique shotguns. Once I cleared the checkpoint, I was crammed into the most claustrophobic car imaginable…think of NYC during rush hour and double it
A good night’s sleep and a mellow morning can change your perspective post-haste. I went to the first group of tuk-tuk drivers I saw sitting around. While they seemed eager to earn some cash, none of them spoke English, and the only Hindi I know is how to say “Hello” and “My name is Erik.” I tried to explain to them that I wanted to go to Gandhi Smirti, the place where the Father of Modern India was martyred. I took a 50-rupee note from my wallet, pointed to the Mahatma’s face on it, and made a gun with thumb and forefinger. I think all they got out of it was “armed robbery”. I walked away from the wondering wallahs and headed for the subway. On the way, another driver spotted me, and although he was surprisingly unfamiliar with the site, I managed to at least communicate to him which road it was on
The Smirti is a poignant and pleasant place located at Birla House…where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life as a guest. There’s a nice interactive museum, and all of the reading material you need to remind you of Gandhi’s incredible impact on history. It was very moving to be in the room where he slept and to see what little possessions he kept at the time of his death. The spot where he was assassinated felt sacred, and in my opinion should be treated as such. He led the world’s largest democracy to independence without carrying a weapon, or ordering others to do so. I met a nice fellow working there. We had a great talk, and I think he was genuinely impressed my interest in Gandhi’s life. He invited me to treat the peaceful property as if it were “in my home country” and said he hoped I could stop and visit again before I leave for Ethiopia.
After that, I headed for the Red Fort (Lal Qila) in Old Delhi, an enormous sandstone structure built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the same ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal. Luckily for me, the Red Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and admission is free on April 18, which happens to be UNESCO World Heritage Day. The site has gone though some changes over the years (the British used it as a military prison in the 1800’s) but the size and scope of the complex is staggering. You can see the now-dry culverts and canals that brought water throughout the palace, and it made me think about how amazing it would seem to visitors in the 15th Century. There is a Persian inscription above the throne room that sums up what it must have been like: “If there be paradise on Earth…this is it, this is it, this is it.”
Upon leaving the Red Fort, I wondered through the markets around Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India
It’s good that I decided to go to Humayun’s Tomb then, because like the Red Fort, it is also a UNESCO site, and was therefore free of charge for the day. Another Mughal structure, built before the Taj Mahal, it was breathtakingly beautiful bathed in the amber glow of sunset. The joy of witnessing such a gorgeous place satiated my soul. As I watched a pick-up cricket match in the shadow of the tomb, I couldn’t help but count my blessings, and couldn’t wait to see more of India.