India Travelogue, Day 4: Delhi
March 27th was the first full day with our complete group of six in India, so we found that it took us a little while to get coordinated in the morning and actually leave the hotel. We headed to the area around Jama Masjid in Old Delhi to find lunch and see some sites. We had to take two separate autorickshaws, which seemed like a fine idea in Karol Bagh. When Allison, Cyrus, and I arrived at Jama Masjid, though, we started to have second thoughts. The place was packed, and there were no signs of the others.
After wandering around for about half an hour, all the while taking in the experience, we finally ran into Alex, David, and Swati in front of Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, and then we went inside. We entered through the southern gate, where we had to remove our shoes, and Swati and Allison had to borrow coverings for their exposed knees. Inside, it definitely felt much more like a tourist attraction than a holy place, although prayer services are held there daily, and while we were there people were praying and engaging in other rituals.
Jama Masjid was completed in 1656, having been commissioned by Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who also commissioned the Taj Mahal. The building and its large courtyard were constructed of striking red sandstone. The pervasive symmetry but lack of elaborate ornamentation were in standard Mughal style, and the mosque was beautiful in its simplicity. The views from the courtyard were nice, but the views from the southern minaret, which rises high above the city, were phenomenal.
Just below us to the south was the bustling marketplace we had found ourselves in when we first arrived. Below us to the northeast was the more peaceful courtyard of Jama Masjid, and beyond its walls the imposing barriers of the Red Fort, also a creation of Shah Jahan. Delhi stretched out in all directions, and it became apparent that in the few days we would be here, we would barely scratch the surface of this expansive and exciting city.
Two and a half weeks later, on April 14th, a crowded Jama Masjid would be the target of twin bombings. Thirteen people were tragically injured, but nobody was killed, which was fortunate considering that the blasts occurred near the end of evening prayers on a Friday.
After leaving the mosque, we had lunch (another delicious Indian meal) and headed back to Janpath, where the markets would be in full swing since it was now Monday. There was a wonderful array of different items available, although reservations about labor standards and exploitation put a damper on things. Some members of our party had already become very adept hagglers, but I mostly just observed at this point.
Earlier in the day we had gotten in touch with Sonavi Chopra, a Rhodes Scholar and Delhi native who was currently home from Oxford, and she had invited us over to her house that evening for drinks. Sonavi’s home was quite a ways from Karol Bagh—about half an hour by autorickshaw—and our autorickshaw had trouble at first getting into her gated community (although it turned out that we were trying to get in through the exit). Sonavi lived in a beautiful multistory house, complete with servants, giving me my first exposure to a completely different side of India. Sonavi showed Allison, Cyrus, Swati, and I (David and Alex had stayed in Karol Bagh) upstairs to her living room, where her younger brother joined us. We stayed there for an hour or two as we were served drinks and a wide array of delicious appetizers. Afterwards, we headed to a restaurant at a nearby hotel, although after all of the food at Sonavi’s I was only up for dessert.
We made it an early night, because most of us would be getting up around 5:00 am the next morning to catch the bus to Agra. The ride back fulfilled the promise of driving in India, though, complete with elephant sightings and an argument with our autorickshaw drivers over their stopping to run personal errands before taking us back.