Sunday, January 27, 2013

Delhi Day

After a rough start this morning, I am feeling much better this evening. I still have a sore throat, but at least I can swallow and speak tonight. Went down to McDonald's tonight for a McFlurry thinking the cool soft serve would help soothe my throat. (At least that's the excuse I'm giving myself.)

I did not get to do everything I wanted to do today, India Gate was still cordoned off from yesterday's Republic Day celebration so we could not get close to see it and I wanted to do more shopping at the marketplace but my shyness took hold today--I know my coworkers are giving up their day off to take me around and they had to bargain for me at the market to get a fair price, and I did not want to monopolize their whole day. I know they said it was okay and that they wanted to, but I also know my boss had to bargain with them to be with me on their day off and they have family at home waiting for them.

Even so, I was still able to see some amazing things today. I'm a little bummed that the air quality was so bad today (who am I kidding it's bad every day and probably what triggered my sinus issues) because it makes my photos look washed out. I may spend some time trying to clean them up with Photoshop once I return home.

We started the day at the Baha'i Lotus Temple. It is a beautiful, perfectly symmetrical structure made to look like a lotus blossom. We had to remove our shoes near the grounds entrance, about a quarter mile from the temple, in order to go inside. No photos are allowed inside, but it is one huge room for prayers open all the way to the top with nice acoustics. I couldn't understand a word of what was being spoken, even in English, because of the echo, but the sung prayers were beautiful. The Baha'i welcome all faiths, and there was a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh worshipers inside.

Baha'i Lotus Temple in Delhi.

This is the conceptual model for the crown I will someday wear when I rule the world. Just so you know.

After the Lotus temple we went to Qutub Minar. I had though the Qutub Minar was the only thing to see there, but it is part of a larger complex constructed by a series of rulers and includes the world's oldest existent mosque (Quwwat-ul-Islam), the iron pillar of Delhi, a madarsa (seminary), and several tombs. The entire complex is not very well preserved and my coworkers were debating whether the structural damage was a result of age or some conflict in the past. (It was also their first visit to the Qutub complex.)

The iron pillar was created around 400CE and is important to archaeologists and metallurgists mainly because it is highly resistant to corrosion. The pillar was originally dedicated the Hindu god Visnu before being brought to the mosque. The Qutub Minar (built around 1200) is 5 stories tall, made of fluted red sandstone and marble, and has verses of the Quran carved all around it. It is the tallest minar in India and was used to issue the Muslim call to prayer at the neighboring mosque when it was still in use.

Qutub Minar from mosque.

Qutub Minar from madarsa.

You know who.

Classic redwood shot works with red sandstone too.

A close up of the first level balcony.

Detail of the Quran carvings.

Iron pillar of Delhi.

A jumble of pillars and angles in the mosque area.

A colonnade near the mosque.

The colonnade from another angle.

Arches in the madarsa.

Me in the madarsa.

After the Qutub complex, we went to Delhi Haat, a permanent open-air marketplace with lots of touristy, and not so touristy, stuff for sale. We had an Indian lunch from one of the stall vendors and did a little shopping. I ended up buying a touristy bangle bracelet, a pashmina shawl, and a painted box. All market purchases require haggling, and an outsider like me is sure to end up paying far more than a fair price. But, my coworkers were with me and bargaining on my behalf.

Turns out the vendor I was purchasing from was from the Kashmir region, as is one of my coworkers, and I noticed they were not speaking the same dialect of Hindi as the haggling became down to the wire. My other coworker was laughing as he listened to them slip into their native Kashmiri dialect. In the end, the pashmina shawl that would have cost me 1000 rupee came down to 350 rupee thanks to my skilled negotiator. I did not take many photos at the market because I was too distracted looking at all the items on display for sale.

Vendor stall at Delhi Haat.

After Dellhi Haat we went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most famous Sikh temple in Delhi dedicated to Guru Hari Krishna, who became the eighth guru of the Sikh in 1661. When Guru Hari Krishna visited Delhi, he stayed in a palace that stood where the Bangla Sahib stands today. While he was in Delhi, an outbreak of cholera and small pox swept the city and Hari Krishna walked the streets feeding the sick and providing water from the well at the palace, and aid as he could.

Today, the water from the well is considered holy among the Sikh and believed to have healing properties, and in continuing with Hari Krishna's selfless deeds, the Sikhs feed anyone who comes to Bangla Sahib needing food.

To enter Bangla Sahib, we needed to remove our shoes and socks again, and cover our heads in respect. We also needed to wash our hands and feet. Let me tell you, the marble stairs and courtyard are dang slippery with wet feet. Before entering, you get a small pie dish of what tastes like a corn meal porridge and take the dish to a stand where a Sikh scoops out a little bit of the porridge. You then keep the rest and enter the temple. Most people knelt and either placed their foreheads on the marble steps of the entry way or touched the steps, then either their hearts or heads.

The inside is under reconstruction, but is layered in gold leaf with a dazzling chandelier and carvings. throughout the entire complex you can hear the day's verse being recited over a PA system; the singers and drummers are seated in this entrance area. A verse is chosen from the Sikh holy book as the daily lesson and is recited for 24 hours. I am told the verse is chosen by what would be the Sikh Vatican and all Sikh worldwide recite the same daily verse at their temples.

People offer their prayers in this entrance area, then move to the sides to sit on the carpet to meditate, or contemplate, or just rest. Upon leaving the temple, you receive a scoop of porridge, equivalent to what was taken from your pie dish before entering, from a communal pot. I am not sure why this is done, but it seems very symbolic as a melding of many individual pieces. The wife of one of my guide/coworkers is Sikh and offered a lot of insights, though he, himself, is Hindu.

Testing out the covered head look. (The whole reason I've been wearing a scarf, because I don't know where I will be required to cover up.)

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

Bangla Sahib interior. The Sikh holy book rests on a pillowed stand under the gold canopy in the center.

Bangla Sahib exterior.

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