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This is the 2nd blog post of my two week trip to India, covering my stint in Delhi. Links to the others are at the foot of the post, and editorial usage licenses and prints can be bought for all images by clicking here.
I timed my trip nicely so that I’d kick it off by spending the first few days in Delhi for the start of the Hindu new year Diwali, and was looking forward to checking out how the Indian capital’s residents would celebrate it. Diwali is known as ‘Festival of lights’, I had heard that the lighting of lamps and candles along with fireworks and bangers played a big part in people’s celebrations so it sounded like it it would be a great experience. On the first day of Diwali I headed up to the Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, a busy market area near the old fort. I thought it would be a great way to immerse myself in the hectic vibe of Delhi, and I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from the crowds, the market stalls, the street food merchants and beggars, one of the first things I came to was the Sisganj Gurdwara Sikh temple. Outside the temple a big area of road had been barricaded off to allow people, Sikh’s and Hindu’s alike, to light candles and place on the ground in celebration of Diwali. It transpires that the lighting of lamps and candles signifies the triumph of good over evil.
Throughout the day the noise and clamour of busy Delhi was punctuated regularly with the explosions from fireworks seemingly randomly being let off all over the city, and this went into over-drive from early evening onwards. Initially I had assumed that there would be organised public events arranged, similar to Bonfire Night fireworks events that we see in the UK. However I found from asking a few people that this didn’t seem to be the case. When asked where a good place to see the fireworks would be, the response was regularly “all over the city”. It turns out that there were no such organised events – people basically celebrated Diwali by getting together with their families at each others homes bringing food and sweets, and then lighting fireworks in the streets outside their homes. Lots of fireworks. And big ones!
My hotel/homestay was situated in a residential area in west/central Delhi called Karol Bagh. So when I started hearing & seeing all the rockets, bangers, and all sorts of other fireworks being let off in the streets outside I decided to just go out to wander & explore. It couldn’t have been a better move. As I’d been told, the streets were full with families celebrating and lighting fireworks, and many were curious of and very welcoming to a certain western man wandering round with a smile and a camera. I fell into conversation with many that night, and enjoyed the hospitality (and whiskey) of a lovely Sikh family as well as being given the privilege of letting off a Hindu family’s fireworks. It was a truly heart warming start to my stay in Delhi and India.
Diwali celebrations aside, my more ‘regular’ sightseeing itinerary included:
* Qutb Minar – a striking 73m tall 12th century minaret. It’s comprised of five stories of finely crafted stonework, the first three a red sandstone with the uppermost two of marble and paler sandstone. This together with its tapered nature – it is 15m wide at the base and a mere 2.5m at the top – makes it a really distinctive feature of the Delhi skyline. I enjoyed checking this out, it’s so unusual and the quality of the structure and carving is really impressive.
* Mughal Emperor Humayun’s Tomb. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage site, and was made before and by the looks of it was a dry run for the Taj Mahal which was built around a hundred years later. It’s pretty amazing to look at from the outside, whilst on the inside its more sparse but still atmospheric.
* The Red Fort in Delhi’s old town. A big fort, lots of people, and some nice architectural detail such as the scalloped archways below which are a common sight throughout the places I visited.
* India Gate, Dehli’s much more equivalent to Marble Arch or the Arc de Triomphe – a red sandstone/granite monument to the Indian Army soldiers who were killed in WWI. Tourist central. At the opposite end of the Rajpath was President’s House, with a hole in the gate perfectly shaped for me to stick my 70-200mm through for a snap.
* Agrasen ki Baoli, a “step well” – essentially it’s a kind of early form of water reservoir dated back to the 14th century – off a little alley 15/20 mins SE of Connaught Place which you really have to look for. A nice little find that most people don’t see or know about.
* Jantar Mantar, 20 minutes walk west from the Step Well. This is a really unusual place and well worth visiting. At first glance it appears to be a surreal set of terracotta sculptures, structures & monuments. But they are actually 18th century architectural astronomy instruments which are used to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. Trippy!
* One of my most enjoyable experiences in Delhi was at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh Temple in Delhi. I spent half an hour chilling out inside the temple itself, watching people and listening to the music being played by a set of musicians which really added to the spiritual atmosphere. Then I went for a stroll around a lake within the temple grounds where people came to pray or see the thriving catfish population, it was a nice oasis of tranquility in the middle of busy Delhi. As I walked round the lake’s perimeter a little door opened in the side when a Sikh man walked through, saw me and beckoned me inside. I followed him through and found a behind-the-scenes kitchen area with enormous cooking pans and equipment, along with rows of local people eating. The man (who was the chef) invited me to join them in eating, I was once again impressed by the hospitality of the Sikh people & religion. However a keenness to avoid Delhi-belly with my weak western stomach saw me politely decline, so I hung out and took some shots. It turns out that this is what is called “Langar”, the practice of preparing food for people of any race/religion for free. As well as serving the local community this embodies the Sikh belief of equality for all human beings, and the rejection of discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and gender. If everyone in the world shared & practised the same beliefs I’m sure it would be a much happier place!
My three days in Delhi was a hectic but really enjoyable time, and it helped give me a better understanding of the Indian people and the main religions they practice. There are other places in the city which I didn’t get to see which I would like to, such as the Akshardarm temple (a massive Hindu temple complex), and and India’s biggest mosque the Jama Masjid. So I think I’ll definitely do a couple more days there on my next trip to India!
Links to the other blog posts covering the rest of my stay in India:
It was my first time to the country and I couldn’t have done without India Mike, an enormously useful online community for those interested in travelling in India. It has masses of useful information and inspiring posts, check it out. I’ll finish off this post with a few street shots of Delhi…