November 10th, 2004

India

Hotel The Park, New Delhi

I sat next to Beverly Rolfe on the flight to Incheon International Airport, South Korea. Asiana impresses me in some ways. For instance, the airline provided toothbrush and toothpaste in the lavatory. I read Dan Savage's book, chatted with Beverly, and took quick naps.

Incheon is new, a gleaming building of steel and glass. Asiana performed poorly in getting us to our connections. No ground crew directed us despite the large number of people transferring to Delhi. Nevertheless Imade my flight. Found out on boarding that I had been placed in an exit row. Score! I slept most of this flight. I'm a little off in my time zones now.

The first thing I noticed on landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport was the stale dusty smell. Even in the middle of the night I could see the haze floating over the city. The queue at immigration moved quickly, and I encountered no problems entering the country.

Baggage claim was more interesting though. Porters quickly remove nearly allluggage from the carousel. I waited about 10 minutes watching the carousel before I wandered the maze of suitcases littering the floor. I quickly found mine. Then to the Punjab National Bank counter to exchange some dollars for rupees.

In the next room hundreds of people crowded against the railing, nearly all holding signs for arriving passengers. The person meeting me (Vivek) stood nearly at the end of the rail. Trying to find your name amid a sea ofplacards is difficult. I followed him outside where we waited for the car to arrive.

I'm already glad I have not tried to drive. Traffic speeds are slow, but nearly everything else seems to be advisory, especially lanes. Trucks crowd the road. Most sport the sign horn please on the rear. I haven't yet discerned the rules for when tohont and when to flash lights though.

The hotel is adequate.

India

Rashtrapati Bhavan

First stop on the tour today is Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace of India. Sadly, because of security restrictions, the government conducts no tours for the public. And the closest one can get is about a half mile away through a wrought-iron fence. While supposedly beautiful, I don't really know why they have me going by this place, because from this distance there's nothing one can actually see.

India

All India War Memorial

Popularly known as India Gate, the All India War Memorial sits at the opposite end of the Rajpath from the presidential palace. The Rajpath is theoretically a small road about a mile long with gardens lining it. In practice, the lawns and gardens are dry and parched. Guidebooks talk about what a joyous park-like atmosphere it is, and how it's used for evening strolls and peaceful relaxation. Possibly. But I didn't see it. Most of the dusty lawns are being worn down, used as lunchtime cricket pitches. Thousands dawdle the day away sleeping. Cart merchants, snake charmers, and assorted hawkers.

Sadly, my guide did not take me all the way up to the monument. I should have insisted. Instead, we saw it from a distance. I took a few photos, standing in the middle of the street. It was my first experience up close and personal with the Indian style of honking. In the U.S., one approaching a person standing in the middle of the street with a camera, one generally honks their horn meaning get out of the way you moron!. In India, no one minded me standing there, but they honk to warn me they are about to drive by, and I risk my life if I move without looking. Somewhat nervewracking, as I am trained to jump and look at the sound of a horn.

Hawkers wanted to sell me post cards. I wanted post cards, but my guide acted as intermediary. She didn't bargain with them, and I felt uncomfortable butting in and telling her to stop. So I ended up paying Rs. 100 for post cards for a packet that would normally cost around Rs. 50. Still, it's only about $2.

India

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun was the second Mughal emperor. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (U.N.E.S.C.O.) designated the tomb as a World Heritage Site because the builders were the first to incorporate the essential design elements that are used in the tombs that dot north India, culminating in the Taj Mahal. These tombs are all elaborate buildings set on raised platforms amidst large gardens. The Mughals ruled much of India for about 175 years. Humayun himself was educated, speaking three languages and becoming ruler of a province at age 12.

The Archeological Survey of India has not gotten this one to the same level of repair as several others I saw. There's a second tomb building on the grounds, but I cannot remember to whom it belonged. Guide walked me in, gave me a few pitches about the place, and then left me to wander around the building myself. The platform level is open to the public, but the upper levels are not. Mostly it just seems like a place to play hide and seek. There are a number of cenotaphs in the building, so I am not sure which of them belong to Humayun. Course, I don't think it matters much if I know exactly which one.

India

Qutab Minor

Last site I saw today was Qutab Minor, another A.S.I. run site. The tower was built for muezzin's to call the population to prayer, and a mosque stands nearby. Much of the mosque is built from pieces of Hindu and Jain monuments. I suspect in an attempt to assert dominance. My guide wasn't able to provide much more information beyond saying it is a wonderful example of Hindu-persian architecture and repeat the year it was built. Perhaps she should have read the Delhi tourism information on the monument. Sadly, neither this site nor any others really seem to have extensive information available on site.

India

Central Cottage Industries Emporium and after

The guide took me to a rug store. This was not on the itinerary. This was, I believe, my first experience with what Lonely Planet calls the commission racket. The store, Cottage Industries Emporium, subjected me to a hard sell. Despite my protestations that a $600 rug (or even $300) was more than I was willing to spend, the guide kept trying to keep me there and constantly extolled the virtues of these rugs. After they finally gave up, she encouraged me to visit the shop downstairs, also filled with overpriced crap. I feel somewhat sorry for her. So much effort and still no sale.

Back at the hotel, the restaurant downstairs opens at 7:30 p.m. This is normal opening time for dinner in Delhi and north India. For the moment I am reading up and deciding what I want to see during my day at leisure on the 12th. So far, I am leaning toward Gandhi Darshan and the National Gandhi Museum, and possibly Gandhi Smriti (which is where he died). Also under consideration Sulabh Internation Museum of Toilets and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum.

The general impressionthough is all the people. Every place looks like the park on 3rd near the King County Courthouse. People lined up everywhere.