Our visit yesterday afternoon to the Gandhi Smriti was, as our guide Luke explained, a “garnish,” not part of the official tour. That started today, and what a day it was!
Besides our guide, we now also have an assigned driver, Raj. He and Luke met us this morning at 9:30 a.m. and off we went.
Let me just say now that Delhi traffic is everything you imagine it would be: congested and crazy, and we weren’t even out during the rush hour! Horns honking, buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, and tuktuks going every which way, merging from every direction . . . it was nuts. And, to keep things really interesting, from time to time people actually stepped out into it to cross the street, weaving their way between the moving cars. Raj turned out to be a master driver though and got our minivan to each of our destinations without any mishaps.
Our first stop of the day was the Qutb Complex, site of the Qutb Minar, a giant minaret. Originally built as a Hindu and Jain temple in the 4th century, it became a Muslim temple when the Mughals ruled India in the 14th century. The Mughals defaced the old Hindu and Jain temples and took them over, adding their own embellishments and carvings. The minaret, nearly 240 feet tall and consisting of five stories, was begun in the 14th century. Also located in the site is the Iron Pillar of Delhi. Cast of solid iron, the 1500 year-old pillar has never rusted, with the reason remaining a mystery. The entire complex was fascinating, especially the detailed carvings on walls and columns.
After we left we headed over to the India Gate, built as a World War I memorial for British and Indian soldiers. Designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens, who designed the main government buildings in Delhi, construction of the India arch began in 1921 and was dedicated 10 years later. Located behind the arch is The Canopy, built as a tribute to King George V following his death.
Our third stop of the day was my favorite, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple. This could have been a simple visit to a religious site, and while we did tour the main sanctuary and the grounds, our guide also took us through the huge temple kitchen area to see volunteers preparing free meals for over 10,000 visitors! Temple volunteers do this every day, 365 days a year. All the food is donated, all the work is done by temple volunteers. The people who come to eat come from all walks of life, socio-economic levels and nations – to eat at the temple is a blessing; to work and serve the food is also a blessing (many people also donate money on special occasions or anniversaries to help purchase food for the meals). It was an extremely moving experience to see so many people working and dining together.
After we left the temple we had a lovely buffet lunch together at a hotel. The selection of food was amazing and it was all good. Well, that is until I bit into a hot chili pepper thinking it was a green bean. YOWZA! It took quite a while for my mouth to stop burning – I’ve never eaten anything that hot in my life.
Our last stop of the day was the Indian National Museum. The number of displays was staggering, but I especially enjoyed the Indian miniature paintings and the later Tanjore paintings, embellished with silver, gold and precious and semi-precious gems. It was something to examine a painting and realize that those glittery things were not just shiny paint but actually rubies or other precious stones!
Tomorrow is another big day of touring. Our guide, Luke, is quite special – he always wants to make sure we see the “real” India and not just the famous sites, hence our tour today of the temple kitchen. He told us today he has another surprise stop arranged for us tomorrow. We learned today that besides leading tours, Luke is also a lawyer and owns and runs a large farm outside of Delhi. The tours, he said though, are his “bread and butter.”