Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Return to the plains

DELHI: We are back in the nations capital after roaming the partially contentious and certainly mountainous area of India's far north. The region was an awe inspiring look at nature at its most raw and rugged and has to be along with northern Laos the highlight of the trip so far. But all things had to finish and we have now weaved and wound our way back through the Himalayas.

Delhi like Kolkata can hit you in the face with its sights. Not just the grand architectural ones that we have been visiting but all the street life. There have been no flash lodgings for us so that means we mingle more with the masses as we come out of our temporary abode above the Main Bazaar strip in Paharganj.

Everyday Indians shopping for clothes dodge the cycle rickshaws and their green and yellow auto cousins. Innovative street kids perform acrobatic twisting and then stick out their hand as a man trundles by on his little cart with wheels. Or there is the more traditional metal cup rattled at you by a man hobbling with a crutch or a woman with a baby in her arms.

But it is not just the humanity, animals mix and mingle along with the people. Cows forlornly wander around waiting for a handout of potatoes or just a munch on a cardboard box. Tethered bullocks pull wagons loaded with sacks or a horse used for weddings trots by. Other horses are still stuck in the 19th century as they are harnessed to carriages waiting for paying passengers to climb on board.

And then there have been Delhi's splendid monuments to gawk at. The pre-British Raj era Mughal built ones are more fabulous examples of Muslim architecture. The imposing Red Fort and the spectacular Humayun's Tomb which they say was a trial run for the Taj Mahal. If that is the case then Taj must truly be impressive. We shall wait and see.

Red fort 2
Old Mughal architectural wonders in Delhi

We spent a morning soaking in the magnificent structure and then soaking in our own sweat as we clambered over the mausoleums and mosques in the sticky heat. We combined the trip to the more somber Ghandi Smitri, the place where the Mahatma was martyred to a crazed man 60 years ago. It has now been turned into an exhaustive museum dedicated to his life.

Previously to Delhi we had to pass through the old British summer capital of Shimla again. This time the weather that had dampened our last visit thankfully had eased and we actually got to roam the bazaars clinging to the hillsides. Kipling wrote of the bazaars as a "crowded rabbit warren that climbs up from the valley at forty five" where "a man who knows his way there can defy all the police .. so cunningly does veranda communicate with veranda, alley-way with alley-way and bolt-hole with bolt-hole". Not much has changed in the last 100 years it seems.

Lower Bazaar
Shimla's middle bazaar

There were not as many sights to tick off this time in Shimla it was of more a recovery and preparation for the two 10 hour journeys that bookended the visit. The stay did though coincide with a Bollywood film that was being staged in the city and this was another example of how Indians just like Papuan New Guineans love real life entertainment. Hundreds of people stopped to gawk at the production and the crew had a hard time keeping back the crowds from ruining their shoot.

One thing we certainly now miss is the cool mountain air. Thankfully our stop in Delhi is only a short one and tomorrow we back on a plane and flying to somewhere with plenty of mountains; Nepal. We also get to be greeted by my mother who is already there. Our first contact with family for 5 months. Bring on the next chapter.

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