Hamayun, Dargha and Sikhs
Thursday morning, we moved to THE Park hotel where we’ll meet our group on Friday. It’s a modern five star hotel that is fraying around the edges. Also full of businessmen doing their futile things and drinking $100 per shot Scotch on expense account. The A/C works really well, but the place doesn’t have any ambiance at all.
We did meet Somnath, our India trip leader who chatted with us for a while. We were still on our own as the rest of the group was arriving later in the day. Somnath suggested we visit Hamayun’s tomb, which was near the Nizamuddin Durgha that we wanted to see. Som suggested we hire a taxi to take us, wait for us, and bring us back. Out in front of the hotel, he hooked us up with a Sikh driver named Shamsher, who took us to Hamayun’s tomb, the largest mausoleum in Asia (or some geography, not important to us). It is set in this large compound, acres and acres of lawn with pools and narrow water channels, perfectly level as the water was only about an inch deep in channels that run hundreds of feet to the next pool, all interconnected. It was hot, with lots of stair climbing. A security guard approached us, offered to take our picture and showed us a Sikh temple next door where we saw some guys making naan bread, sticking the loaves to the side of the clay oven.
Back in the parking lot, we found Shamsher, who walked us across the street to the Nizamuddin Durgha. There is an underground pedestrian passage to get across the street. Walking down, we saw 4 or 5 sheep running through, followed by their shepherd. This is a Sufi shrine and Thursday was a big day for devotees to visit. The place is in a labyrinth of alleys, jam packed with people going to the shrine and lined with vendors selling food as well as flowers and incense to offer at the shrine. Every vendor also wanted to watch our shoes, which are not allowed inside. Thank Allah for Shamsher, who took us to a vendor close to the entrance before we lost our shoes.
Inside, it was packed even tighter. Some official types asked for a donation. Signs said watch out for pickpockets, and sure enough, two guys squeezed in between Maria and me and I felt my phone case getting bumped. I reached down, felt it was emoty and saw one guy handing it off to his accomplice. I grabbed the receiver around the waist and turned him around and saw my phone lying on the ground. Nice try. After that I zipped it into my belly pack.
Only men are allowed in the actual little shrine, so I joined the queue. A young guy started talking to me and told me what to do, which was toss flowers onto the grave. I exited, found Maria and we left. Shamsher was waiting for us outside, for the ride back to the hotel, where A/C and the shower welcomed us. We had room service for dinner, pretty pathetic…
Friday morning we met the group. We are 8 people in all, and everyone is very nice. Somnath took us first on a little walk around the neighborhood, then we got on the bus and drove to a nearby Sikh temple. Inside the temple musicians were playing, people were praying. The whole place was pretty large, all white marble, and all fairly new. The big activity was feeding anyone who wanted to eat, all for free. We went into the kitchens where many volunteers were baking and cooking, washing dishes, etc. they feed 20,000 people a day. A couple of thousand were in the eating hall getting served. Maria went to sit down on a low bench, lost her balance, reached out to break her fall and broke a glass bangle she was wearing, cutting her hand and knee on the glass. They got her some bandaids and put her back together, but she didn’t get to make bread.
Then we drove a long way to Qutb Minar, a big tower built in the 1100s by Afghan Invaders. Lots of beautiful carved sandstone. Also lots of visitors from around India, some of whom wanted their photos taken with us. Maria got shit on by a bird, hopefully bringing some good luck reversing her fortunes.
Next stop, Mahatma Gandhi’s last home, where he lived for the last four months of his life and where he was shot and killed by a right wing Hindu extremist who was cranky that Gandhi was conciliatory to the Muslims. As you can imagine, the place has developed into a shrine the likes of which Gandhi would have disapproved.
In the evening we had our first dinner with the group at a North Indian restaurant. Kind of generic food, but it was fun getting to know our group members.