My Purdue alumni friend took me (and my ripped pants) on a whirlwind tour of Delhi two weekends ago. We visited Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate, and Red Fort. In the process, I had the opportunity to view old and new Delhi. The differences were quite striking- from upscale American-style shopping malls, to open markets with vendors hawking their wares, from a streamlined metro to bicycle auto-rickshaws, from McDonald’s to back-alley food stalls- Delhi is certainly still negotiating the line between old and new, rich and poor. I enjoyed my time, although it was quite exhausting. If you decide to take in the sites yourself, I would not recommend the audio tour as it is akin to a theatrical production and not very informative. In addition, I would give yourself sufficient time to admire the craftsmanship and architecture of the many World Heritage sites in and around Delhi. Each site charges 250 rupees for admittance, or about $5.

Qutub Minar

“Qutab Minar is a soaring, 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. The tower has five distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony and tapers from a 15 m diameter at the base to just 2.5 m at the top. The first three stories are made of red sandstone; the fourth and fifth stories are of marble and sandstone. At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. An inscription over its eastern gate provocatively informs that it was built with material obtained from demolishing ’27 Hindu temples’. A 7 m-high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque. It is said that if you can encircle it with your hands while standing with your back to it your wish will be fulfilled.”

The iron pillar was blocked off when I was there. I was, however, told a story of local University students committing suicide by leaping from the top after failing their exams. Apparently the suicides, along with stampeding deaths, led to the closure of the stairs leading up the monument.

Despite its tragic history, the monument was quite beautiful. I took the picture above while laying on the ground at the base of the Minar. My hosts assured me that they were not embarrassed.

Humayun’s Tomb

“Located near the crossing of Mathura road and Lodhi road, this magnificent garden tomb is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture in India. It was built in 1565 A.D. nine years after the death of Humayun, by his senior widow Bega Begam. Inside the walled enclosure the most notable features are the garden squares (chaharbagh) with pathways water channels, centrally located well proportional mausoleum topped by double dome.”

This is one gem we almost missed. Upon entering the site we had went to see the tomb pictured on the right. This particular tomb, while still impressive, was quite small and only took us a few minutes to walk through (be sure to remove your shoes before entering and do not take pictures of the tomb itself). As we were about to leave, one of the party wanted to see what was on the other side of a sloping wall. I agreed to accompany him. Upon walking through the gateway and a short way down the lane, we came across the magnificent building above. If not for his youthful curiosity, I might have missed it. Be sure to thoroughly explore an area before leaving!

India Gate

“At the center of New Delhi stands the 42 m high India Gate, an “Arc-de-Triomphe” like archway in the middle of a crossroad. Almost similar to its French counterpart, it commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the World War I. The memorial bears the names of more than 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern Frontier in the Afghan war of 1919.”

This was as close as we got to India gate. The road leading under the gate was closed that day for an unspecified reason. I was also immediately mobbed by four little girls who wanted to sell me alphabet letter bracelets. They each held out a small notebook for me to write down a name and told me 10 rupees, or 20 cents. Not wanting to disappoint, I gave each of them a different name (which I will not reveal here- it will ruin the surprise for the recipients!). They worked quickly, confirmed the spelling, made any necessary corrections, finished the bracelet and showed me how to tie it in about 2-3 minutes. Suddenly, however, the price went up- now it was 10 rupees per letter. Okay. Fine. Then it was 100 rupees ($2) per letter. That is when my gracious host stepped in and told them they would be paid 10 rupees per letter. The girls accepted the money and went off to ply their wares elsewhere. I am still unsure what I ought to have done in such a situation. My host pointed out that it was child-labor and they clearly had “handlers” nearby- I saw them monitoring the interaction closely- but what about the girls themselves? It is a difficult question for me.

Red Fort

“The Red sandstone walls of the massive Red Fort (Lal Qila) rise 33-m above the clamour of Old Delhi as a reminder of the magnificent power and pomp of the Mughal emperors. The walls, built in 1638, were designed to keep out invaders, now they mainly keep out the noise and confusion of the city. The main gate, Lahore Gate, is one of the emotional and symbolic focal points of the modern Indian nation and attracts a major crowd on each Independence Day.”

By the time we reached Red Fort, we were exhausted. The picture above was the extent of my sightseeing there. It reminded me of the line from the recently released movie “The Guilt Trip” with Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogan. Upon arriving at the Grand Canyon, Streisand (who plays Rogan’s mother) asks, “How long do we have to look at it?” to which Rogan replies, “At least 10 minutes, any less than that seems disrespectful.” If I have time, I might return to Red Fort on India’s independence day, August 15, to enjoy the full effect. As it was, my feet hurt, I was dripping sweat, and it was well past lunchtime. Delhi in a whirlwind indeed!

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