THE DAY IN DELHI
We were bound for New Zealand, our next stop, but before flying we had one more excursion to make. Our Damoh friends didn’t want us to miss Delhi. Good for them. I can tell you about airports all over the world but not much about the cities they serve, as I often see only the terminals on my way elsewhere. So thanks to them we eagerly boarded an overnight train to India’s capital.
Raju, who works for Mid-India Christian Mission, must have drawn the short straw; he got the job of guaranteeing these hapless foreigners didn’t lose themselves somewhere. (Why our friends thought we needed a guide was a puzzle to us. Maybe they read some of our previous posts.)
Raju was our constant companion. We were grateful for his company. Thanks to him we never got lost once. We weren’t even confused. Raju took care of everything. He speaks almost no English and we aren’t even acquainted with Hindi, but good old-fashioned body language came through for all of us. His boss David Lall phoned him at least three times during the day in case Raju or we needed anything. Such good friends.
We hadn’t heard of Qutub Minar (or Qutb Minar) on earlier visits to India. At 240 feet it’s the world’s tallest rubble masonry (red sandstone and white marble) minaret. It’s towers (no pun intended) over other medieval monuments at this site, the whole vast acreage a reminder of the splendor that once was the Mogul Empire. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Qutub Minar dates from the groundbreaking in 1200 AD until its completion until several decades later. We learned that inside is a circular 379-step staircase to the top. We took their word for it.
Here also can be found the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Tomb of Iitutmish, Ala-ud-din’s Madrasa and Tomb, and the Tomb of Imam Zamin. There’s more, but we had to keep moving because our next stop was
the President’ House. It’s called Rashtrapati Bhavan now, but it was formerly known as the Viceroy’s House. Back in the days of the British Raj, the English head of India had the 340-room main building (there are other government buildings at the site) built as the official residence. I think this is the largest residence in the world for a head of country. The 320 acre site also includes the gardens, residences for bodyguards and other staff, stables, offices, and an amazing amount of open space. Of course, we were not invited to get an up-close-and-personal look, so we don’t have a photo to show you. The house well guarded and well back from the road.
To go from the Viceroy’s House to Gandhi Smriti, the memorial at the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, is to instantly understand what motivated the “Father of the Country” to lead his subject people in their revolt for freedom from Britain. The contrast between his lifestyle–like that of the poor people on whose behalf he sacrificed himself–and the Viceroy’s couldn’t be starker. The memorial is in Birla Bhavan, the former home of the wealthy Birla family who provided a room for Gandhi. Here is where he spent the last 144 days of his life.
His room was sparsely furnished—little more than a mat on the floor. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948, after winning the nation’s independence.
Years later India purchased the Birla House and turned it into a museum. We walked the house and grounds with reverence. History has few heroes the equal of this little man who captured the attention and affection of his people and led them to freedom dressed only in the traditional dhoti and armed only with courage and stubbornness and faith. He was an inspiration for both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Our last visit was to the India Gate, which was originally called the All India War Memorial. It’s on the opposite end of the long mall (the Rajpath) from the President’s House. It’s a memorial to soldiers in the Indian Army who died in 1914-21 in World War I and subsequent battles. 13,300 servicemen’s names are inscribed on the exterior—including some soldiers and officers from the United Kingdom. I think it’s intended to remind the visitor of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe and the Arch of Constantine outside the Colosseum in Rome. There’s a similar “Gateway of India” in Mumbai, but we haven’t seen that one.
Hidden below the archway in this picture is a black marble plinth with a reversed rifle capped by a war helmet. With its four eternal flames, it is called Amar Jawan Jyoti, or Flame of the Immortal Soldier. Here since 1971, it’s India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Big day. Topped off by a brief shopping excursion in the evening. You may be surprised to learn I didn’t buy a thing. That was not true of the whole family.
Raju, by the way, must have offered a fervent prayer of thanks when he finally saw us disappear into the terminal, his job done. Well done, I should add. At the Delhi airport he skillfully maneuvered our luggage cart to the international travelers’ entry door, stood at the distance required for non-travelers, and watched in dismay as we were barred from entering. We had no paper tickets. (Joy has often said what she misses most in our divested state is a printer. I agree.) We had digital boarding passes in our smart phones, which are sufficient in most airports we’ve passed through, but not in Delhi). The unsmiling gatekeeper pointed us toward the end of the long sidewalk to find Air India’s help desk. So we went, Raju and luggage trudging behind. There we received a printout (but no boarding passes) that would admit us to the terminal; then we were told to present it at the Air India ticket checkin desk. Paper receipt in hand, we trudged back to Gate 4 and, after waving goodbye to our faithful guide, entered without him and headed for the checkin counter, our fate in our own hands.
That should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t. The checkin desk could print out our Air India boarding passes but not the Qantas ones for our connecting flight from Sydney to Auckland. We had a tight layover there but we thought we had enough time. Except that when we went to the transfer desk in Sydney’s airport we were told we’d gone to the wrong one. The right one was on the other side of the international wing. So we almost ran to the other side, glancing fretfully at our watches. A couple of wrong turns delayed us even more. When we arrived, panting, the agent asked, “Where’ve you been? We paged you 20 minutes ago.” We explained that we just got off the Delhi flight, hurried as fast as we could, etc. etc. She didn’t smile, either, but she did print out our passes, shooed us on our way, and we made it to the gate in time–in plenty of time, it turned out, for the Qantas flight to Auckland.
Thus endeth our day in Delhi.