Notes from a crowded country: India – 02

Monday, Jan 11, New Delhi

We’re all still recovering from jetlag so we end up getting up late, having a late breakfast, then heading off the “University Faculty Guest House” for lunch with some of Padma’s compatriots from the University.  After lunch Kesh stays to take part in a workshop they’re holding, so Annelie and I take the car and driver off to visit “Humayun’s Tomb,” an ancient Mughal tomb in another part of Delhi. Traffic, once again, is horrendous – think Indy 500 style driving with a mixture of pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws (a kind of motorcycle with a semi-enclosed rickshaw-style backend for a passenger to sit), cars, bigger cars, trucks, I even saw one or two burros and carts. Everyone pushes along pell mell, lanes basically don’t exist,  and faster traffic just kind of flows around slower traffic like it’s an obstruction in the road – all with the ubiquitous horn, of course. What always surprises me are the really slow forms of transportation – pedestrians, burros, and cyclists, just carrying along without a care in the world, on a busy, fast road, as if they own it, while autos, buses, and trucks pass within inches of them.

At Humayun’s Tomb, we pay our 250 Rupee’s each (10 Rupees for Indian Nationals, 250 Rupees – about $5- for foreigners), and go in to what we *think* is Humayun’s Tomb. Walking though a portico in a surrounding wall, we enter into a grass courtyard, with the ever-present stray dogs lying around inside,  and an interesting, if not particularly imposing building, in the middle. Exploring the building yields steep stone steps you can take inside the building up to some second story balconies – of course, there’s no artificial lighting whatsoever, and the stairs are *steep*, and dark, so we carefully feel our way up to the top. After exploring the main building for a bit, we wandered around the wall surrounding the courtyard, which also has stairs leading up to the top of the wall, and a walk along it. At a few places along the way we ran into a couple of young Indian guys who were clearly out touring by themselves – every so often one would stop, strike a pose, and the other would take a picture with his cellphone.  At one such point they ended up climbing on top of a stone gateway and were sitting there together – so I gestured the universal sign for “take picture,” pointed to both of them, and pointed to their cellphone. They immediately understood, and handed over a cell phone for me to take a picture of the two of them. After we were done, and smiles and thank-you’s exchanged, they climbed down, and asked in broken English if they could each take their picture with me. I was a little perplexed as to why, but could think of no reason why not to, so somewhere in Delhi I’m on somebody’s cell phone smiling away with them standing next to me.

Done with this courtyard, we notice a larger dome peaking up through the trees a little further on down the path, so we decide to wander around town the path and see what the larger dome is. At this point we haven’t even been asked for our tickets, which was a bit puzzling. Coming upon a larger wall and portico, we’re finally asked for our tickets, and walk through to see the *real* Humayun’s Tomb – which is a magnificent, red sandstone building with a white marble dome reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, in the middle of a formal garden set with fountains and stone laid water channels. This time, we walk up a wide set of stairs (though still steep) onto a wide raised veranda surrounding the building. Annelie decides to sit for a while and enjoy the view, and I wander around. At one point I wander into the main room in the center of the building where the primary sarcophagus sits (there a multiple  sarcophagi in the building). There’s an elderly gentleman sweeping the floor in there, and he immediately stops, motions me over, and in broken english immediately starts explaining about the building, pointing out things, and “Where you from, sir?” I say US and immediately try an disengage, but it’s too late, he pulls out a dollar bill to indicate he’s looking for a tip and with a “Please sir, I’m a family man,” you get the hint. So I hand him a buck and move on. One of the tough parts of India is that people on the street will often be friendly, but nine times out of ten they want something (usually money) from you, so you end up getting very guarded. There are also beggars knocking on the windows of the car at every stoplight, and if you’re unlucky enough to be stopped at a traffic light on foot in downtown Delhi, you can almost count on getting hit up by a beggar – often times little kids. Delhi, like most of India has lots of poverty, and lots of people living hand-to-mouth, in cardboard shacks and canvas lean-tos by the side of the road, under underpasses, where ever there’s unclaimed land. It’s difficult to say the least.