Notes from a crowded country: India – 03

Tues, Jan 12, New Delhi

Tuesday is our last day in New Delhi for a while – tomorrow we’re flying to Hyderabad, in the south central part of the company. So today we decide to head downtown into the older center of New Delhi – which was laid out and established by the British next to “old Delhi” in the early 1900’s.  I know it sounds paradoxical to talk of the “older part of New Delhi” – but since it was created 100 or so years ago, there are older parts of “new” Delhi. In addition, the city itself was developed on the site of 7 ancient cities, so there are much older places within the city confines.

One of those, in fact, is our first stop – “Jantar Mantar,” which is hard to believe unless you see it for yourself. Apparently “Maharajawa Saiwai Jai Sing II” (say that 3 times fast) was very interested in Astrology and things astrological – so he commissioned a set of “instruments” to be constructed that told calculated certain things based on the angle of the sun. Actually, Jantar Mantar – Delhi is one of 5 such sites he built in various places around India in the 1700’s. The name itself means “calculating intstrument.” All hand built out of cement and painted a bright reddish-orange, they are basically sophisticated sundials and moondials that calculate certain things depending upon the sun (or moon’s) shadow – one told the time locally, as well as in Europe, North America, and the Far East. Another calculated the astrological sign of a child born on that day. Others were lunar and solar calendars of one variety or another. I’m not sure why – perhaps it was easier to make them more accurate this way – but they’re all HUGE – some several stories high – with steps that you can use to climb up into them.  They make quite an unusual sight – all these bright orange concrete structures with steps leading up and over them look like a futuristic skate park of some variety, or perhaps a something out of an Escher painting.

After Juntar Muntar we wandered around Connaught Place, which can be considered the center of downtown New Delhi, and ventured into an underground shopping “warren” underneath the circle that forms the center of Connaught place.  It’s hard to describe the scene – in what is reminiscent of old decrepit Subway tunnels with falling down ceilings underneath this traffic circle – hundreds of little shop stalls all crammed together with sales people in each on practically accosting you and dragging you into their shop was you walk by. “Here Sir, come take a look,” “Best price in Delhi, Sir,” “Something for your lady, perhaps, Sir?,” “Only 100 rupees each sir, OK 2 for 150 rupees.” Kinda reminded me of some of the scenes in post-apocolyptic movies like Blade Runner, or some of the market/bar scenes in Star Wards. The only difference being that noone here is green with 2 heads (well, not that I saw). It’s actually a bit off-putting unless your prepared for a total frontal assault on your senses, so after a little while, and a little shopping, we beat it out of there, found our driver (Thank God for that – I’d NEVER survive in Delhi traffic), and made a retreat back to New Campus, IIT, to get ready of an early flight to Hyderabad tomorrow.