So let me begin with: I have an allergy to dust.
Plus also, I really, really love cleaning. It relaxes me. I feel like, no matter what chaos goes on in the world outside my home, in here at least it will be clean. When I was a kid and had to clean my room on chore days, I invented this game with myself where I had to see if I could find all the dust in my room, not one dust bunny was going to get away from me. It made chores fun. Sometimes I still play that game. Like every night we would check into a hotel room in India. My confirmed dust allergy, and cough that accompanies it, only fueled my hunt for dust in these 5-star hotels.
I am happy to say that all the other hotels we stayed at (The Hilton, The Tigress Resort, Samode Haveli, and ITC Mughal Agra) were spotless. I’m talking not a speck of dust on the headboards or on the lampshades or the electrical outlets. Everything had been freshly dusted and vacuumed and mopped. In fact, when I said we were treated like royalty, I mean it! We don’t frequent 5-star hotels often (we did once for New Year’s Eve but that was only because we accidentally bid more than we wanted on Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price”) and so we were really enjoying all the pampering that comes with fancy-shmancy hotel stays. Is your masala chai almost halfway empty? Let me pour you more tea, Ma’am. You don’t know how to wear a saree? I will be up straight away, with bobby pins, and will refuse to accept a tip. Smiles and greetings and sincere inquiries into our satisfaction with everything from the food to the temperature of the room. Indian hospitality at its finest!
I say all this because, sadly, our experience was much different at The Roseate. We’d arrived the day before and, after gawking at the modern design and high tech “smart” room, I settled in for my dust inspection. It was everywhere. Slap your hand on the couch cushions and – poof – clouds of dust. Turn on the light beside your bed and look to see the lightbulb covered in a think layer of dust. Not to mention, when we opened the shades we saw handprints everywhere (they weren’t ours), and the fancy iPad was covered in fingerprints (also not ours). The short story includes a lizard and subsequent change to another room. Not a suite, mind you, just a different room with access to the pool. Oh, and we were given a car and driver for the day, which really was the best part.
This leads me (finally) to how we spent our time during our last full day in India. Our driver was very happy to help us see as much of Delhi as we could that day. He started us off with a quick drive by the The President’s House, or Rashtrapati Bhavan, because there is no parking allowed along Rajpath. Rajpath is the 3 km (almost 2 miles) avenue, bordered by vast lawns and large trees, that leads from India Gate to the Secretariat buildings, North & South Block, with Rashtrapati Bhavan at its end. All the buildings pictured below were built by the British between 1911 and 1931. During India’s Republic Day, held every January 26, a parade is marched down this avenue. I must say it was the most green space we’d ever seen in India, which made a terrific backdrop for the stately buildings and historic monuments, though the pictures are hurried because security is very strict here.
We approached South Block, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and North Block, and got a great view from Rajpath.
We also saw a fountain of the forecourt of these buildings, in an area known as Vijay Chowk.
We took some quick pictures of North Block, which houses a Central Hall, and South Block, which houses the Prime Minster’s Office as well as the Defense Ministry. Security was high!
We also managed to get some photos of Rashtrapati Bhavan which sits at the top of Raisina Hill (think Capitol Hill in the U.S.).
Then we made our way back down Rajpath to the India Gate. This was a big tourist attraction, it was surprisingly busy, and we bought a banana (keeping up on my potassium to stave off repercussions of heat exhaustion) and some more gifts from venders around the site. The Gate was larger than we had expected, measuring 9 m (or 30 feet) across, and despite the haze we are glad we got to see it! It commemorates the Indian and British soldiers who died in WWI, those who fell in battle in the North-West Frontier Province, as well as the 3rd Afghan War. The eternal flame, hard to photograph that day but still burning at its center, honors unknown soldiers who died in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
The well manicured landscaping, wide roads, and pristinely cut trees matched the grandeur of the buildings we passed. Many visiting diplomats stay in heavily guarded Houses, as well as representatives of different Indian states, in this area. We saw several embassies in this area, too, but not ours. The U.S. Embassy is about a 9 minute drive from The President’s House. After visiting all of these sites we asked to go to lunch. I found a restaurant in the book, Dhaba, which is located inside The Claridge’s Hotel. We drove and drove and drove, even though it was less than mile away, because Raisina Hill is full of one way streets and multiple roundabouts.
Of course, we had more chicken biryani, butter naan, and Micah tried the chef’s recommended thali meat. It was all incredible! Then we continued on to Old Delhi to see The Red Fort.
I must confess that most of these pictures were taken by Micah because I was busy having an adult tantrum. I love this country and we hope to come back some day. But I started becoming a cantankerous American tourist when the driver started negotiating with a bicycle-rickshaw driver for us. Micah’s pretty good at negotiating and I didn’t understand why the driver wasn’t letting us find our own rickshaw. Many drivers have “deals” with other vendors or drivers in order to direct business their way, probably for some commission, and may do so without your consent. To make matters worse, I misunderstood the driver, and thought the bicycle-rickshaw was going to take us around The Red Fort only. Then I realized we were going to see Old Delhi by bicycle-rickshaw, too. We had read about that area of Delhi, its history and vibrancy, and I had visions of myself walking through the bustling streets of Old Delhi. I saw wall-to-wall people, and me, fitting in like a real Indian woman. That vision was completely gone. Needless to say, I got pretty upset, to the point where even the Indians noticed my little show. I’d like to say I’m flexible and can go with the flow. I can be flexible when I’m teaching my students and plans change or a fire drill starts in the middle of my lesson. I can go with the flow when it’s flowing my way or I’m not invested in it. But on this day, when our driver with minimal English-speaking skills led us to a bicycle-rickshaw that took me where I did not want to go, I was not happy. I could not deal. So… what did I do? I shut down and sat crying in the bicycle-rickshaw, blatantly ignoring potentially helpful inquiries from the driver and my husband, leading to my most embarrassing rickshaw ride in India. I was more upset this day than I was with the heat stroke! Phew!
Lucky for me, Micah still managed to capture the beauty of these ancient and historic buildings, even without my participation. We present: The Red Fort’s Lahore Gate
Apparently I managed to smile enough for a bicycle-rickshaw-selfie (we took a lot of selfies on this trip) as we headed into Old Delhi. According the book, Old Delhi was originally constructed in 1638 as the Mughal capital of Shahjahanabad, but it was left in ruin in 1739 when Persians plundered the city. Then, in 1857, British troops took over the Fort. It now continues on as a site of bustling streets full of vendors and shoppers. I wish I had been in a better mood to appreciate it all. We went to a jeweler’s shop, with supposedly good prices, but when we asked about a necklace the price was higher than we could afford. I wish I had spoken up so we could’ve gone to Khari Baoli, Asia’s biggest spice market, or Churiwali Gali, the lane of bangle-sellers. Next time, maybe, next time.
We also saw Jami Masjid, India’s largest mosque, in the distance. The Bird Hospital (yes, Bird Hospital) is the white building on the left in the picture below Jami Masjid. If you look closely in the middle of the picture you can see the sign in English.
About this time I was apologizing to my husband and he was figuring out how to help me feel better. I wish I weren’t so complicated and consuming with my feelings but, such is the joy and heartache of being a woman, I think.
We left Old Delhi with our driver (who did apologize profusely for the misunderstanding and even paid the bicycle-richsaw driver for us) and headed to the Baha’i House of Worship. The House has 27 white marble lotus petals, forming a giant modern flower on a vast lawn of pristine greenery, and is commonly referred to as The Lotus Temple. I had never heard of the Baha’i, but according the book, the sect originated in Persia. The temple was designed by an Iranian architect and, after 6 years of work, was finished in 1986. It’s another piece of India that shares my age. It was beautiful and busy, as a service had just ended when we arrived, and I took advantage of the free toilets. The temple did not charge a fee for entry and anyone can attend one of the 15-minute prayer services held 4 times a day. I was not so eager to enter another temple again, so we took a few pictures, and headed to our next stop (I told you we did a lot today).
On our way towards the Lotus Temple grounds we were approached by a little girl around 7 years of age. She asked us, in Hindi I assume, for money. We politely declined but she was persistent. We kept saying, “No more rupees” (it was our last full day in India and we really were running out of rupees) but she kept following us. She was tightly grasping the rupees she’d earned in one hand while holding out her other with an open palm to us. Then Micah stopped walking, turned towards her, and held out his hand. He motioned to the rupees in her other hand and asked, “Can I have some? We don’t have any. Can I have some of yours?” She got a huge grin on her face and promptly shook her head no. They talked back and forth, understanding body language and smiles more than words, for a few more moments. It was really a sweet moment for us and I wish I’d gotten a picture because she was exquisite. Exquisite and barefoot in dirty clothes, a juxtaposition of beauty and poverty. We saw her again on our way out, lying on her back in the dirt, one leg propped up on the other. She was carefree and counting her rupees. I hope she was happy.
Our last stop for the day was The Qutb Complex, where the best sights of all were the Qutb Minar, or Victory Tower and the Quwwat-ul-Islam, or “the might of Islam”, mosque. These are among the oldest sites we visited this day. The Qutb Minar and the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque were built by Qutbuddin Aibak in 1193. According the book, they were built to announce the advent of the Muslim sultans, and he never lived to see the completion of Qtub Minar. His successor, Iltutmish finished the Tower and added more buildings, along with his next two successors. Here, in the Qutb Complex, you can see both Hindu panels and Islamic domes or arches, highlighting the blend of two cultures.
On our way out of the Complex Micah was stopped by a couple Indian men. We thought they wanted us to take their picture, but as it turns out, they wanted a picture with Micah. As I’ve said before, the Indian people really enjoyed seeing this white guy with a red beard, and he was quite a hit!
Then, finally, our driver took us back to our hotel. Micah snapped a picture of a pharmacy we passed. Since he’s a CPhT he was interested in what the pharmacies look like here in India. Most of the signs read, “Chemist,” which is the same as a pharmacist. We think.