Thursday, November 14, 2002

Still in Delhi for a few more days. We spent the morning at yet another precursor to the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb, one of the best sights so far. It's a Mughal (which is the same as Mongol) tomb built about 500 years ago for the many wives and children of King Humayun. It's currently being restored for millions of dollars, and the walkways and gardens are almost there! Flowers dot the green grasses, interspersed with jasmin and hibiscus saplings, divided into geometric plots by red sandstone paths spreading out from this massive tomb, with minaret-like towers and domes visible from across the grounds. There's evidently some juicy gossip behind which wife was in charge of designing the tomb, and who got buried where, but like most things the story has gotten lost somewhere between history and our translation.

Meanwhile, we've lately become big fans of the rather upscale Khan Market, a shopping center about 15 minutes from our lodging. We stick to the backside, where the locals all seem to congregate; the frontside is decidedly more "touristy" catering to both Middle Class Indians and Westerners. But we've found a great dive, which serves in the evening as a speakeasy for local businessmen and workers, who enjoy clandestine bottles of booze passed back and forth beneath the table over plates of steaming tandoori chicken and various stews. We had dinner there a couple of nights ago, and Christina bore a good many stares as she was the only woman, and clearly this place is a boy's club. We returned today for lunch, after our visit to the tomb, and still found the place filled with mustachioed types -- long live Omar Sharif! Not nipping at midday but still totally blown away by Christina's presence. Still, the food per usual was way tasty and very cheap. We had our fill of mutton stew and seasoned rice for about $2. I figure we'll be back again -- and again. Maybe even with our own bottle next time.

Coming up after the weekend will be our first adventure to the Himalayas. I am looking very forward to the change of place, as we will literally be off the map in Dharchula(although I've provided one that gets pretty close in my 10/23 entry). Tomorrow we check in with the US Embassy regional safety officer to get any last minute advice we might need, although my impression is that with our visas and research already okayed, there should be no problem. Evidently, the Maoists who frequent the area are all laying pretty low these days, which is an added relief. While in the meantime, the real concern is how we are going to lug our FIVE -- count 'em 5 -- big bags to the mountains. I mean, I'm pretty comfortable in my roll as Christina's sherpa, but we're gonna need some help.

Now this machines beeping that it's time to go, so we're off, but I'll try for one more update ahead of our journey....

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Well, first things first: The red goo on the streets is not blood but betel-nut juice, casually spit by chewers of this addictive little treat (and, no, I have not tried it... yet). We've been touring up a little storm during the past few days. To the Lodi Gardens with their ancient Mughal tombs yesterday, walking the broad, quiet paths, enjoying the beautiful weather, gazing on the Fifthteenth Century ruins, pre-curors to the Taj Majal, spotting a handful of as-yet unidentified birds. Basically taking advantage of the weekend to see some sights. Unfortunately, for us tourists at least (as well as the Moghuls, who ruled India prior to the Hindus, the Brits and the current democratic scenario, fractured though it may be) many of the tombs -- as well as the Red Fort, another Moghul historic site visited today -- have been pillaged and plundered through the years, meaning that colorful inlays of semi-precious stone and remarkably intricate carvings are mere ghosts of their former splendor. I guess that's why they call 'em ruins.

In the meanwhile, for those of you wondering about the food: Yes, it is plentiful and plenty cheap. We've been eating in the evenings at a little joint on Connaught Place, near the center of New Delhi, where a plate of chicken and a plate of veggies, plus bread and rice, costs some $2.50 for the both of us. The first night we were at this establishment, I was peturbed to be seated quite near the kitchen, and the oven (although most of the food is actually prepared in the front window in big pots set upon burners apparently heated by coals) until I noticed the slapping going on as a young man pounded out roti dough, and then used a mitt to slap these flattened breads onto stones set in coals. There they cook, to be retrieved with a long spear, while another fellow strips chicken tikka from a skewer and pulls apart whole Tandoori chicken, which are both heated in the oven alongside the roti. Simply a marvel -- and a tasty one at that! So, of course, last night we made our way back a second time, stopping afterward for our first Indian beer, a Kingfisher Lager at a British-style pub across the way.

Today's major adventure was a visit to Old Delhi and the Chandri Chowk markets, a swell of literally thousands of people out doing their Sunday shopping. It's Ramadan now, which means many Muslims are fasting, but the Hindu folks don't seem to mind. We stopped in a Sikh Temple for a little while, and listened to some prayer songs and watched as a fellow in a long grey beard wrapped and unwrapped the holy books. Unlike the US, children in the temple were allowed to play and fidget, smiling and even running around a bit. It was really very pleasant, and reminded me that in a hot environs, perhaps the best place to worship is inside a cool, calming church. Likewise, with so much incense burning and so forth, I have been reminded that the best way to battle the stench of diesel and the horrendous smell of human waste (much of Delhi is like an open sewer if not intentionally so) is to burn something nice for a little while, taking away the nasty scents for the time being.

Overall, we are having a splendid time, and I think that this bodes well for the rest of our adventure. After all, Delhi is a mere stopover on the way to the Himalayas. When we get there, things will really start to shift. But in the meantime, we're enjoying the hospitality of the Fulbright program, staying on the grounds in a run-down old Colonial mansion, which Christina and I have pretty much to ourselves. It's true there are about a dozen workers in and out of the main rooms each day, evidently hurrying to finish what looks to be a massive rennovation project. But beyond the incessant daytime hammering, sanding and sawing, the nights and mornings have been pure bliss. We've essentially got an apartment, including a small kitchen area and a huge bedroom, complete with marble floors, a small balcony and even cable television; although last night, as we experienced our first Indian power failure, I decided the latter was an overrated luxury.

Starting up again tomorrow, Christina will be undertaking a little more orientation, including meetings with the national safety officer to learn about visiting the Nepal border where her Darma people are concentrated. Likewise, we must finish registering with the FRRO, so that they can keep track of us as we move from place to place. 9/11 seems to have more profound effects in India for Americans that it did at home. But the sentiment here overall seems to be one of respect and understanding of the US position, rather than the mistrust we are told so many in the world view us with. Of course, my experience to this point doubtless reflects the fact that because of the Fulbright we are still ensconced in the womb of Uncle Sam.