Northern India 4

Monday 20th February

A long day today so a shortish post as we are tired, it is 11.30 and we have to be up at 7.00!

We took the Toy Train from Shimla down to Kalka, an amazing 5 hour journey which I have always wanted to do. It is spectacular. The little train twists and turns following the sides of valleys providing incredible views. In places the line bends back on itself two or three times as it descends the valley side, losing some 6,000 feet over the journey. It stops at various stations, each one providing a chance to get off and stretch our legs and even get some food. There are 106 tunnels and countless bridges.

The stations became hives of activity when we pulled in. Char wallahs wandered up and down the train offering tea and the air was filled with the smell of spices as various curries were offered from stands on the platforms.

The views were spectacular but it was tricky getting good shots as obviously the train was moving, albeit slowly, and there was quite a mist. However as we got lower the air cleared and it was possible to see clearly the terraces of wheat, rice and vegetables.

At Kalka we caught a much larger train (some 15 carriages) and sat in first class air conditioned luxury as we sped for 4 hours to Delhi. We were fed continuously, including an array of snacks, and then a 3 course meal. The weight is piling on.

We are now ensconced in a very plush hotel, but in a small room at the top of a skyscraper with stunning views.

And so to bed…Very tired but very happy!

Tuesday 21st February

This hotel puts up a good front, but there is not much behind it. The glitzy foyer belies and slightly tatty interior and rooms that are good, but a bit shabby. The staff don’t seem to enjoy working here it would seem. Smiles are rare, which may just be the result of living in a big city (cf service workers in London) or it may be that they don’t feel appreciated. Anyway we set off at 9.00 for Humayun’s Tomb, joining the phenomenal Delhi traffic in our rather nice coach.

Humayun was the second Mughal emperor and his tomb was built in 1565 by a Persian architect on the orders of Humayun’s senior wife, Haji Begum. It is the first great example of a garden tomb and is beautiful, second only to the Taj Mahal. In tHe grounds are other tombs, the whole area surrounded by a wall. The fine trellis work, or Jalisco is superb and the tomb inside the dome is simplicity itself, contrasting with the ornate arches around it. Water flowed in channels around the garden and there were fountains splashing in the sunlight. An air of peace and tranquility pervaded the space. I would love to have stayed longer, but we had a lot to see.

We drove on a short way, parked and set off on foot down an alleyway. It was noisy and crowded, but tucked away just off it was a mosque and a tomb of a Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin, who had turned water into oil. We removed our shoes and followed our guide down long covered passageways, past beggars and vendors of rose petals and into the forecourt of the mosque. We passed a large water tank which looked green and filthy. This, apparently, was where the miracle had taken place – it seemed the oil was still present!

The courtyard was dominated by the tomb. The air was thick with the smell if roses. Devotees stood praying before the shrine. I went inside and walked around the tomb which was strewn with rose petals. On my way out I was asked to sign a visitors’ book and make a donation. I’m afraid I wasn’t very generous, being slightly mistrustful. Why, I’m not sure, as these were probably the equivalent of chug wardens collecting funds for the upkeep of their church.

I went into the mosque, beautifully carved from red sandstone. Then it was back down the passages and alleyways and onto the coach. Now we were to visit the magnificent lotus House of Worship of the Baha’i religion. Unfortunately the police had closed the road, so we had to sprint down it on foot, get a few photographs of thus remarkable building and get back in the coach. We were assured that the inside was not so remarkable. A pity though to have to rush.

 

We went for an early lunch in a rather posh restaurant. I got bored and wandered out into the street which, as always was fascinating. There is just so much going on. After walking up and down snapping all sorts of things, I noticed a large sandstone building next to the restaurant . It was another tomb of a Sufi saint. It was not well looked after, but used as a public park I went in and as I walked towards the tomb I saw a mongoose. It was too fast for me to photograph it unfortunately. After a quick look around I headed back for lunch.

We drove to Mehrauli which is dominated by the Qutb Minar. In 1192 Qutbuddin Aibak built the Quwwat-ul-Islam (the might of Islam) Mosque and the Miar which towers over it. The Qutb Minar stands at 72.5 metres high and is built of red sandstone, beautifully carved in places. At one time it wa possible to climb the five stories to the top, but following a series of tragic accidents in the 1980s it has been closed.

The whole site is very beautiful and also very busy, however it is possible to find quiet corners from which to admire the Mosque and its associated buildings. Of interest is the Alai Minar which was intended to rival the Qutb Minar in size but never got beyond 24.5 metres. Aladdin who started to build it died suddenly and the whole thing was abandoned.

There is also a curious iron pillar in the courtyard. It appears to date from the C4th and may have been brought here from another site. It is Hindhu in origin and may have been built to carry an image of Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu, on its top.

We drove on to an inter-faith centre in the rural suburbs of Delhi. Thus is an area of ‘farms’, small walled areas of land, some still intensively cultivated, others accommodating large houses and gardens. At the centre we were made very welcome and shown the Hindhu temple, the Sikh Gudwarra and the Mosque. The Christian centre was some distance away. We were made very welcome. The whole thing is based on the teachings of one nan who wanted all religions to come together. A nice idea, but it was unclear how this would be achieved. Still at least the toilet block was clean as I had to make sudden use of it. Imodium the friend of all who seek after truth in a foreign land!

From there we drove back to the hotel, which many of us were finding rather tatty. In a place where many sleep on the streets or in rough shelters on waste ground, it may seem pathetic, if not crass to criticise a luxury hotel we are fortunate enough to be able to pay for. However that us the issue…..we were paying a lot for thus and frankly it was not coming up to standard!

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