Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012. New Delhi, India
Today is Kelly’s birthday. Often on her birthday we are travelling and sometimes we are in a place where we can’t (or don’t!) get any decent food. But this year we are in Delhi and there are lots of great opportunities for a nice meal. Unfortunately, this year, whatever has been ailing Kelly has left her with no appetite, so we weren’t able to do anything great gastronomically.
To start our day, we went to the Red Fort or Lal Qila, a large and imposing bastion which was begun in 1639 and completed in 1648 when Shan Jahan decided to move the capital back to Delhi from Agra in 1638.
The fort is said to have cost RP10,000,000 to build, much of it spent on the opulent marble within.
There is a story that the Emperor Aurangzeb build the Lahore Gate (now the main entrance) to save his nobles and visiting dignitaries from having to walk the whole length of the approaching road called Chandni Chowk while bowing, as there was a law that no one could ride (horse or elephant) in the presence of the Emperor. They would have to get down and bow. Because of the placement of Aurangzeb’s throne he could see the whole length of Chandni Chowk. The Lahore Gate hid his view and therefore people could ride all the way up to the fort.
And what a throne is was. Called the Peacock Throne it was commissioned by Shah Jahan on his accession in 1627 and took seven years to make. The throne was designed with two peacocks standing behind with a parrot carved out of a single emerald between them. It was inlaid with a vast number of sapphires, rubes, emeralds, pearls, and diamonds. Over the top was a gem encrusted gold canopy edged with pearls and supported by 12 pillars. The throne also included the Koh-i-Noor diamond, now in the British crown jewels. It came into the possession of Queen Victoria when she became Empress of India.
How the Koh-i-Noor escaped the fate of the rest of the throne, I don’t know, but in 1739 the Turk Nadir Shah plundered Delhi, massacring 30,000 people and amongst other booty, rode off with the Peacock Throne. This was broken up just eight years later after he was assassinated Some of the jewels are rumored to have ended up on the late Shah of Iran’s throne.
Beautiful marble and inlay work are to be found in the inner courtyard which also had waterfalls that went over niches that were filled with perfume and candles. In places the marble is so fine that it is translucent, as can be seen in the above right photo.
Nearby is the Jammi Masjid, or Friday Mosque, reached via a walk through various markets. There was not a lot of visual interest inside the mosque, the largest extant mosque in India. One of my pet peeves is that places have camera charges that are separate from any entry fees. At the Jammi Masjid, entrance is free, but the camera charge is RP300, or about US$6. When we first walked up to the mosque, an attendant tried to extract this from each of us. We knew that entrance was free and I didn’t have any interest in taking photos here, so one of us sat outside while the others went inside, then we switched out. When Kelly went in, already with her arms and legs covered (she knew we would be visiting a mosque) they tried to put a skirt on her, just to extract another fee, but I told her to just refuse and go in. I had already seen dozens of women with standard pants or jeans on. The only people who needed their skirt were those wearing shorts. To cap it off, one of the men wanted a tip for watching our shoes, even though we had been watching them ourselves. Unfortunately, this kind of thing seems pretty common in Delhi, much more so than we’ve experienced in other places on our trip.
There is a wholesale spice Market about 1.5KM into Chandni Chowk and since it was so hot, I arrange for two pedicabs to take us there. Cinnamon is one of Kelly’s favorite spices and we use a lot of it. Most of what we get sold as cinnamon is actually cassia, which has a hotter taste. True cinnamon is harder to find and more expensive in the US and Europe, so for her birthday Kelly got 1Kg of good quality whole Indian cinnamon bark. The cost was about the same as one small jar back home.
For lunch, we rode back to the area beside the Jammi Mosque and when to Karim’s, a renowned Mughal restaurant that had fabulous simple food in a very simple setting. Very tasty, and very reasonable.
We got back to the car and then drove to Raj Ghat, the cremation point and memorial to Mahatma Ghandi. The location is very simple and austere, in keeping with the main himself. The Hindi words at the front are “Oh God”, his last utterance. An eternal flame and the fresh marigolds placed at the told are the only real ornamentation.
From Raj Ghat, which is also close to the memorials for Nehru, Indira Ghandi, Rajiv Ghandi, and others we drove to the Craft Museum – a free visit. Inside were lots of craft items from all over the country. A few that particularly interested me were a huge chariot used in South Indian religious processions and an 18th century hair dryer from Bengal. I think it worked by having a fan inside the “blower” unit which presumably was human powered.
After returning to hotel for a rest we set out for dinner at Connaught Place, traveling via Delhi’s Metro. Unlike most things in this city, the Metro is clean, modern, air-conditioned, and efficient. And cheap – our ride cost only RP10 each, or about 20 cents.
Kelly had noticed yesterday that the carriage at the end of the train seemed much less crowded, so we boarded there. After a few minutes, I noticed that indeed this was less crowded and everyone was seated. Furthermore, they were all women, and on closer inspection, the men in adjoining carriage came up to the entrance of this carriage, but not into to it. It dawned on me that this much be a women’s only car and so the boys and I retired to the adjoining car. Indeed once we got off, we could see a sign on the ground (in pink no less!) marking this as a women’s only area of the train.
Our destination was Haldirams, an Indian all veg. fast food chain. We had read about this location in the Times of India food guide we had previously seen. The main attraction here is the ability to sample different street food and snacks in hygienic conditions. They also have fuller meals, western food, desserts, and even an ice cream bar.
The process is pretty alien to any European or American fast food shopper. First you go to a counter up front and order your food and pay for it. They give you a master receipt and a series of mini receipts for each counter from which your food will come. Next you go to each of these counters, give them the ticket, and find out how long it will take before your food will be ready. At some counters, (e.g. desserts, but not ice cream!) you have to order and pay separately. “Fast” may not be the operative word. Once you have your food, you can sit at a table and enjoy.
Since Kelly’s appetite was still off she only had some Chinese vegetable noodles. Aaron had a south Indian Thali, Ben dahl and rice, and I tried a couple of different snack foods – Bhalla Papri Chaat, and Aloo Tikki. The former was a mixture of sweet and savory, and the latter was like an Indian hash brown with spicy sauce. What was fun was trying food that we just don’t see in US Indian restaurants. Aaron and I had some ice cream later, mine being rose water and pistachio flavored.