Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Day 3: Last of the Sightseeing

Monday, January 1, 2007. 11:00 PM IST (Indian Standard Time). Today was the first day that we met up with the entire group. Unfortunately there are still four students who are stuck in other airports due to the fog in Delhi at night. The fog has delayed flights for several days now. Apparently that is common in Delhi this time of year – good thing I fly back directly from Bangalore to London.

Monday was a great day. We began the day at approximately 9:30 AM where we met our tour bus guide and boarded the bus for a day of touring Delhi. Touring all of the sights and talking with all the local people will provide for a good frame of reference once we begin visiting companies tomorrow. The tour today was very professional and well organized. Our first stop was at the Jama Masjid. You’ll recall that we attempted to visit the mosque yesterday, but were advised against it for security reasons. The mosque is an amazing structure in the heart of Old Delhi. We all had to remove our shoes before entering and were provided little booties to wear over our socks. While I certainly enjoyed wearing the booties, I felt odd seeing all the Indians barefoot. That feeling lasted only until I stepped a few more feet and saw evidence that this open mosque is a pigeon’s playground. Booties it is!

The sights, sounds and smells of Old Delhi were striking. After visiting the Jama Masjid, we returned to the bicycle rickshaw that brought us. We began our journey through the crowded bazaars of Chandni Chowk. Think of the imagery you see in the movies of the good guy chasing the bad guy through crowded streets with merchants yelling on both sides, nothing but a web of wires and rope above and passing through the crowd nearly impossible – this is the grand bazaar. Think drive-through shopping. The smells were also amazing! The various foods cooking on the roadside vendors’ carts provide such a pungent aroma – roasting peanuts, vegetables, breads. It all truly smells delicious, yet our unprepared stomachs would not enjoy. Amazingly while on the rickshaw, no one approached me begging. The begging is truly a serious problem and perhaps one of the things I have had the most difficult time with. This could be a topic for a whole additional post.

After making our way through the bazaar, we stopped at the Red Fort prior to boarding the bus. Since the Red Fort is closed on Monday’s you can refer to yesterday’s post for the details. For lunch we went to a great Indian restaurant called Chor Bazaar or “Theif’s Bazaar”. The food was delicious – and so far so good on avoiding what not to eat.

After lunch we went shopping where several of us purchased some beautiful rugs of silk or wool from Kashmir. They were beautiful and this was a reputable good quality place. The challenge with shopping is that you never know if the item is handmade or not since everything is “only the finest quality and handmade”. In addition, the shops all anticipate you to negotiate the price down from what they initially quote. Love it! The rugs I purchased are likely on their way to the DHL office where they will be shipped back home – can’t wait to figure out where they can go!

The shopping was good, but we still had two more beautiful sites to see in Delhi before the day was over. The first was the site where Mahatma Ghandi was creamated. The Hindus believe in reincarnation and that the body is made of soil and earth elements. Therefore once your body dies, you are to be cremated and your ashes spread over flowing water. Ghandi’s ashes were spread over the River Ghanges, which is the holiest river in India. Visiting the site was quite somber. There were several floral arrangements on the marble slab and an eternal flame – all adding to the feeling that you are in a holy place.

After collecting our thoughts and re-boarding the bus, we made our way to the last stop, the Quitb Minar. The Quitb Minar is the Tower of Victory which was built by Qutbuddin Aibak in the 12th century. In the courtyard of the tower is the Iron Pillar which was constructed in the 4th century AD and is amazing in the fact that the iron pillar has never rusted!

The history and culture in India is absolutely amazing! While I have enjoyed visiting so many historic monuments, I am eagerly awaiting tomorrow. We have a meeting with the Secretary of Biotechnology (a Cabinet level position) in the morning and actually have one hour with the President of India in the evening. I can’t wait to share the details of that meeting tomorrow!