Thursday, 20 December 2007
We had a choice to make. With four and a bit weeks of our trip left we had to decide what we wanted to see in India and what could wait till next time (note that 'next time' indicates a fundamental shift of mind since Varanasi). India has no shortage of attractions but as we did our research we became aware that the ticking clock wasn't our only consideration. After a year of wandering and taking in breathtaking sights, we were starting to get a little saturated with the whole big old stone structure thing. In short, we had seen enough. We still had this month left though and we weren't going to just sit and watch the clock tick down, but we did decide to take it easy and do a few things over a longer time rather than try to squeeze lots in.
First Delhi. In our trademark style, we wandered across most of the city, refusing to pay the auto-rickshaws the 'white tax' they imposed on us by refusing to use their meters. We ventured across town by a combination of metro, walking in circles and final capitulation to the heat and auto-rickshaws to find the Nehru Planetarium. Named after India's first Prime Minister and situated in the grounds of his Prime Ministerial house, the planetarium is a 30 year old tribute to his interest in the science. It has in it the capsule that three cosmonauts returned to Earth in, including India's first man in space. Possibly the best thing about the spaceship, was that in complete seriousness, the Soviets saw it fit to paint the common symbols seen in the postal service for fragile and 'this way up' on the side of it. It took us two attempts to see the show having arrived for a booked out display on National Children's day the first time, but it was well worth coming back for on our second visit. We stuck our heads into Nehru's house for a wee look, given our situation on day one and would follow that up later in the week with a stroll around the very impressive government buildings which lead down to the great big arch which stands as a war memorial.
Having said we were saturated with big old stone things, we would be going to see the Taj-Mahal in Agra later, and before seeing that, it felt appropriate while in Delhi to visit the tomb of a Persian big wig, Hanuman, which was said to have served as a prototype to the Taj. The complex was amazing. We reached it about an hour before sunset having walked for about two hours trying to find the place. The entry fee could be paid in either Rupees or US Dollars, and with the dollar being so low at the time, we promptly pulled out our get out of jail coupons and saved ourselves a couple of pennies. The main showpiece did indeed look like a less grand, and not white version of the Taj-Mahal, but some of the most fun parts of the complex were the other Persian temples and tombs off to the side where you had much more freedom to climb up the stairs on to the roofs and walk under the stone pagodas crowning the faded, but mostly intact structures.
Delhi otherwise passed in a week of happy idleness. We wanted to see the latest Bollywood blockbuster called Om Shanti Om but didn't seem to find the time. One of our more amusing activities was riding the Metro. Part underground, part over ground, the metro railway is the first in India, and still a new thing for Delhi. It has been open two or three years now and is proving a success. It seems though that the people haven't quite got the hang of it yet. In most countries it is recognised that in order to get on a train, you should first let the passengers on board disembark. It is further realised in most countries that the best way to do that is to stand just to the side and let everyone funnel out between two queues of people who next step onto the train and fill the void. Not in India. As you stand preparing to leave the train waiting for it to stop and the doors to open you have to take the stance of an athlete waiting for the starting pistol. In addition you need to clench your fists and brace yourself like a boxer. When the doors open you are faced with a crowd of people entirely blocking your exit and immediately all competing and elbowing each other to get on the train first. There is no comprehension that if they let you off first there will be more space, or that the train won't go without them. As an exitee you have to look for the smallest person then lunge straight at them and push them backwards out through the crowd. This has several effects. Firstly it rather effectively clears a path for you and everyone behind you. Secondly, it means that someone else takes all the knocks for you. Thirdly it makes you look rather tough and everyone else makes an effort to huddle out of your way, thus helping create the path, and fourthly, for a fraction of a second you can almost see the dawning realisation in the little person that maybe there's a better way, but only for a fraction of a second. Shouting "Charge!" as the doors open is also a great way to see terror strike the faces of 30 people instantaneously as you launch yourself into them kicking and punching as you go.