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Tuesday 15 Mar 2011
Delhi, India

Delhi Day 1...Part two... Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid was to be my "tourist attraction o' the day".

The famous mosque was built by Shah Jahan in 1656 AD, the same enigmatic Mughal ruler that built the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Red Fort in Delhi. The Mughal Empire ruled India from 1526 until the British took control in 1858. Descended from Genghis Khan and Timur, the Mughals created arguably some of the finest architecture, art, poetry and cities (including Delhi itself) in the subcontinent. I spent many an afteroon reading "The Last Mughal" by William Damperville on my Kindle while I was laying idle in India and the history of this empire is quite fascinating.

To get to Jama Masjid meant leaving the relative comfort of the British-designed wide streets of New Delhi for the crowded tangled web of narrow laneways that make up Old Delhi! And what better way to get there than in a Cycle-rickshaw!

I thought that my years of experience tackling Tuk Tuks in South East Asia, or navigating narrow crowded alleyways in Marakech would have prepared me well for getting around in India, but I was grossly mistaken. For, from the first moment I entered the cycle-rickshaw at New Delhi train station and the driver veered off into the middle of the uber-busy road, not looking left or right, only to see a huge truck screech to a halt mere inches from us blaring it's horn, I knew I was in for a rough ride.

Through the extremely crowded lanes of Old Delhi we went, nary a foot of roadway didn't have somebody walking on it, carrying the day's groceries in a basket balanced on their head, or haggling with the legions of shopkeepers crouched around stoves of boiling spicy samosas. The roadway couldn't have been more than 6 metres wide, but it was already about 15 people deep. I felt completely detached from the situation as it was really quite intense and I felt like I was watching a movie of a stereotypical rickshaw chasing through crowded streets. How the rickshaw wheels didn't run over someone's foot is beyond me, but the skill these guys show is undeniable. So atune are they to their pride and joy that they know the width of the undercarriage down to the millimetre and can judge where they can squeeze into.

Old Delhi is a stereotype. And a flipping dangerous one at that, if you're not keeping an eye out when walking on the roads. Not only do you have to watch for rickshaws coming up your rear, but mopeds, and even pointy shop accessories sticking out on the sides ready to whip your eye out when your not looking. The most annoying thing I found though, and this seemed to be common across all of India, was the slow pace that people walk... or even worse, when they stop right in front of you at a moments notice.

One thing I was thankful for was that I opted for the cycle-rickshaw as the diesel-spewing motorised rickshaws seemed to be having a lot of trouble navigating the laneways of Old Delhi.

Jama Masjid mosque
Jama Masjid mosque

Finally we came to the wide open market area of Chandni Chowk, and the red sandstone of the Jama Masjid lay ahead of me in all it's glory. I paid the rickshaw the pre-agreed price (something like 20 cents!) and marched up the steps to the entrance.

It was now around 3pm and I knew that it would be getting dark around 6, so I had a short time to get some nice shots of the place. I would have preferred to have gotten there earlier, but at least the sunset brought out the red glow of the sandstone as I wandered around in my socks (you have to take off your shoes in Mosques or Temples, as well as mausoleums like the Taj Mahal)

Despite all the farangi tourists I had spotted at the Tourist Ticket office, it was rare to see any other

Red Fort
Red Fort

westerners in Delhi. Most other tourists I met in Indian were in fact Indians themselves. So it became quickly evident at attractions like Jama Masjid that not only was *I* trying to photograph the locals, but that they were trying to do the same to me. Many times I'd turn around quickly only to see some kid pointing his camera phone down at my knobly knees ... and then he'd turn away quickly to peruse his ubiquitous photo collection in private.

I guess it's karma that I should now be on the receiving end, but it's funny that I'd never experienced anything like this before in other countries.

Before the sun set finally I took a quick wander over to the Red Fort, the huge city within a city, to just take a few photos of the outside. I planned to come back and finally do the place justice when I was due to arrive back in Delhi at the end of my India trip.

I ended the day eating at Kashim's restaurant near Jama Masjid. It's a clean haven of good food in the dirty streets of Old Delhi. I asked for an extra spicy meal but was disappointed at the lacklustre heat from the (albeit tasty) stuff that was served up. This, unfortunately, was typical of all culinary experiences I had while in India, and not once did I have a meal that came anywhere near as hot as some of the dishes I can get in any Indian restaurant back home. Undecided

I walked home as all the rickshaw wallahs seemed to have finished up for the day. A pretty damn long walk, trying to find where New Delhi train station was (and thus my hotel)... at one point I stumbled over a few items of cloth only to discover it was wrapping a body. Ah Delhi.

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