A Fascinating Spiritual and Cultural Discovery
25 October 2014
On a working trip to New Delhi; I extended my stay to explore India’s capital city. What a discovery! I have concluded that New Delhi is either a city that you would either love or hate. Yes; many might not be able to withstand the polluted air, the extreme fluctuation in weather (I woke up freezing cold only to sweat profusely by mid-day before piling on layers of clothing again barely hours later.. I almost got sick!), horrendous traffic and haphazard driving, not forgetting the endless irritating honking from errant taxi drivers which caused me serious headaches!
But despite it all I found myself falling in love with New Delhi. The city has great soul; and fascinates me tremendously. Yes, being a lone woman traveler I had to be extremely wary of my surroundings at all times; but yet my keen awareness opened up my eyes and heart to so many sights and sounds I have never experienced before.
I still have vivid memories of the chaotic scenes of hand-pulled carts, cycle rickshaws and animal “traffic” at the narrow, winding lanes of Chandni Chowk- initially shocked by the overwhelming congestion I slowly got fascinated once I figured out how to navigate my way around! Once I wriggled my way out of the madness and ventured opposite to the Red Fort and Jama Masjid however; a different world awaits. The Red Fort was magnificent- huge blocks of red sandstone surrounding the entire Old Delhi; a quiet place to get away from the noise and crowd outside. I learnt a bit of history on the Mughal Emperors too! Jama Masjid was next. It is one of the biggest, most beautiful and most famous mosques in India. Do remember to dress appropriately (best to wear something that covers legs and hands). I wore jeans and a long blouse; however lacked the head covering but was handed one right before the entrance by the mosque authorities.
On subsequent non-working days; I decided to explore Qutub Minar (Delhi’s oldest historical monument), Bahai (Lotus) Temple and the India Gate. Qutub Minar was awesome! Along with other crumbling structures was the incredible brick minaret (the tallest in the world!) covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Quran. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a MUST-SEE for every tourist to New Delhi ! I also loved Bahai (Lotus) Temple. I visited on a weekend and understandably there was a super long queue; but the 45 minutes wait was worth it! The lotus-shaped marble house of worship exudes a great sense of spirituality; and I really loved the surrounding ponds and garden. When night falls; I traveled to India Gate, built in memory of soldiers who were sacrificed during World War 1. Very charming when drenched in colorful floodlights. The green lawns surrounding the area seem to be a popular picnic spot among the locals. They were fully packed on the weekend!
However, I have to say two sites left the deepest impression upon me and stuck in my memory for a long while even after I left New Delhi. The first was the great Mahatma Gandhi’s garden shrine memorial, the Raj Ghat. Situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, the final resting place of India’s greatest father left me with a great sense of dignified calm. The open-air cremation memorial is a simple square of black marble which is accessible some distance via a stone footpath barefooted from the entrance (really tricky in Delhi’s extreme weather conditions; one minute my bare feet felt like it was getting smoked and then an hour later they felt freezing cold!) Standing before the memorial and paying homage to the great man; I felt an unusual, unexplained deep sense of tranquility surrounded by the beautifully kept gardens.
The second was the amazing Gurdwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple. A spiritual and humbling experience indeed. Once belonged to a great Indian ruler (Raja Jai Singh); it now stands in memory of Guru Har Krishan Ji, the eighth prophet of the Sikhs. I was lucky to have a Sikh colleague bring me around and gave me a personal tour of the gorgeous temple interiors and grounds. I even got a taste of Parshad (a blessed vegetarian pudding). The beautiful holy pond (Amrit) left me the most lasting impression. The sight of worshippers circling around making their prayers left me with a blissful sense of calm, contentment and serenity.
Yes, New Delhi has been a truly spiritual and fascinating cultural journey for me. And hey, I can safely say I don't think there's anywhere else in the world you can get stuck in the middle of traffic with an ox cart on your right and a herd of goats on your left!