It's the Real Delhi, not Roosevelt Ave, Queens

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is my 16th entry and I hope you have enjoyed the past 3 or 4 from my last stops in the Middle East.  I set out on foot here in old Delhi and wanted to let you know what I have found so you can experience it from your own living room.  I also included three pictures from yesterday afternoon before I left Bahrain.  The rest are today in the old part of Delhi where all the action is.

Walking down Roosevelt Ave in Little India, Queens in no way is even a warmup for the real Delhi.  Everything here takes place out on the noisy and crowded streets.  Every inch of the sidewalks is taken by someone trying to scratch out a living selling anything and everything.  Every bit of the air is filled with suspect odors and honking horns.  It's like a stew that just simmers in the heat and humidity and it gives Delhi the atmosphere that makes experiencing new places fun.

It's so crowded here that you get pushed out into the streets when you try to walk around and dodging tuk-tuks, pushcarts and the occassional car becomes a sport.  Imagine the old video game Frogger and you've got it.  When you cross the street you just step out into it and hope the traffic parts. 

Even something as mundane at home as getting money from the ATM deserves a description for you.  I went to the State Bank of India which is located in an imposing old white building that is in various states of disrepair depending where you look at it.  The ATMs are in a side area accessed off the street and to get in you pass through a large doorway with two large gates chained open just enough for people to slip through.  Inside you find two ATMs each inside their own filthy glass cubicles.

You choose a line and believe me when I tell you that Indians do not seem to have any sense of personal space.  If you are not right up on the person in front of you, someone else will gladly fill the space for you.  As a result the person right behind you is on your back so no one cuts in front of him either.  The only thing cooling this room were two ancient desk fans mounted to the walls. 

Some guy was taking too long inside the glass cubicle so my line became agitated.  Everyone went from single file to pressed up against the glass with waving hands and shouting voices.  I figured what the heck so I joined in and even got a nod of approval from the elderly turbaned gentleman in front of me.  Once the slowpoke was done the line went back to "normal" and we took our places single file just as we had left them.  Again four people later the already slow process ground to a halt and my line was once again pressed against the glass waving and shouting. 

At some point twenty minutes into waiting the other line's ATM broke so they all decided they would try to just push into our line.  We weren't having it so our already tight line got even tighter to keep them out.  I am not sure what language it was but I sure can recognize cursing when I hear it.  So there I was an American center to an Indian sandwich inching my way up to the pot of gold.

I am trying to avoid "Delhi Belly" so it's hard to find any food that does not originate out of filfth.  When I got done with the ATM finally I turned right and there was the most beautiful sight in all of old Delhi....the Golden Arches.  I figured Mickey D's was about as safe as I would find here so I went in.  The menu is non beef of course since the cow is sacred here and you have your choice of veggie burgers or chicken.  A $1.50 and five minutes later I was full and on my way again.  I travel to sample the local foods but I just won't risk it in some places like here.

I found my way to the Red Fort which is just as its name implies, a red fort.  I have no idea what it is from but it killed about 30 minutes.  After leaving there I came across the most disturbing sight so far in Delhi.  There was an official looking building with water spigots out front that people were drinking from (no that's not what was so nasty).  The water was pooling on the sidewalk and a ponytailed woman in a blue sari just bent right over and started scooping puddle water into her mouth.  People were walking right through it, too. I will just stop here and let you savor the image in your mind.  It's burned into mine forever.

All of a sudden I heard a familiar sound and I thought you have got to be kidding me.  Any guesses?  Yep, the muezzin was calling the faithful to prayer.  It turns out Delhi has a sizeable Muslim population.  I followed the singing around the corner and there was a gigantic old mosque that I later learned is called Jama Masjid.  After a week in the Middle East my curiosity was up so actually went in.

Allah just pushed me right up the steps, past the crowds and into the open air courtyard.  There were hundreds and hundreds of men praying under the hot sun.  I got some strange looks and I tried my best to blend in (like taking off my shoes as required anyway was going to help).  I got motioned by several people to kneel so down I went facing Mecca.  I prayed to my own God that I wouldn't get mobbed and I even threw in a few inshallahs for good measure. 

I managed to get in a few discreet pics and they aren't that great because it's hard to hide a camera when you are the only white guy in a sea of praying Indians.  I hope that Allah is a benevolant God when it comes to doing that.  I decided I better quietly slip out so inshallah I got out in one piece.  Allah deposited me safely right back into the hot, crowded, teeming Delhi sidewalks. 

I met two really nice people from Britain at the hotel and tomorrow I am off to the Taj Mahal with them. 
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