Happy Birthday, part 2

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By the time I've regained my composure, we have arrived at Hauz Khas.

Where I was anticipating another neighbourhood like Defence Colony, this feels more like a village that New Delhi has overtaken. It's been gentrified into a wealthy enclave of designer boutiques and art bric-a-brac shops. We stroll along until the lane ends at some sort of ruin. The last shop on the left seems to have movie posters, so the girls pop inside while I check out what lies beyond the crumbling wall. What I find stuns me.

The effect is similar to what would happen if one was walking down a shopping mall in England and turned the corner to find the ruins of Camelot. An ancient series of buildings and pavillions stretch away out of site to the right. One of the oddest aspects is how there is no signage, other than a small generic Archaeological Site plaque, to say what this all is. Thanks to Emma's guidebook, I deduce I've come across the ruins of an early 14th century reservoir, mosque and seminary created by Sultan Ala-ud-din Khalji. Behind its two-storey bulk, a vast parkland stretches.

The property is dotted with students bunched in study groups or playing cricket near the old reservoir. When I cajole Emma and Mariah back after their lengthy poster browsing and our trendy lunch (which Emma buys for my birthday), we realize it's also a favourite meeting place for young lovers; we stumble across a few blushing couples as we explore the crypts and dark stairwells.

I had a glimpse of the antiquity of the city yesterday when we drifted about Old Delhi, but the way this ancient ruin, this Ozymandias, is just a part of everyday life here -- sort of the vacant lot where everyone plays -- brings home to me how much I live back home in a city in its infancy.

Speaking of getting a perspective on time, we realize that we've almost run out of ours today. Mariah's train is at 4:45, and ours leaves a slim hour later from a completely different part of Delhi. So we hop in another rickshaw and 15 minutes later have transitioned from crumbling relic to modern monument.

The Lotus Temple, created a scant 20 years ago as the centrepiece of the Baha'i faith, is a soaring building often compared to the Sydney Opera House. As a no-charge attraction (and brilliant recruiting device), it has a steady stream of Indian and foregin visitors; a few thousand pass inside during our short visit. The landscaped grounds lead to the 27 white petals of marble, which on the inside form one vast harmonious space. We sit through a short service which is comprised of four or five people singing songs of faith from different religions. One woman sings Ave Maria, although my favourite is the first call to prayer. The acoustics are indescribable. While we're taking in the spritual moment, I see a feather slowly fall from the very top of the petalled ceiling. I point it out to Emma and we watch its graceful descent in silence.

Back in the cacophony of Delhi's roads we mentally urge a sluggish rickshaw to greater speed. We've really cut things tight, and plot an elaborate plan of drop-offs and rendezvous in order to grab our gear, get Mariah's train ticket printed at an as-yet-unlocated printer and get her off safely to Mumbai. Things go like clockwork, and we just have time for quick hugs before she disappears in a cloud of exhaust.
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