Today was our first day completely on our own. Reed was at the embassy, Christian went from school to a friends house, leaving Angie the opportunity to relax and have some of her girlfriends over to share some wine. With that in mind, Alex and I took advantage and got up early to go explore the city.
Namely, Old Delhi, a district in the northwest portion of the city featuring very few things that have changed over the past few hundred years. It took about 40 minutes for our driver to get us across town.
During the ride, we finally came across our first heavy traffic that decided to share the road with some cows. One decided to leave a cow-pie between a pair of cars in front of us. I later learned that there isnt much worry about the roads being overrun with dung thanks to a little kown fact: the dung is a popular commodity. Children and beggars who already walk the traffic lanes looking for aid often make cleaning up the cow or camel's mess a priority.
Once enough of the excrement is gathered, it is dried and then sold cheaply as a substitute for firewood to India's poor. It is a sad truth, but much of the population here survives within very harsh conditions. The dried dung is often the only means to produce heat for these people.
Once I arrived at Old Delhi, I was able to witness many of the very citizens who probably must make use of such measures. The easiest way to enter and get out of Old Delhi is to make use of the one of the two serious landmarks that rest at the perimeter of the area. There is the amazingly huge, 17th Century imperial capital known as the Red Fort and across the street rests Jama Masjid, India's (and one of the world's) largest and most breathtaking mosques. Realizing that the sprawling Red Fort could take up and afternoon all by itself, Alex and I decided to save that tour for a future date.
Our driver dropped us off literally at the foot of the mosque's entryway. This being my first experience with a Islamic house of worship, I'll be forever spoiled. I doubt I will ever again visit a mosque on par with this landmark. Completed in 1656, the mosque took 6 years to build with the use of 5,000 builders. The mosque is made of beautiful red sandstone and marble with towers stretching over 200 feet into the air. Resting between the climbing towers is the massive, onion shaped dome which is the anchor to the entire site.
Upon our arrival, we climbed the stone steps leading up to the mosque. At the top, it became clear that before we entered the mosque's sprawling courtyard we would need to remove our shoes. Carrying them with us, we entered. We didn't actually go into the main building under the dome, nor climb any of the towers. I only later learned that this would have been perfectly acceptable after a short purification ceremony.
When I return to visit the Red Fort, I'll probably go back and make the climb as I was made to understand that the view from the towers is the only way to truly appreciate the architecture. Instead, Alex and I stayed in the main central courtyard. Don't think courtyard like a park with grass, this was all still very much a part of the mosque, completely made of carved sandstone and marble. The courtyard is probably about 3 football fields in size and provides the space needed for the masses to come during prayer hours. When we first walked through one could see maybe a few dozen people near the front of the mosque with their prayer rugs, but on our first attempt to cross back through we were quickly informed that the mosque was closed for about 45 minutes for afternoon prayer.
While the mosque and Red Fort are amazing structures filled with a richness of history and reverence, the rest of Old Delhi lies in complete contrast. The city streets were the craziest I have ever seen, moreso than any wild west film. The streets are packed with people, rick-shaws, bicycles, mopeds, the occasional large animal such as a horse or donkey, all crammed into these thin streets. The sides of the streets are crammed with all sorts of market fronts selling everything from local foods to handmade tin (not just a claim, as I would watch a young boy heating a piece over a small fire while perfecting his families' age old craft), to burkas and jewelry.
I really had to be on my toes while getting through the market, lest I get my foot ran over by a biker or get knocked down. My first monkey siting was today as well. A pair of the little chimps were spotted making there way across some really sad looking telephone wires crossing the rooftops.
For those who arrive at New Delhi seeking something exotic and are perhaps let down compared to the tales they may have heard, Old Delhi is the place that fulfills the word foreign in every sense of the word.