Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Delhi, India

Though it was night, as we rode from the airport to our hotel, it was readily apparent that New Delhi, like most capital cities, was more modern and better cared for than Mumbai.  I recognized familiar store logos on store fronts all along the freeway.  But that was about all I saw of the city until we returned two days later.  In the morning, while Bob was taking care of business, I had the pleasure of being taken on a personal tour of "Swaminarayan Akshardham", a huge Hindu Temple complex south of the city.  The drive gave me an opportunity to snap a couple of photos through the car window along the way.  The abundance of mosques tell of the Muslim influence which exists throughout India.

Akshardham was built in tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, an Indian spiritual leader who lived from 1781-1830, and whose divinity is worshiped by millions.  The cultural complex was completed in 5 years and took 300 million man-hours to carve the 300,000 stones needed to create this temple!  The skilled work of 11,000 volunteers and artisans completed the task in 2005.  It is an amazing work of art and I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the project.  I had never seen so much detailed carving and beautiful sculpture work in pink sandstone and white marble as is seen here.  There are two exhibition halls, one depicts the life and teachings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through films, light and sound shows and animatronics, and the other features a 14-minute boat ride exhibition showing the history of India's culture and contributions to the world.  In addition, there is a light and sound water fountain, cultural gardens, ornate gates and a food court.  Can you begin to imagine my disappointment when they said no handbags, cell phones or cameras where allowed?!  I reluctantly left everything with our driver and proceeded (as everywhere in India) through the entrance gate labeled "women".

I was able to purchase a photograph of me at the temple with my guide, and a couple of guide books with photos and explanations in them, and am posting a couple of photos from them to give you an idea of what a magnificent structure it is.  The life-sized carvings of elephants which form the "Gajenddrapith" or foundation of the temple is incredible.  Each elephant scene tells a story with a message from Hindu beliefs. I was surprised to be familiar with one story (never knowing where it originated from) which tells of five blind men who wanted to "see" an elephant.  With their hands touching it, they described it in five different ways according to what they felt:  a dustpan (ears), a python (trunk), a tree (leg), a rope (tail), and a wall (side of stomach).  The story teaches "Only he who has the total realization of God can describe the Truth", although I have heard different morals ascribed to the tale.  My guide shared with me many Hindi beliefs, which I found interesting, but which I could not reconcile in my mind and spirit.

I met up with Bob and his work associates for a late lunch, following which we drove south to the city of Agra.  There is a new expressway that makes the drive about 2 1/2 hours, and our early evening arrival allowed us to get checked in to our hotel, grab a quick supper and head over to a "light and sound" show at Agra Fort.  The "show" was basically an outdoor historical narrative of the history of Agra. The drive took us through a lovely agricultural region and it was a nice respite from city life.  It was fun to see the many forms of transportation in the country towns along the way and laugh at how many people could cram into each.  I was fascinated by the millions of cow patties laid out to dry or gathered and stacked into piles for fuel!  (I know - so true to my childhood nickname, "Poohpie"!)

The next day would be purely for site-seeing and driving back to spend our final night in New Delhi.  Agra sites, including the Taj Mahal, will be covered in my "Agra" post.  We had Friday morning to see a bit of the capital city before having a nice lunch and driving to the airport for our flight back to Seoul.  Jack and Manesh (Bob's work associates), were wonderful guides and we appreciate so much all the arrangements they made in our behalf.  They took us to the most beautiful part of New Delhi, where the tall "India Gate" stands 42 meters high and commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War I, as well as more than 13,000 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919.  A beautiful park surrounds the monument and at the far end of the boulevard, you can see capital building and government offices.  The area surrounding the gate is home to the world embassy's, and here, the beggars and hawkers appear to have been banned.


We had time for a quick stop at the National Museum, which was mainly filled with Hindu and Buddhist statues and carvings.  The Indian's skill for carving is one that remains most vividly for me on this trip.  I copied the information about Lord Vishnu, one of the important Hindu Lords (not called a God), because it gives an example of prevalent Indian religious beliefs.  But Bob and I especially liked the big "chariot" which looks more like an armored tank.


The chic Indian Restaurant, "Bukhara" had a rustic decor with tree stump chairs and wood posts.  Menus were painted on large blocks of wood, like the sign outside the door.  Full sized embroidered aprons were provided for us to wear and we were expected to eat with nothing but our hands.  We were served the largest piece of Naan I have ever seen, which the four of us were unable to devour even half of!  The huge leg of lamb was the most tender and delicious I've ever tasted, and the fish and chicken were also quite flavorful.  Since most Indian's are vegetarian, Bob and I had lots of meat to enjoy.  It was a fun and delicious way to end our visit to India!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mumbai, India

I'm not really sure what I expected to see upon our mid-February arrival to the city of Mumbai, formerly called Bombay.  Perhaps part of me envisioned the colorful, flamboyant, glamorous imagery of "Bollywood" mingled with lavish Shrines and Mosques.  And the other part of me anticipated the dirty, dilapidated, despair found in overcrowded slums.  For the most part, my expectations were accurate . . . India is a country of extreme contrasts.  Being on business travel with Bob, meant we would be treated like royalty, and experience the best of India to the degree possible during our short stay.  And we are truly grateful for the many kindness showered upon us in the way of accommodations, food, and gifts.  But it was difficult to experience that level of comfort while witnessing the rigid social distinctions created by the caste system.  Although I had been warned, I was not prepared for the incessant banging of beggars on the car windows at every stop along the road.  Women with unclothed babies on their hips and young children with hands outstretched for money at every bend nearly broke my heart.  Whether they were begging for themselves, or under duress as slaves to another, I could not tell.  I had to try to convince myself that is was for the best that I had no cash nor food to give.  How I wished I had carried bags of candy in my purse to distribute to those poor sweet children, if only to see a smile on their faces!  There is goodness among this people, but how can God bless a nation so devoted to idol worship?  The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ will surely dispel the darkness and bring a brightness of hope to this nation someday!

One thing I didn't anticipate seeing, was the lush green park that awaited my first gaze from our Westin Hotel window, and the lush green farmlands we saw later in our journey.  Nor did I believe that Mumbai would have many of the characteristics of any modern city.  After Bob's morning meeting, we had just a half day to get a glimpse of the best of Bombay.  Here's a sampling of what we saw on our way to The Gate of India, including the impressive British inspired train station, a beautiful bridge, and a mosque on an island in the bay that can only be reached during low tide.

The Gateway of India is located on the southern tip of Mumbai that opens to a view of the Arabian Sea.  It was constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of Britain's Kind George V and Queen Mary.  Near the arch is the famous Taj Mahal Hotel.  Much to Bob's chagrin, while visiting the arch, a "Holy Man" in white robes took my hand and wrapped several strands of yarn around my wrist, gave me a blessing and painted a big red dot on my forehead.  I was just getting into the spirit of India, but I think the guys knew that from this time forward they would have to keep an eye on me - I was marked target!  With all the washing I could manage that day, that darn red spot could not be entirely removed.  I guess I deserved it!  (By the way, it was the Indian family that asked me to be in their photo - not the other way around!)

Leaving the Gate of India put us on path through the city that took us beyond the tourist point of view, although we were still in a wealthy part of Mumbai.  We drove to a park called "Hanging Gardens" where you can get a nice view of the coastline and beach.  But I think the people are the most beautiful site in India.  Without doubt, the traditional Indian dress for women is the most lovely in all the world.  The colors and detailed ornamentation of their fabrics are stunningly feminine and flattering!  We stopped for lunch as a popular Indian buffet, which gave us a chance to sample small portions of all kinds of Indian dishes.  Bob has had some unpleasant eating experiences in India before, but everything we had this trip was fabulous!  During our week in India, we sampled foods from several different regions and we really liked it all.  And, despite all the horror stories, we never suffered from "Dehli belly" or had sinus problems with the air quality.  Thankfully, Mumbai did not have  much smog the day we there, and we were very careful to about what we ate and avoided ice and unsealed bottles of drinking water.

After lunch, we headed to the domestic airport to catch a two hour flight to New Dehli.  I thought the airline had a pretty clever logo!  I took a photo of Indian lettering, which I found to be quite interesting.  I was excited to be on my way to the capital city of India.

 New Delhi, here we come!