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Delhi-The City I Love to Hate
May 6, 2000

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The jingle of a biker's bell competes to be heard over the obnoxious honking of brightly decorated buses, cars, and three-wheeled rickshaws; the sweet smells of incense burning by a shrine under a tree mix with the nauseating stench of the open sewers; an enormous cargo truck zooms by spewing thick clouds of black smoke at the people swarming the streets; an old man wearing a white cloth chants ancient religious mantras completely oblivious to the cow rooting through the garbage pile beside him. Yup, I know I'm back in Delhi!


obnoxious - disgustingly objectionable; highly offensive
spewing - oozing out as if under pressure; sending or casting forth with vigor or violence or in great quantity
searing - burning, scorching, or injuring with, or as if with, sudden application of intense heat
moghal - an Indian Muslim of, or descended from one of several conquering groups of Mongol, Turkish, and Persian origin
droves - large numbers; crowds

If there is one thing that India is not, it is subtle. She [India] is sure to awaken even the dullest person's senses. Andrew, Monica, and I flew into Delhi a few days ago and are still overwhelmed by the sensory onslaught waged by the city. As much as I love India-after all, this is where my family comes from, and I have over 60 cousins living here-I have to admit that Delhi is my least favorite city. Sure, it is the capital, but once I've done my obligatory rounds visiting the important monuments, I'm ready to leave! It is over-crowded, highly polluted, and very noisy; it is too cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. In fact, summer is the season that is greeting us World Trekkers into India-the daytime temperature in Delhi was 44 degrees Celsius yesterday, which is over 110 degrees Fahrenheit! It is so hot here that I bet even those of you who hate showering would be taking four or five cold showers in a day just to cool off.

It is hard enough getting around Delhi's crowded, polluted streets on a nice day, and the hot, bright, summer sun, only makes it unbearable. The locals I've been watching have left me completely amazed-the women dressed in stylish clothing, are perfectly coiffed and made-up, facing the Delhi heat without any signs of discomfort. Their silky, flowing saris seem to just float over the filth on the streets around them.

As much as I like to complain about Delhi, the fact remains that many treasures are hidden behind the chaos of Delhi. So, Andrew and I decide to brave the heat and go to the Old City. While we might have braved the heat, it was our fearless bicycle rickshaw-puller who braved the street traffic! He wove through cars, scooters, bicycles, buses, and pedestrians in the rush hour, turning into fast approaching, on-coming traffic, and inching past high-speed buses. Whew! The fright from the near-accidents, the pollution-laden air, and the lung-searing air was too much for me to bear-I had to hold my breath and close my eyes for most of the trip across town. When we started to slow down, and I knew we were near our destination, I opened my eyes and found that we had left the wide, modern streets of New Delhi for the windy, narrow paths of Old Delhi.

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Old Delhi used to be the capital of the mighty Moghal Empire (1526-1857 CE), and was called Shahjahanabad back then. The Moghal ruler, Shah Jahan, built the city, but never had the chance to enjoy his new capital, because his son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in the city of Agra! Even though the Moghal reign in Delhi ended with Aurangzeb's death, the city his father built lives on, pulsating with crowded streets and bazaars.

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While most of Delhi is predominantly Hindu, Old Delhi retains a definite Muslim feel, owing to its old mosques and specimens of Moghal architecture. The main road of the Old City, Chandni Chowk, is an over-crowded bazaar that's incredibly crowded day and night. You can find the small shops selling almost everything you can think of-jewelry, clothes, food, household items, and even car parts. It is a colorful and lively place-one that could be an extremely enjoyable cultural experience, only if it weren't so hot and loud. Andrew and I couldn't handle much more, so we decided to head towards the huge centerpiece of the Old City, the enormous Red Fort. We couldn't leave the Old City without first sneaking a quick peek at this legendary monument.

We headed towards the tall red sandstone walls, and were greeted by more chaos. Men offering to be our guides, auto-rickshaw drivers wanting to take us somewhere, vendors selling cold drinks and spicy snacks, kids begging, and people selling tourist trinkets and maps. "Aaarrgh, Delhi! Does the headache ever end?"

Finally, we bought our tickets, and headed through the mighty Lahore Gate-gateway to the Red Fort-past the vacationing Indians posing for pictures, and we were immediately greeted by another bazaar! "You mean there's a bazaar even here," I exclaimed, amazed that even this historic monument would be turned in to a place to shop and bargain. But as it turns out, this covered bazaar has been a part of the Red Fort since the beginning.

Lahore Gate

The Lahore Gate-so named because it faces in the direction of Lahore, Pakistan-is significant not only in ancient history as the main gate of this ancient Moghal fort, but also in present day as an important symbol of the modern Indian nation. During India's long struggle for independence from British colonial rule, nationalists often dreamed of the day that the Indian flag would fly over the Red Fort.

Since Independence, leaders like Nehru and Indira Gandhi have used the gate as a backdrop for political speeches, knowing the symbolic and emotional power it holds for the people of India. Every year on Independence Day (August 15) people gather in the big open area in front of Lahore Gate for a speech from the Prime Minister.

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The Red Fort was the center of the Moghal Empire during the peak of their reign in the sub-continent. The royal family and its guests would arrive on elephants and elaborately ornamented carriages,

Take a tour of the Red Fort at Agra

28.8 56.6 DSL

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and alight at this covered bazaar that catered to their royal needs. Back then, this bazaar sold a variety of silks, precious stones, jewelry, and gold. These days, however, royalty doesn't frequent the fort, instead, it is tourists who come in droves alighting from taxis and rickshaws. And the covered bazaar sells a load of tourist junk- postcards, film, and other souvenirs, instead of silk and jewels, but as they do at all tourist spots, these un-royal goods still sell at royal prices!

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Andrew and I walked through the bazaar and into the main gardens-and we couldn't believe our eyes. "Where are we? Are we still in Delhi?", we echoed each other. Before us lay green grassy lawns, edged with bright blooming flowers, and picnicking families enjoying the gardens from under the cool shade of the lush green trees. It seemed impossible that this peaceful haven existed so close to the chaos and noise of the city. It means that the whole time we were wandering through the crowded streets of Chandni Chowk, we could have found this much peace just over that red sandstone wall? Suddenly I noticed birds flying overhead-funny I didn't notice any while walking through the scents and sounds of the bazaar outside.

Related Links
For more information on India, check out Lonely Planet's Destination India:

We walked through the old marble buildings, where royal visitors met with the emperor and the court-musicians played. I tried to imagine how regal the place must have been during the peak of the Moghal Empire. The intricately carved relief-work on the walls, the immaculately manicured lawns, the ornate furnishings and the jewels-all pointed to evidence of its regal past. We wandered through the gardens and watched the red sandstone walls glow in the setting sun.

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After an hour or so of relaxing in the tranquil respite offered by the Fort Gardens, I was beginning to get bored. I felt bad telling Andrew that, since we had finally gotten the peace and quiet we had been asking for. But I had to, because these old monuments, no matter how beautiful they are, are not what I long for when I think of India. But even before the words were formed in my head, Andrew said "Hey let's say we get out of here and get back into the real world!"

Much to my delight, my fellow trekker was thinking the same thing as I was. We said goodbye to the picture perfect lawns, the quiet peace, and the lush trees and prepared to dive back into the thick of the city madness. Back in the crowded streets, the setting sun didn't seem to matter the least bit, because Chandni Chowk never sleeps! We shoved our way through the crowds towards one of the countless street vendors cooking up savory, spicy treats on the roadside. As we struggled to choose between fried potato patties, curry filled turnovers, and spiced up beans, the latest hit from a Hindi film blared on radios trying to drown the constant beeping of traffic, and I spot a naked young boy chasing a cow through the streets. Ah! This is the India I love!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Lost in Bombay
Andrew - The Things We Do for Love -- The Story Behind the Taj Mahal
Brian - Beginnings and Endings
Jasmine - Indiana Jazz and the Temple of Doom...or Not
Monica - The Eternal Light Shines Brightly: Amar Jyoti, a School for the Differently-abled

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