On the afternoon of the 31st, a few of us decided to walk around the neighborhood surrounding the hotel. I'll never forget those first sites of New Delhi. I've lived in New York and visited other major world cities, but none offer the energy and motion that New Delhi does. People are literally all over the city - I don't know if the idea of a quiet city street quite exists here! All over you'll find vendors, pedestrians, people talking to one another, all sorts of different businesses - Just an incredible mosaic of society. Even three days into my journey, I still don't know that I've quite gotten used to the bustle of this city (and country) - I'm incredibly amazed at how lively everything is here.
After our walk around the city, the next order of business was New Year's fun - Delhi style! Our colleagues from India organized an opportunity to attend a New Year's party at the rooftop of a country club/lounge, which was quite elegant. The party was complete with outstanding food, drinks, gracious Indian hosts and terrific views of New Delhi. Noticeably absent from the party, however, was music of any kind. As you may have read in the headlines in December, a woman in New Delhi was brutally raped on a city bus, and later died due to her injuries. In an act of mourning and respect to this young woman, Indians across the country decided to shut off the music at their New Year's parties. We found this to reflect highly on Indian society and left us optimistic that the country would move on from this tragedy. Nonetheless, the party was still a blast, and while a late night bar hop didn't await us on New Year's Day, the still-weary travelers were grateful for a good night sleep to welcome 2013!
Our first full day in New Delhi found us mostly touring this incredible city. We took a bus ride around the old part of Delhi, which was tons of fun, and such a sight! New Year's Day is a popular time to visit temples around town, and we found that crowds around many parts of the city were super intense. We did find some refuge, ironically, at the house and gardens where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated over 60 years ago. Despite the horrible event that begot Gandhi at this location, the serenity of this house and garden was a very nice reprieve from the hustle of life in Delhi. Our day continued with a drive around other major landmarks around town, including the Red Fort and various government buildings. In the evening, we visited Delhi Hut, where one can purchase various hand crafts from around the country. I certainly scored a few good buys, and several of us realized that we had better negotiation skills than we thought!
As fun as Delhi Hut was, there was a tough moment for us afterward, as some children begging in the streets approached us as we awaited our bus. While we'd seen numerous examples of grinding poverty already, these kids were an especially heartbreaking sight for all of us. While India is certainly developing, the chronic poverty that exists here continues to be a hardship for the nation. For Americans like me, it's especially humbling to think about how privileged we are and how bewildering it is that a country with so much wealth can also house so much poverty. I hope that the remainder of the trip provides some solutions to that question.
Day #3 found us continuing to learn more about India and its people as we visited the granddaddy of Indian landmarks, the Taj Majal. This palace, in Agra (3 hours from New Delhi), required us to ride on an unheated bus in ~40 degree Fahrenheit temperatures for 3 hours, but was so worth the trip! Before the Taj, we visited the Agra Fort, which the Mughal ruler Akbar had established in the seventeenth century. The building was incredible, and our tour guide did an amazing job telling us of the history of the fort. What was especially incredible was the symbolism of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism that recurred throughout the fort - It's a bit amazing to think of how these traditions (at least for a time) coexisted in a very large part of the Subcontinent and Central Asia.
In the afternoon, we visited a theater offering several dances from across India, which were just amazing! The theater was a very nicely constructed facility, and the dances profiled celebrations of different Hindu gods from four different states within India. The dancers were incredibly talented, and their vestments were very elaborate and beautiful. The fun continued as we entered the Taj Mahal in the late, sunny afternoon for a walk around the palace. I think all of us could hardly believe that we were seeing the building, and it was just as incredible as I thought it would be. While the architecture is impressive, it's the designs on the temple that, to me, made it so beautiful. While I doubt that pictures can really do any one of the Wonders of the World justice, seeing the full Taj Mahal in person was the only way to really admire this landmark. After a walk around the expansive lawn of the Taj, as well as a walk inside the palace, we departed back to New Delhi for another incredible day to await us tomorrow.
As I look at the clock, I realize that I better get some sleep to keep up with Delhi for another day. More updates soon!