Landslides, floods, road and airport closures in southern India direct us away from the backwaters of Kerala, and the beaches of Goa. Instead we find ourselves on an island of luxury in a Hilton Hotel attached to a high end shopping mall in New Delhi.
The taxi drive, though, takes us through “real” Delhi, and opens our eyes to a hoard of poverty. Garbage lines the streets while women with infants, and handicapped humans tap on the car window, pleading for money. We stare straight ahead, while a window separates our worlds.
I spend the next four days in bed and in the bathroom. It happens. (At least I’m sick in a clean room with private bath) Mare takes good care of me. She is trapped in luxury. Roads without sidewalks surround the “complex” and are filled with chaos. Poverty borders impossible traffic, and there is nowhere to walk…except into the mall, which is a sentence to Hell for Mare.
She clears three metal detectors, a pat-down, and bag search before finding a food mart. There are more metal detectors and scanners in this mall and hotel than at the airport. Guards at every shop door pat down people who enter and exit. Mare spends half a day trying to find Gatorade, in a place where it is easier to find a three-thousand dollar purse. Ironic India.
Of course, Pakistan just issued threats against Delhi and the warnings are for malls, transportation hubs, and tourist destinations. Great. Where do we go now?
Time to buck-up with a fake smile and head into the sweltering heat on a half-day tour. First stop, the Red Fort, which looks strangely just like a red fort. I don’t care that it dates to the 1600s and that the prime minister of India will give his Independence Day speech from there this week. Excuse my lack of enthusiasm…I’m just trying not to soil my only pair of clean pants.
Onward, to the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque that can hold 25,000 people. Remove your shoes and walk barefoot with thousands of people on dirt gritty marble. It looks just like a Mosque! For a fee you can climb the minaret. Oh, now that sounds like fun. Obviously, I should have stayed in bed.
At the Gandhi Smiriti, a walk in the simulated footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi revitalizes my state of being. Gandhi spent 144 days here prior to being shot to death on the grounds by a Hindu zealot in 1948. His room remains as he left it and displays his meager possessions. Inspirational quotes scribed on the walls fill us with emotion and hope.
I make it through one tomb at the Humayun’s Tomb site. I think it was the tomb for either his architect or his barber. However, half-way through the garden towards Humayun’s Tomb, I must lay under a tree in the shade, soak in sweat, and watch humans sort through garbage. I realize how good I have it. Where do they go when they are sick? They are already there.
Mare forges ahead to the magnificent tomb, where Persia meets India, inspiring portions of the Taj Mahal.
Back at the Hilton, I collapse into bed.
Mare takes off on a 12-hour tour to the Taj Mahal. I stay in bed and hope to get strong enough for our flight the next day.
She jumps into the car with two nice young men from Dubai, and a guide/driver. They drive to Agra, and visit a fort, which is also red, passing large agricultural areas along the drive.
The magnificence of Taj Mahal emerges. Unlike most photos, the depth, size and dimensions of real life overwhelms the senses. Mare says, excuse the cliché, “It took my breath away.”
The story of the Taj Mahal, is that Shah Jahan constructed this as a mausoleum for his third wife, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. In later years, one of his sons overthrew him, and imprisoned him in Agra Fort. He did however have a nice accommodation, with a room on the banks of the Yamuna River that has a view of the Taj Mahal.
Mare comes through my door. Although I am grateful for a day to be sick/alone, I am most grateful that she is safely home. Tomorrow, we head to the India/Pakistan border, and will experience the Golden Temple. Ron Mitchell