Delhi has a huge amount to offer. But with sleeping off the trip, a bit of business and a 5AM train to catch the next day, I'm afraid that most of it's going to have to wait until another time. I had one afternoon. You never know when you're going to pass through again, so you still have to make the most of it. The day before, one of my travel companions had met a driver, so we set out to see as much as we could.
Most of what we saw was in New Delhi, as opposed to (Old) Delhi. The difference is that New Delhi has the wide boulevards and grand buildings you would expect the British to build, as opposed to the medieval city of Delhi, which was what they found. This was a very touristy day. We saw mostly government buildings and embassies, which don't impress me an awful lot. Even in this area, though, there were people on the streets, and you could get some small idea of the way that Delhi works. Outside the big homes (with even bigger fences) for instance, there were men getting a shave on the street.
One of the more interesting buildings was the government building, which is on a hill near the Parliament. It has some if the most syncretic architecture you can see in India. It's definitely Indian, but it's also Greco-Roman, Victorian and who knows what else. In Indian architecture there are small structures (called chhatri) with columns and a domed roof, which look like little umbrellas. In this building they became rotundas. There were also tribes of monkeys on the grounds, which added a certain novelty. The building was heavily guarded, and for some reason you could only take pictures of one side of the building, which, unfortunately, was the side with the sun behind it.
On the way out I met a bunch of very friendly guys, who asked, "Where are you from?" We exchanged pleasantries, "Nice camera," one of them said, and then they wanted to take a picture with me. "I'm ugly! " I told them, but they insisted. They all gathered around me. At that moment my all my urban instincts switched on. I was surrounded by a bunch of guys who liked my camera, and that made me extremely uncomfortable. I went along with it, though, except that one hand was resting on my shoulder bag, and the other was in my pocket where my wallet was.
It was only with the second picture that I realized what this was about. I was posed giving one of the guys a huge, camera-facing handshake, the kind that politicians give for the press. As a foreigner, I was a tourist attraction. These guys were visiting cosmopolitan Delhi from another part of India, and hob-knobbing with the likes of me. Back at home, they'd say, "This is me, with a visiting dignitary." Back at home, there's also a picture of a fellow with a strange expression and his hand in his pocket. May they choose the better of the two.
We visited the Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhi used to stay in Delhi, and the place where he was assassinated. There's now a museum, a bookshop, and a small gallery where they sell prisoners' art work (which coincidentally, has the theme of Gandhi). We also passed the Prime Minister's residence, and the driver asked us if we wanted to see the place that Indira Gandhi was shot by her Sikh guard. We didn't at all, but there were huge lines of Indian tourists waiting for the pleasure, cameras poised.
We did cram in a little bit of history, the stress being on "cram", since it was in the midst of modern Delhi. We paid a visit to the Red Fort, which was the seat of Mughal government, and the minute we got out of the car we were set on by the bicycle rickshaw drivers, who wanted to take us to where we already were. They followed us and kept insisting, to the point where my travel companion and I couldn't even have a discussion. I kept saying, "No, thanks," which didn't work all that well, but it was the most that you could do while staying polite.
My travel companion was a bond trader, and he had much less time for this sort of thing than I did. Finally, he faced them directly and said, slowly and clearly, "GO ... A-WAY!" They were startled and they were taken aback, but they did manage to recede into the background. I wouldn't have done that myself, and I was a bit embarrassed. Being hassled is extremely common, and the issue of how to deal with it came up repeatedly throughout the trip until I found a way of handling it that I was happy with.
We found we couldn't get in the main entrance, and did end up taking a rickshaw around the other side of the Fort, which was enormous. The street was clogged, it took half an hour, and it probably would have been much better to walk. The bright side is that we experienced congestion, looked at a crowded market and waved and smiled at everyone else sitting in traffic. When we got to the other side, there was a motorcycle cop at the entrance saying the place was closed for an official Prime Minister's function, so we turned right around again. This is always what happens when you only have one day, and it never helps if that one day is a Sunday.
The sun was starting to set, and we made one last try to see something historical Humayum's tomb. Humayum was one of the Mughal sultans of Delhi, and he buried himself in grand style. The main building was a precursor to the Taj Mahal. The tomb, of course, was in the process of being renovated, the grounds were all dug up, and it was getting dark. Better than nothing, but I gladly would have taken more time.
The clincher was that as I was reading that night, I realized that there's a museum of Central Asian antiquities in Delhi, with artifacts collected by Aurel Stein. Stein found a treasure trove of early Buddhist writings in the Taklamakan Desert*. He intended to collect these items for the British Museum, but the monks weren't interested. He talked the monks into giving them up by saying he would would "return" them to the birthplace of Buddhism (India). By a small stretch of the imagination, a temple in India became a museum in Delhi, but nominally, he kept to the bargain.
There would be no chance to see any of this, not now, nor on the way back after Rajasthan. But this trip, after all, was a trip to Rajasthan, Delhi being a small bonus. I now know what I don't know, and it's definitely worth a spending a week in Delhi at some time in the future.
*This is an amazing story, and chronicled in Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
"We're closed!" At the Red Fort, one of many things I didn't see in Delhi (yet).