Saturday, February 26, 2011

Very Cold and Delhi

Typical weather conditions over Mussoorie

Namaste all. So, I would'nt say there's been any really big news here. Hindi continues at it's usual slow pace. I think I have gotten a whole lot better, but right now my mind is still just a big soup of tenses and constructions and genders (which sounds rather nasty, but oh well). However I do think that I can understand vastly more of what people are saying than last year, though constructing my own sentences remains a slow laborious process.

And speaking of Hindi


1: Mera dost ek burah bhoot hai aur uska nam raju hai
(My friend is an old ghost and his name is Raju.)

2: Meynay kharab anda khariday.
(I bought a bad egg).

3: Ap Mauana ka gau ka rasta per hai bahoot sunder Lirkiya milungay!
(You will meet many pretty girls on the way to the village of Mauana.)

4: Mai admi hu. Admi hu, aur bahut bahut Kalam hai!
(I am a man. A man, and many many pens!)

5: Barf
(Frozen precipitation, ice).

So, these pictures are actually from a couple of weeks ago, from back in mid Feb. There's really not much time to use the internet. Just bare with me.....

Anyway, the weather has improved over the last few days, but before it was just rainy and grey and cold practically all the time. Mostly it wasn't much fun, though one does often see these really amazing cloud and lighting conditions, of the sort that you never ever see in Delaware (or probably anywhere in the east coast). Actually, even though these are the lesser Himalayas, from Mussoorie they still drop, almost vertically it seems, close to 5000 feet to the city of Dehradun, so one often finds oneself above the clouds.

We had a snowstorm a few days before I went to Delhi. It wasn't like any snowstorm I'd ever seen before. It started as a regular thunderstorm, which transitioned rapidly into a really intense hail storm (where about half an inch of ice accumulated in about five minutes).

Hail accumulating

Then the storm went from hail to freezing rain, and then at night it turned all to snow. But all the while the lightening kept up. So I went out for a walk that night, in the ice and thunderstorm (and when I texted my good friend Aneesha about it, she said: "That sounds weird but nice," which it was). The effect that you get when you have really bright lightening and the ground is covered with ice is really startling: it's like the whole world has just been electrified. Highly recommended.

Landour at night, during the snow storm

The day after the storm

A major landmark: The Landour T.V. Tower, after the storm

In total I think we received about four inches of hail and ice and snow, though when the sun came out the next day it melted rapidly. So rapidly in fact that that walking under the trees was like being back in the storm. So much ice was falling off them that you got covered in it walking from one place to the other.

While the snow was rapidly melting, two minutes from my flat

A couple days later I decided to go down to Delhi (or, Dilli, if you want to be proper and snooty), mostly just to visit friends, and visit Humayun's tomb, and to get warm. Took the 5:00 PM Dehradun Shatabdi (which is quite nice) down, and stayed in crusty-ass old Pahar Ganj.

Ah....Pahar Ganj: A truly wacky little world of its own. Or, in Hindi: "Pahar Ganj ek alag Dunia Hai. It's situated about half a kilometer west of Connaught Place, and maybe a kilometer and half from the YWCA, Jantar Mantar, Park Hotel, and all that upscale stuff in Lutyens Delhi (as in Edward Lutyen, the architect who gave India all those roundabouts). But it feels like something on a different planet. These days its primarily known as a leathery backpacker/ hippy/ drug tourist/ sleazy Delhi bastard/ any conceivable shady character/ hangout. It's not that dangerous, at least, if you stay at the right hotel, but it's really really......shady, even by Indian standards. But it's also convenient as, if you need a hotel right after you get off the train, Pahar Ganj is right next to railway station. Also, some of the hotels aren't half bad, though they're lots of other ones that are, well, more than half bad, or even totally bad.

But the hippies are relative new comers to the area. It began as a suburb of Shajahanabad, the old walled city that Shah Jahan built in the 17th century which comprises the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, Ajmer Gate, the Jama Masjid. So I presume that Pahar Ganj dates from roughly the same period. The hippies only started showing up in the 70s (and I think quite a few never left). It's funny: so many of the soul searching westerners who find their way to Pahar Ganj dress in exactly the same way, which seems to be a European's exotic notion of how Indians dress. In reality, it seems to be the way an exotic European hipster dresses. I was talking to my friend Aneesha about this phenomenon and she was saying that sometimes her friends would go and buy fake Indian Hippie duds just to go to Pahar Ganj and blend in.

These days, with all the Israelis and German bakeries and budget hotels, the place feels like something of a globalization nightmare, though its still possible, if you're willing to lose yourself deep in the tangled network of shady alleys, to find yourself in areas where things obviously haven't changed that much since medieval times. It's very Hindustan.

Anyway, when I arrived off the train, my plan was to go to a hotel that I had visited a number of times last year (which happens to be down a dark weird narrow alley containing a fantastic number of hotels, German bakeries, internet cafes, and the worlds creepiest non-functioning-though-well-lit-and-well-maintained restaurant) . But when I got there, all the rooms were booked, as was every room in every other hotel on that weird little alley. So I wound up being forced to have a real experience: I had to stay a crappy Pahar Ganj hotel. It's actual name was something or other Palace. But I shall forever remember it as Hotel Dusty Death. It was precisely the sort of place that locals always tell you to avoid (or "all your stuff will get stolen in two seconds flat"). The floor in the main corridor had a giant yawning hole in it. The air was full of plaster dust. The whole place was empty but for me and some obnoxious geeky Koreans. When you ran the faucet in the bathroom, water spilled across the floor into the bedroom. Though, I have to admit, I had always somewhat morbidly wondered what a really lousy hotel in Pahar Ganj was like, so the experience was that unique combination of repulsion and fascination that one so often encounters in India. Oh, and the place was run by odd, transitional-looking Garwalis (who were quite polite, and didn't seem particularly shady, though they sure ran an appalling establishment.)

That night, I had weird dreams. The only one I remember involved Lodi Gardens (a Lodi Dynasty Tomb Complex/ Raj-era garden in central Delhi, which is quite nice). Me and my friend Aneesha were trying to get into the gardens, which in the dream happened to be in L.A., not Delhi. But there was an entrance fee of 10 rupees (even though it's free in the real world) and a guy who either was Ving Rhames, or looked exactly like Ving Rhames, was sitting behind the ticket counter, and whenever we asked for a ticket, Ving Rhames would get up from his seat, walk over to the gate of the garden, open it, and slowly recite a little poem that went:

Moo Cow
Moo Cow
Who's a little Moo Cow?
Udder udder udder's where
the milk comes out.

And then he would go back and sit in his chair and act like he didn't see us. So, me and Aneesha found this quite annoying and perplexing, and we tried two or three more times, but we got the same result. Finally, we were about to give up, when this little Indian guy came in from the side and cut in front of us. Then he gave Ving Rhames a 50 rupee note, and Ving Rhames nodded. Then the guy gave him a 10 rupee note, and Ving Rhames gave him a ticket and let him through. So, basically, the deal was that you had to pay Ving Rhames a bribe of rs. 50, just to get him to stop reciting his cow poem, and then you could pay for the ticket. So, then Aneesha said: "Oh, it's just another one of these stupid scams," and we left. And then I woke up, just like Tommy Lee Jones at the end of No Country Old Men.

After that, I transfered to the other, nicer, Hotel Downtown. And had a quite nice time from that point on. Me and Aneesha went to the Tibetan Refugee Settlement in Majnu Ka Tila, which is apparently simply referred to as Majnu Ka Tilla...which is a bit odd, actually. The name comes from a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) called Majnu Ka Tila, which was in turn named after a certain, evidently crazy Moslem acetic who was know as Majnu (crazy), who occupied a certain hillock (tilla). But Guru Nanak (I believe the first Sikh guru), came across this Majnu on his hillock, and then Majnu, seeking spiritual enlightenment, became Guru Nanak's disciple, whereupon Guru Nanak, impressed by mr. Manju, proclaimed something along the lines of "this spot shall forever bear your name." Later the Gurudwara was built. And then, much much later, the Tibetians showed up, settled in the area, and the refugee center came to be known as "Majnu Ka Tilla."

The settlement itself is quite's rather like what would happen if you mixed Leh Ladakh and Delhi. Mostly these days it seems to be a place to go and eat, though if you wanted bootleg Chinese DVDs, it's a great place to find them. Also, the place probably contains much more than what I saw, so it certainly deserves another trip. But the restaurant I ate at was really good.

Later that day, me and Aneesha went out to Humayun's Tomb, which is, I say unequivocally, the most beautiful sight to see in Delhi. The Red Fort may be more impressive, the Jama Masjid may be more of an adventure, Tughlukabad may be creepier, and the Qutub Minar complex, where one gets this incredible sense of layer upon layer of history all jumbled together, may be more interesting, but Humayun's Tomb is without a doubt the nicest thing just to see in the city.

But, on a historical note, Humayun was Baburs, the first Moghul emperor (if one doesn't count Tamerlain, whom the Moghuls are descended from) son, and Akbar's father. Basically, after fighting it out with his brother to take control of the areas Babur had taken, he gained control of north India, but was kicked back out by an Afghan by the name of Sher Shah Suri, retreated to Persia, and then moved back in after 15 years or so with Persian backing. But that's why, for example, the Moghul court language became Farsi instead of some central Asian language, and the later Moghuls identified themselves more with Persia than they did with central Asia. Anyway, Humayun reasserted his control and expanded Moghul influence in India, though he died soon thereafter: he tripped on a piece of astronomical equipment and hit his head. In fact, from his tomb complex, you can see the walls of the Old Fort, his capital (also Sher Shah Suri's), which is where he died.

Humayun's Tomb

But the tomb complex, which includes a number of other tombs besides Humayun's, is a great place to wander around, even if they do rip you off at the gate (Indians have to pay rs. 10, foreigners rs. 250). But the old system of fountains and little canals (made to resemble the descriptions of heaven in the Koran) which the Moghuls built are still in operation, and the garden's are quite well maintained. One does have to navigate one's way around the multitudes of what Aneesha describes as "Cannodling Couples," but it's worth it.

In the Jantar Mantar

So, that was Saturday. On Sunday I went to church, and then visited the Delhi Jantar Mantar, right across the street from the Delhi YWCA, one of five astrological observatories built by the Rajput king Jai Sing Rana. The instruments themselves are incredibly weird: they seem like some wacky giant piece of modern art. However, as far as I can tell, the structures have been totally rebuilt in recent times, so the effect is not like being in ruins but rather being in a modern construction. Anyway, I climbed those stairs to the right of the picture and called home, visited some more people, and then headed back to Landour the following morning....

And that's all for now

As always, I miss everybody, except Brian

Patrick Rogers

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