India's remarkable menageries on display on streets of New (and old) Delhi
NEW DELHI - The wild streets I expected. Not necessary the wildlife.
Had a tour on Monday of Old Delhi, including the lovely Jama Masjid mosque, the largest in India. A beautiful building, with great views if you pay a little extra (on top of the entry fee and the fee for bringing a camera) for the trip up one of the minarets to the tiny viewing platform where the tour guide you didn't ask for will ask for another small fee for pointing out the sights in the distance. Lots of fun, as was our cycle rickshaw ride through the thickly populated, teeming alleyways of the old city, where we careered past carts piled with golden-yellow limes, perfumed white and red and orange flowers and stores overflowing with everything from pink saris to junky auto parts, all the while darting in and out past mopeds and other rickshaws and pedestrians perfectly used to being nearly run down 1,437 times a day without actually getting hit.
So that was awesome, as were the heady aromas of tea, cinnamon, masala mixings and fiery peppers at the Spice Market. But what I hadn't quite counted on was the animals.
Sure, I knew well in advance about the sacred cows we'd see wandering the streets. And my son, who lives here while at university for a few months, had told me about the monkeys. (I spotted my first monkey scampering on the grounds of former Viceroy Lord Mountbatten's place on Sunday.) We saw one atop one of those concrete bunkers outside a foreign consulate building later, causing my tour guide to label it a "security monkey." Not a great joke, but he wasn't a terribly funny guy, either.
I hadn't counted on the small herd of goats being paraded through old Delhi, as well as the only elephant I've seen so far, a horse rider dressed all in silver and red on his way to a (we presume) wedding and small carts being pulled by donkeys or horses. I've seen enormous camels pulling carts along the highway too many times to count (but it's hard to get a good picture out the window of your car, as this woeful effort shows) as well as giant, black water buffalo.
"In India, you don't have to go to the zoo," my tour guide in Agra explained. "The zoo comes to you."
Good point. And not just the animals. There's an enormous parade of humanity everywhere you go, and the cacophony of horns and honks is something to behold in the old city. As well as the new. Some of the "cars" on the highway, often the tiny, three-wheeled auto rickshaws that ply the city by the tens of thousands, can be seen on the highway with as many people as you'd see at a preseason "Buffao Bills in Toronto" game. (Provide your own rim shot, folks).
Our train to Agra was delayed so much we gave up and grabbed a taxi, who took us on a (for me) harrowing drive that finished in the dark as we drove past all sorts of humanity and watched in the dusk as dark figures gathered by fires near the side of the road. Pretty entertaining, actually.
Spent the night at the lovely, modern Mughal Sheraton in Agra, quite close to the Taj Mahal. There are beautiful gardens and fountains and a real sense of quiet and solitude; something that seems hard to find in this crowded city. They've taken care at the hotel to name rooms and entries and bridges on the property after Mughal emperors, which is a nice touch.
Quite modern rooms, as I said, and a pretty good breakfast to boot.
More tomorrow on remarkable Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.
Sheraton. Agra on Wednesday report.