Bangalore Airport, Friday 29 April, 6:30 pm.
Am now waiting for my international connection on Singapore Airlines to take me back to Australia. Well – I’m waiting for the check-in to open at 8pm, for an 11pm departure. My fellow travellers, Peter and Gabriel, insisted on seeing me off from Delhi airport even though they then needed to go back into New Delhi for their overnight train to Varanasi before heading to Nepal. I’m sure they pleased not to be carrying my bag anymore, and I am certainly grateful that they did. How could I travel more lightly? Did I really need the 4 sets of hot-weather clothing and the 2 sets of cold-weather clothing? I wore them, and appreciated having clean clothes every day. Did I need the camera tripod? It helped me take some good low light mountain shots, but I could have improvised. Did I need the travelling set of medicines? Some of them were useful.
Our final morning we had breakfast in one of the kinds of places frequented by back-packers all over the world, and with much the same sort of international breakfast menu. We then wandered the narrow lanes in Paharganj, too narrow even for an auto-rickshaw, as store-keepers were opening for the day and small single-room neighbourhood temples were offering the morning puja. We looked in one and I was struck by the atmosphere of calm cleanness. The priest did his best to explain who the deities enshrined there were, while a woman gently and lovingly washed one of the statues.
Thursday’s arrival was uneventful. The security in Leh included yet a further frisking while leaving the terminal for boarding the plane. We also had to identify our luggage piece by piece and match it with luggage receipts before it was loaded onto the plane. I was entertaining a number of disasters, none of which eventuated. When Korean friend made the plane reservation there was confusion over my name, and so my ticket had me as CHRISTOPHER /MR. And in the confusion of checking in in Leh my much lugged about bag, labelled in my name, was checked in on one of the Koreans’ tickets. When surrounded by soldiers toting automatic weapons it’s easy to imagine what might go wrong.
The flight out was spectacular as we zig-zagged our reverse path out through the mountains.
Travel from Delhi Airport to New Delhi Station was in the air-conditioned comfort of the newly opened airport express. A lot of Delhi seems to be under construction, as if preparing for some major international event. Well – if it wasn’t finished in time for the Commonwealth Games last year, then perhaps it will be ready for whatever’s next. Emerging from the metro station there was a total absence of taxi touts. Where are they all we said to each other. We walked a bit further and suddenly they appeared. We eventually haggled our way through a succession of auto-rickshaw drivers, practicing the technique of walking away and waiting for them to follow with reduced offers. Delivered in Paharganj we found a hotel, haggled over the rate, dropped our baggage and went out exploring. The National Gandhi Museum is not one of the major tourist attractions, but its simplicity and its devotion to preserving the teaching of Gandhi were a powerful evocation of his spirit. It preserved not only his teaching, but also seemingly every item ever used by him. Dentures, sandals, nail-clippers, ear-wax removers and two of his teeth were just some. But the powerful witness was given by the blood-stained clothing he was wearing at the time of his assassination. Nearby, at Raj Ghat, was the place of his cremation.
We then decided to walk to the Red Fort. On the map it didn’t seem far, but it was near 45 minutes of walking alongside a busy highway. Even the taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers gave up on us, realising how these crazy foreigners were intent on demonstrating that it was not only mad dogs and Englishmen who would go out in the midday sun, but also Koreans and New Zealander.
The narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk, west of the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort, are crowded with markets. The section we explored was the place for dental instruments, fireworks and ball-bearings. The nearby Jama Masjid is a huge mosque, beautifully built by the Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Nearby is a Jain temple, with a bird hospital. (Perhaps we too could establish one at one of our friaries?). The Red Fort is large but nowhere near as impressive as Agra’s Red Fort (also the same Shah Jahan – of Taj Mahal fame). On a hot day we could imagine life here when the many water-ways and fountains were operating, and the shah and his family could bath in rose-scented water. Such thoughts prompted the desire for iced-coffee, and after a frantic auto-rickshaw drive to Connaught Place we eventually found just that, before an easy walk back to the hotel in Paharganj (the word “hotel” perhaps suggests something like the Hilton with crisp cotton sheets, spacious lounges and lobbies, obsequious staff – none of which describe the Hotel Arupat, although it was perfectly clean and adequate, and also popular with many of the backpackers who wash up in Delhi.