Our first day in India was utterly overwhelming and absolutely incredible at the same time.
After arriving at the hotel around 10:15 am, we had about 45 minutes to unpack and “refresh” (considering we’d been traveling for 37 hours this seemed hopeless) before our tour of Delhi began. The AIFS program starts with the “Golden Triangle Tour” before settling in Hyderabad, and we were starting immediately!
Our first stop was some of the government buildings as New Delhi is the capital. We saw the president’s home, known as Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the other administrative buildings flanking it. Directly down the street from Rashtrapati Bhavan is India Gate, which was a gift from the British to honor the Indian soldiers who fought in World War I.
Following this, we saw some Mughal ruins from the 13th century and the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi, the largest mosque in India.
We also were able to take a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. Zipping along the narrow, winding streets, catching whiffs of sandalwood incense and street food was absolutely thrilling. I thought I would be (a) more terrified that our cart would tip over and/or crash (b) more stressed about the apparent disorganization or (c) all of the above; yet it was surprisingly refreshing. It appeared to be a happy chaos.
Immediately after, we paused for lunch. I was extremely excited. Our first bite of Indian food in India. Quite thrilling! However, when we walked into the restaurant, our guide led us to the table then abruptly left, leaving us to navigate the menu on our own. Luckily for us, two lovely Indian couples seated to our left kindly helped explain what would be good to order. The food was absolutely amazing. A thousand times better than the Indian food in the States.
Following lunch, we continued our whirlwind tour of Delhi. Our tour guide, by the way, was fabulous: he knew so much history and was careful to make sure we understood exactly what we were seeing, why we were seeing it and why it was important.
He also emphasized that India was: a country like no other: we will never experience something quite like this ever again in our lives! And this is why we call it ‘Incredible !ndia.’ He also offered guidelines on how to live: easy come, easy go, no stress, no depression; which isn’t bad advice if you think about it.
We next stopped for a photo op at the Lotus Temple, where people of the Baha’i faith worship, and continued on to Professor Butt’s shop. He sold Kashmir rugs handmade in his shop, and he very kindly demonstrated to us how they were made. One rug, about a normal size, can take well over a year for five people to make. Every single piece of thread was hand knotted. I can’t imagine working on something so detailed for so long. He then tried very very hard to convince us we needed to buy a rug ASAP. While I’m sure the rugs were a great price, as traveling students we tried to express to him that a 6 x 9 rug simply was not practical (let me know if you want his business card though). However, he also taught us how to tell if a rug is handmade or hand stitched, so if you’re looking for a rug-shopping expert, you know who to ask.
We were also able to quickly visit the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, called Raj Ghat. It was very serene, beautiful, and peaceful. They have an eternal flame lit to honor Gandhi, and beautiful gardens.
You would think after all these historical sites and monuments we’d be done, right? Wrong. We still had three places left to visit. Battling jet lag, we forged on to the Red Fort. This was a bit confusing for me because in one of the books I had read about India it said the Red Fort was in Agra. Apparently, there are two Red Forts: one in Agra and one in Delhi. The one in Delhi was built by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal emperor who later built the Taj Mahal. He moved the capital of the Mughal empire back to Delhi from Agra, and began construction on this fort in 1639. We could only view it from a distance, but the white marble and red sandstone were stunning.
Next, we visited the “Baby Taj,” formally known as Humayun’s Tomb. It is a fantastic building, designed by a Persian architect and commissioned by Humayun’s wife in 1572. It was the first structure to use red sandstone to such an extent! Emperor Humayun was the second Mughal emperor. The symmetry of the entire building was absolutely beautiful.
Finally, we stopped at “the tallest stone tower in India,” the Qutb Minar. It was built by the Mughals in 1193 (wow) but does have Hindu-inspired architecture. It was here that we had our first glimpse of the impending monsoons as the previously light grey sky darkened and lightning flashed all around. Monsoon season is July – September so I arrived just in time! Luckily, we made it out in time before serious rain.
Tour complete, we (gratefully) returned to the hotel and got some much needed rest. Tomorrow, we head to Agra to see more of India, including the Taj Mahal!