Mosques, Mists and Mystique
Today we got up around 7:30 and I made it downstairs just in time to grab a piece of toast before we left for the day. Our first stop was the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It is said that this is the site that the Prophet Muhammad will return to Earth at. Upon walking through the perimeter you are greeted with an exceptionally large square, a small fountain and a large mosque off to your side. The square is filled with pigeons and ravens as there is a massive pile of bird feed out to the side of the square. I sat down to one corner of the square and began to sketch the mosque. I wasn’t very far in when a little girl comes up to me to see what I was sketching. She was pretty interested so I ripped some paper out of my little notebook and gave it to her and a pen so she could sketch too. She immediately brought her little brother over and gave it to him to draw on. I finished up sketching and began to head off. There was one groundskeeper of the mosque who seemed to do every job at the place. He folded prayer mats, scrubbed bird poop off the floors and swept the square in the most beautiful way I have ever seen. He had a tatter of old clothes roped at one end and loose at the other. He would twirl the loose end over his head and bring it down before him in this circular motion. It was like a very strange dance he was performing in lines all over the square. We soon went up to one of the minarets that overlooks Delhi. Up there the view was so surreal. Delhi did not end. It simply faded into the fog. You truly realized just how large the city was up there.
After the mosque we walked through a Bazar before we went to the Red Fort. An absolutely beautiful walled in structure in the center of Delhi. One of the places I was most fascinated by was the gardens. Beautifully square plots of greenery dissected by canals of carved stone. At wither end of the gardens sat two marble pavilions. Each faced each other and was connected by a canal that met at a beautiful pool in between the two. The pavilions were built expressly to be enjoyed during India’s rainy season. Each had a small nice along the floor in the center of the structure where water would flow out along the floor into the canal below. They would feed into the pool where a beautiful red sandstone structure sat. An old place where poetry was said to be written by the last Emperor of India. Here he would get some of the best poets of India together and they would simply write poetry. In a room built in the center of a pool.
After the for we were shipped off to a rather nice restaurant for lunch. We were served a delicious delicacy of BBQ Chicken Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza and so on. Honestly it was a nice break. I love Indian food but I did not realize how much I missed the nasty food of America until it was gone. It was here that I also realized I am not a fan of the tour bus. I can understand why we have it. Certainly easier than the fleets of taxis and rickshaws we’ve had in the past. We are all together and there is one driver so we all get lost instead of groups of us which is a nice unifying feeling. But I dislike it all the same. I feel as if at times it becomes more of a safari vehicle. Which is a notion I don’t find particularly nice. It seems as if quite frequently we just shoot off cameras at people from behind the large windows and they can’t say no. We are gone before they can. It also rides quite high. Elevating us above literally everyone so every picture taken you are looking down on the people. We are just so isolated in the van. I heard it called “the fortress” today. Didn’t like that name. Fortress from what? The people of India who have been nothing but welcoming to us? It just is so isolating from the whole experience of what’s happening around us. We surf by above the crowds of people riding in luxury. Again, I can understand why we have it. If I was in charge I’d get one too. But I still don’t like it.
But enough about that. The post would not be complete without mentioning the Indian Archeological Survey. A beautiful expanse of land near the heart of Delhi. For what must be a square half mile you are taken back into the India of the past. Jungle grows wild among old ruins from emperors long since dead and buried. Their tombs serving as a reminder of such. The fogs stick heavy in the air and you feel much how the explorers of Africa must have felt exploring what they called “The Dark Continent”. Completely uncharted. Just paths rambling through ruins of mosques, forts and domiciles. THere are intermittent uncapped sewer tunnels and as you peak into each one you fully expect to see a body slowly float past you. There was a strangely ominous feeling to the place. After a while your eyes begin to see things in the fog. People moving among the ruins. There are people that live in the park who make a game out of running down wild animals that somehow have remained to exist in the heart of one of the biggest cities on Earth. As we slowly walked through and the sun began to set, our nerves began to be rattled. A wild boar off to our left gave us a fright as two people racing past us on motorcycles haunted us as a sort of Deliverance of the subcontinent. But they, as usual, were exceptionally friendly. Perhaps the eeriest time in there was around the time of prayer of the Muslim people who lived there. We were thick in the bush, surrounded by fog that wouldn’t let up and out of nowhere voices rang out from every direction around us. We had not even seen people at that point. It was frightening and wonderful and intriguing all at the same time.