Catherine and I left Houston on November 8 and flew to Newark, boarded the international flight and proceeded east to Delhi. We got in pretty late at night on the 9th, were met by the prearranged transfer driver, and wound our way to the Hotel Good Times, where everyone else on the tour had already gone to bed. And so did we.
Nov, 10--breakfast buffet in the hotel, then visited sites in Old Delhi. The Jama Masjid, a huge mosque with a courtyard that can hold 25,000 worshippers, operates as a tourist attraction much of the time; on religious holidays and every Friday it is open only for services. For a fee, you can climb one of the corner towers and see all over Delhi; of course Cathy wanted to do that. I realized that I didn't have to prove anything (especially how many steps I can climb) and so remained below and observed the other tourists. A number of fathers wanted to introduce their sons to this western lady (I guess I can be a cultural icon too), so I got to shake hands with several beautiful little boys all dressed in their best and clearly on best behavior. It took a long time for Cathy to return because the guides insisted she needed a man to accompany her down the stairs! So we were established with our group as "the people who are always late" (a distinction I had enjoyed on my last trip overseas also.)
From there we proceeded to the Sisgani Gurudwara, a large Sikh temple, where we briefly joined the congregation, heard wonderful chanting and watched the priest (who had magnificent facial hair) perform ritual gestures over the sacred book with a huge fly whisk. Cathy and I would have stayed much longer to experience the music and the families coming in and out, but we were on a schedule of course. I think we were more interested in religion than most of our traveling companions. Photos weren't allowed in the worship space (too bad, because it was elaborate and gorgeous.) But then we went to the hospitality area, where volunteers cook and feed two meals a day, every day, to anyone who comes. We "helped" to make chappatis and then visited the dining area, where several hundred people were seated on the floor, eating a simple meal from tin plates. All sorts of people, businessmen in suits and turban, families, beggars, women in lovely silk saris, side by side and all welcomed and served by gracious volunteers.
After this visit we had lunch at the Delhi equivalent of McDonalds--a fast-food vegetarian cafe with quite an elaborate menu. It all tasted great to me. The rest of the afternoon was exploring the markets at a pretty rapid pace. I forgot--we had also visited a shelter for homeless boys earlier, a charity supported by the GAdventures company. They try to locate the families of these children (there's a girls shelter in another location), but if they can't, the kids are guaranteed food, shelter, clothing and education until they are 18. They were used to foreign visitors and were very friendly (of course, every male over the age of four wanted his picture taken with Catherine, and this occurred throughout our trip.)
Tuesday, November 11--A long bus ride from Delhi to Jaipur (6 hours or so) which gave us a chance to feel how vast this country is, and how much rural area exists. The cities are huge, and even "very small villages" characterized by our guide were home to around 14,000 people. I was tempted to describe a REALLY small village--like Eagle Lake--to her, but instead Cathy and I just grinned at each other. It's the dry season so everything was dusty and brownish. Fields were divided into small plots by low earth dams so the farmers could water various crops as needed. We saw some evidence of irrigation, but not a lot.
Three things were overwhelmingly in evidence throughout our stay--the huge emphasis on education of every kind, enormous ambition to succeed in commerce, and the most amazing traffic practices I've ever seen. We were traveling on a major highway in a big bus, surrounded by brightly painted big trucks hauling merchandise, small private cars, other buses, motorbikes, the occasional herd of cattle and goats, and men pedaling bicycle rickshaws on the shoulder. Once in a while, an oxcart. The rule is, if you plan to pass, HONK, With the great disparity of speeds available, everybody passed all the time and the honking was like a symphony throughout the journey. They drive on the left, of course, a remnant of their British occupation.
I'm going to stop here and publish this. The program won't accept any more photos for now, so I'll continue tomorrow.