3 March 2024

I feel “Been there done that” as I depart for the arduous flight to Delhi, India. Then it all comes back: I have. It is easy to forget after 18 years filled with a bunch of other travel destinations.  

8 January 2005

“We left in the dark hours of morning, flying to Delhi. The highlight of another grueling plane flight was the view of Mount Everest and the Himalayas snow-covered and majestic even 300-400 miles distant.

Arriving in Delhi is my first exposure to an Indian city: I found it arid, brown, filled to bursting with wandering animals and multitudes of people on bikes, afoot, in rickshaws, tuk-tuks and crammed busses. All the while, horns honked to warn others that the biggest form of transportation has the right of way. After all, it is safe driving week, of way. After all, it is safe driving week and “Lane Driving is Sane Driving.” Evidently it does not work, as India’s highway death toll is 20 times higher than the U.S. And we drive like idiots.”

Either West or East, it’s a long flight to Delhi.

2 March 2024

I question how much has changed. This trip, I am with my niece, spending only three days in Delhi before flying on to Kolkata, where I have never been. At least, neither a belief in reincarnation nor my forgetfulness would indicate so. 

What has changed is I am flying in a higher level of comfort. I drink my champagne, eat my caramel sundae, and enjoy the airplane food. I decided, after previously flying West, I would reverse the pain of crossing a very wide Pacific and opt for East over the Atlantic. The ticket was about half as much. However, as previously posted, after numerous flight delays and changes, probably didn’t save a cent. Go figure!

Most travelers consider India as one of their favorite countries citing a fascination with the culture and its vibrant life. Travelers mention food, music and hospitality. Personally, I had a difficult time accepting the poverty amidst the wealth; the acceptance of this poverty with the belief that their next life may be better. 

I revisit a land of extreme contrasts. India is a moment-to-moment challenge to one’s senses. I look forward to reexperiencing it with my niece and through her eyes, giving me the opportunity to gain a new perspective. 

We arrive after 10 pm into a bustling Indira Gandhi International Airport. Immigration appears packed, slow and a bit chaotic. My niece and I meet our prearranged driver who will take us the short distance to our hotel in Aero City. No hotels connect to the airport; many are within the security gates of Aero City. Our driver must open the hood and trunk of the car to enter. We then must pass luggage and body scans to enter our hotel.

Our plan is to spend a restful night in a comfortable bed. Not too early in the morning, we will hire transportation to take us to our hotel in the heart of New Delhi. Neither of us desire to experience Delhi’s crowded metro trains. Unbeknownst to me, the metro probably is 100-times safer than the roads.

Delhi or New Delhi

What is the difference between New Delhi and Delhi? New Delhi is best described as a National Capital Territory within the major metropolitan city of Delhi. Except for the conditions of the buildings and the width of the streets, there is little difference. Basically, the British built New Delhi during colonial times.

Delhi is a stunning conglomerate of ancient and modern. Today, it is the 4th largest city in the world with a population over 33 million people. I remember in 2005 when India’s total population breached 1 billion. Noting the numbers of homeless living in the streets, the celebration of this milestone left me puzzled. Today, the population tops 1.4 billion contained within the 7th largest county in the world.  And in June of 2023, they became the most populous county in the world. Wonder what those celebrations were like?

Just for a point of reference, the United States’ population is about 332 million crammed into an area almost 200% larger than India. I’m not sure there is such a thing as “wide open spaces” in India. Comparing their population per square mile, I would imagine even the Los Angeles freeways during rush hour look somewhat empty. I know we don’t honk the horn as much. Sadly, driving freeways in the US, this type of honking could get you killed.

Delhi itself is at least 2000 years old. Its recorded history began sometime in the 8th century. From 1206 to the mid-19th century, Delhi was the capital of only two major empires: the Sultanate and the Mughal Empire.

There are options as to the founder of the city. Qutub ud-din Aibak was the first ruler and founder of the Delhi Sultanate, an Islamic empire. He arrived around 1206. In 1211, Aibak was succeeded by Iltutmish. He was Turkish and sold as a slave as a child and later bought by a ruler of Afghanistan. General opinion is that the historic unrustable 24-foot Iron Pillar was carried to Delhi by King Iltutmish

The Sultanate’s successor was the Mughal conqueror Babur in 1526. At that time and for centuries, Delhi remained the capital of the Mughai dynasty, only replaced by the British Raj in 1858. The first official language was Persian until 1451 when it was replaced by Hindustani. The British worked hard to change that under their rule so a lot of English is spoken in India.

About the Big Three gods of Hinduism

I have learned much about Indian religion that I did not earlier comprehend. However, I know I have failed to grasp the significance of Hinduism in its entirety. My thoughts:

• There are the Big Three: Rama the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver (above), and Shiva the Destroyer.

• Shiva hung out with his consort Parvati and they produced Ganesh. Ganesh is an elephant who sometimes rides around on a mouse. He is worshiped before new ventures to ensure success.

Hanuman is the Monkey God, don’t know who his parents were.

There are over 350,000 gods; some say millions in varying incarnations. All seem to have their followers. Sort of idolatry on steroids.

• Krishna is very honored, plays the flute, has blue skin yet has bedded more than 6000 milkmaids but does not hang out in airports.

• Hinduism is not a religion but a philosophy of life, and death. As far as I can figure, herein lies my problem. It is not important the condition of this life because it is the next life that is important. Kind of like Scarlet O’Hara on downers.

About Color and Caste:

Don’t know, maybe this all works:

• In a country tied to the Caste system, there is no marrying up and change is not necessarily good. This fatalism, combined with the philosophy of Hinduism, appears a circular trap. There is little hope for improvement and the centuries-old Indian fatalism takes over. This seeming lack of expectations and possibilities results in an acceptance of their lot in life. There is little progress taking place. I am convinced I could return in 20 or 50 years and nothing will have changed. In fact, I have returned after 19 years and it seems much the same.

• There are over 3000 castes in India. If your great-grandfather was a teacher, then you are too. Once a beggar, always a beggar? It seems one does not go to school or move to improve occupations. 

• The lighter the skin, the more highly valued one is. 

• Matrimonial from Delhi paper: “Alliance for Gupta girl resident of US. July 1996 born Major in Psychology Essex college of USA. Extremely fair 155 cm wearing specs presently in India. Boy willing to settled in US will be preferred.”

From Mongols to Mughals

Babur and his son and successor, Humayun, whose tomb is in Delhi.

The term “Mughal” comes from a mispronunciation of the word “Mongol,” but the Mughals of India were mostly Indo-Turkic not Mongolians. However, Babur (1483-1530), the first emperor and founder of the Mughal empire, could trace his blood line back to Chinggis Khan. Born in Uzbekistan, Babur thought his fortunes were in India and employing support from the Ottoman empire, he went on to defeat the Sultan of Delhi in 1526.

Babur had great connections. His mother was a descendant of Timur (Tamerlane whose mausoleum I visited in Samarkand) and his father a descendant of Chinggis Khan. As a member of the Timurid Dynasty and a devout Sunni Muslem, Babur ruled for a short 5 years. His heirs were a hit and miss bunch but his great-great-grandson has gone down in history.

Emperor Shah Jahan Ist wisely hired Ahmad Ma’mar Lahori as his chief architect. Not only did Lahori build the covered Bazaar and Jama Mosque in Delhi, but he was responsible for the construction of the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Let the Fun and Experience Begin

While India’s culture and history are interesting, it is this architect’s monuments which draw millions of visitors each year. My niece and I will be visiting as many as possible during the next few days.

Categories: Travel


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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