A day full of Delhi

January 19, 2015

Our plane...

January 21, 2015

Two words: "Our plane..." That was all I wrote for my blog post on the day we traveled from the U.S. to India. I think I fell asleep, drooling on the keyboard after penning that scintillating travelogue masterpiece.

Yeah. We were tired.

Our original flight plan had us leaving Columbus, flying to DC, crossing the pond to Vienna and swinging down to Delhi on Austrian Airlines. Unfortunately, our Delhi connection was cancelled, and we had to scramble. The airline booked us on a flight that took us from Vienna to London (hours in the wrong direction) and then from London to Delhi — on Air India.

Ah, Air India. How I hope to never see you again.

I'm an intrepid traveler, and I have a relatively high threshold for personal discomfort. But our trip had already been a bit stressful, and we were entering the zombification stage of world travel, the only cure for which is a long sleep in a reasonably comfortable chair. The seats on our newly-booked flights were standard-issue Guantanamo-transfer surplus, wooden deck chairs wrapped in Band Aids and covered with a burlap sack. My back is still killing me; I could have gotten better sleep in one of the overhead luggage compartments.

I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I'm making it sound, but after a day of missed flights, long layovers and little-to-no sleep, it sure seemed like it. And our new schedule deposited us in Delhi at 6am, rather than 1am, robbing us of the few hours of sleep we'd been counting on to get us ready for a day of sightseeing.

Thankfully, the cab ride was uneventful and we found ourselves at a lovely little hotel staffed by angels of mercy who checked us in quickly and didn't disturb us for 10 or 12 hours. We skipped breakfast, stayed in bed most of the day, grabbed a quick and unsatisfying lunch and returned to bed. After a nap, we had a nice dinner in the hotel and went immediately back to our extraordinarily comfortable bed.

Yesterday morning, we were born anew. We woke, showered, had an excellent breakfast at the hotel and headed out by autorickshaw to the nearest Metro station. The Delhi Metro is a wonder of modern technology and an indication that this city of 23 million isn't messing around. The metro is clean, comfortable, safe and efficient. And they're building new stations everywhere. It cost us $3 bucks for a day pass, and took us everywhere we wanted to go.

And we wanted to go to the Red Fort, one of Delhi's most iconic structures. Built in 1696 by Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid mosque and dozens of other world-class joints), the former palace and the seat of the Mughal empire occupies about 300 acres in the heart of Old Delhi. 

Our short walk from the Metro station was a shocking reminder that much of Delhi has been left behind by the technological and urban-planning revolution underway. Hundreds of people were living on the streets, huddled together under light blankets unlikely to provide much protection from the cold; a few were up and about, staggering from exhaustion or intoxication, burning plastic bags and garbage for a little extra warmth. Some had scraped together enough money to buy a chapati and a spoonful of dal from the back of a truck. Others just stared, hollow-cheeked and empty hearted.

Despite its metal detectors, friskers, snipers, guards and machine gun nests, the Red Fort is an oasis of calm. We wandered its tree-lined avenues and marveled at its sandstone and marble construction bedecked with carvings and inset with semi-precious stones. We strolled through its museums and exhibitions and left with a deeper understanding of India's rich history of conquest and resistance.

After the Red Fort, we walked to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It can reportedly accommodate more than 30,000 worshippers, all of whom we encountered on our previous visit to the place. (Travel Pro Tip: don't visit a gigantic mosque at noon on the first day of Ramadam in 116F weather in pouring rain and with small children.) This visit was much, much nicer, the weather in the 50s andno crowds in sight.

We took a pedicab to through the ancient Chandni Chowk bazaar to our next metro stop, and had a relaxing lunch and afternoon stroll in Hauz Khaz, a lake-side shopping district packed with pubs, bistros and boutiques.

If it sounds like all we've been doing is sightseeing, well, that's all we've been doing. And we're having a grand time, just Kori and me. It's almost like a second honeymoon, one that will be ending in 3...2...1...

After a day of riding the rails, racing around in autorickshaws and leisurely rolling about in pedicabs, we made it back to our hotel, checked out and took a taxi to the Classic Diplomat, a tidy but downmarket transit hotel near the airport. We had dinner and then met up with the rest of our team: John Campbell, Jay O'Brien, Brad Isch and Greg and Linda Smith. We hung out for a while in the hotel pub and then stumbled back to our beds.

It's almost time for breakfast, after which we'll check out, pop over to the airport and board a plane for Siliguri. We'll be picked up by Pastor Nandu and enjoy a harrowing yet gorgeous drive through the foothills of the Himalayas, and will — Lord willin' and the road don't collapse — be in Kalimpong by nightfall.

Keep praying for us. We're all healthy and happy and ready to see what God has in store.

Talk to you again soon!

John McCollumComment