Delhi Delights, New and Old

Our last night in Kerala was spent in the coastal town of Kovalam. The itinerary had included two nights, but due to the strike in Kumarakom, which had our backwater trip pushed back a day, our stay was cut short. Upon arrival at our hotel, we were once again greeted with tropical drinks and given a bindi dot on our forehead. Our room had a small lanai with a view of the ocean peaking through the palm trees. We quickly made our way towards the water to catch our last sunset in Kerala.

The next morning we flew from the nearby Trivandrum airport to Delhi. That night we visited Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, one of the most prominent Sikh gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship, in Delhi.  I can firmly say, our short hour visit to the gurdwara was an absolute highlight for me, one that I’ll never forget.

Before going, I didn’t know much about Sikhism. We joined the herd of people, slowly moving all together, to simply enter. People from all faiths, and those who do not profess any faith, are welcomed in Sikh gurdwaras. Music was playing from inside, hundreds of people were crammed together, some chanting along. The vibrant colors that covered the walls and ceiling, outlined in shiny gold, kept catching my eye, no matter which direction I turned. Once inside, many people were seated in prayer. We walked around, taking everything in. It was all an overabundant stimulation for the senses.

Our guide led us to the kitchen, where anyone can volunteer to help make the food that is given out, every single day. We walked by a large room with rows of people sitting and eating. The area is called the langer – the term used in the Sikh religion for the common kitchen where food is served in a Gurdwara to all the visitors, without distinction of faith, religion or background, for free. At the langar, mostly only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals.

The next morning we took a train to Agra, then went onward to Varanasi, but returned to Delhi before our late-night flight home. With a few hours to spare, we were lucky enough to have time to explore Old Delhi before departing. While New Delhi is indeed new and modern, with it’s new streets and buildings sprawling at a rapid pace, Old Delhi is a complete contrast.

Old Delhi is a walled city, founded as Shahjahanabad in 1639 by the Mughal emperor at the time, Shah Jahan. It remained the capital of the Mughal Empire until its fall in 1857, when the British Raj took over. It was once filled with mansions of nobles and members of the royal court, along with elegant mosques and gardens. Today, despite having become extremely crowded and dilapidated, it still serves as the symbolic heart of metropolitan Delhi.

Our guide made sure to keep a close eye on us to not lose sight, as the tight alleyways were so crowded we had to squeeze and dip just to get through. Old Delhi was bustling with a sea of people, vendors, rickshaws, sights and smells. The buildings were old and often falling apart, but picturesque with charm. Monkeys were jumping and swinging from the rooftops and tangled wires, almost seeming as if they were laughing at all the people below stuck in traffic. We tried taking a rickshaw, but the traffic was so thick, we ended up walking instead.

We made a quick visit to the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. It was quick because the sun was going down, and the beautiful mosque was becoming harder to see in the dark.

We really enjoyed Delhi, even though our visit was brief. The sprawling city offers such a variety of fascinating things to see and do, new and old. It is a prime hub for coming in and out of India, as well as a great launching pad to most other destinations in India. It’s worth spending some time there, even if just for some insight into what a wonderful melting pot India has been for centuries.

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