I woke up itching and scratching. I have dozens of bites all over my arms and hands, plus a couple on my face and ear. I think it happened in Varanasi when I visited a rooftop restaurant the other evening to skype my wife, Kim. Since I was sitting on a terrace above the ghats and the Ganges, I hope bug bites are all I end up with.
I left the Le Roi hotel about 10am destined for the Red Fort. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, built the fort as his royal residence and palace in the mid 1600's. Shah Jahan was a patron of the arts and builder of the Taj Mahal in Agra. The Red Fort served as the capital for the Mughal Empire up until 1857 and was subsequently used by the British. The complex of buildings is scattered over a large area and holds important historical and architectural significance. The fort has been designated a world heritage site. The fort was active with family and school groups enjoying a nice day touring the expansive grounds. It was pleasant day with temperatures in the low eighties. The fort contains several museums including one on covering the Mughal period and another chronicling India's long struggle for independence from the British.
One thing clear to me when I entered the fort's Lahore Gate was the security. I expected metal detectors and wanding, but on both sides of the entry stood soldiers behind positions fortified with sandbags. As I passed through the gate, there stood another fortified position, this one with a stationary machine gun pointing right at me. More soldiers behind sandbags were scattered throughout the fort grounds. It was bizarre to be strolling though the park-like setting, taking in the history and architecture with armed soldiers standing at-watch. But these are the times we live in and I read that in the year 2000 three people were killed when terrorists attacked the Red Fort.
Leaving the Red Fort I began walking to find the Jama Masjid, a famous Mosque. On the way, I passed a McDonald's and I couldn't resist stopping. I don't often frequent McDonald's at home, but I ordered a McSpicy Paneer Burger, fries and a coke. Paneer is cheese and this burger was a breaded white pattie, tofu looking with a chicken like texture. It appeared as something artificially created in a McLab and I didn't find any flavor except from the spicy breading. One of the workers stopped to talk to me. He said he likes people from England and America and asked me to critique his English. "How would you rate your understanding of me?" and "How is my pronunciation,"he asked. He also mentioned that he had applied for a job at Convergys, but had not secured an interview. In my view he spoke as well as some of those call center folks working on behalf of Delta Airlines. I encouraged him to keep practicing his English.
I found the Jama Masjid, another building constructed by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. It might be the largest Mosque in India, as it holds up to 25,000 worshipers. The Mosque has a number of domes and minarets and sits elevated above the city. I left the Mosque and walked about a quarter mile to a metro station and took the train to Connaught Place in the center of Delhi. There I hired a tuk tuk to take me to the Birla Mandir or Laxminarayan Temple.
Birla Mandir Temple as it is known was built in the 1930's. The architectural style is interesting and pleasing to the eye. The temple is loaded with ornamental details. On the walls are carvings and paintings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Many Temples have only one idol, but here there are two centrally located and several others throughout the building including one of god Ganesh. Unfortunately, no photo's are permitted at the Temple and camera's and cell phones must be stored in a locker before entering. I left the Temple on foot, following my map and some memory of Delhi from last year. It was quite a trek, but I found my way back to the Hotel Le Roi. Delhi is a difficult city to get your bearings, but I am starting to figure it out.
It's about time to get cleaned up, packed and head for the airport and home!