Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, December 18, 2011


We had an intense cultural schedule in Delhi. There are eight different iterations of Delhi over the centuries, the place is full of amazing monuments and attractions. It's another huge city with the additional challenge of being our first contact with India.
We started going South, away from the busy center. Qutb  Minar (or Qutub Minar) was the first place where we went and it was amazing. I would go there again in a heartbeat. It is a collection of religious buildings, including the first mosque in India, an iron pillar that didn't rust in 2000 years, and the superb 73m high Qutb minar. It's construction started in 1193 and it was completed over the next 200 years. It has five stories beautifully sculpted all the way to the top. The relaxed atmosphere, the nice interaction with the visiting Indians, and the perfect weather made it a great day.

How can I describe these columns?

The whole tower is amazing and we take pictures from every angle

We then scheduled a day for shopping, trying to reach a famous area, the Connaught Circle. We started with the Metro Museum (no photography allowed!), followed by Jantar Mantar. Built in 1725 for scientific purposes, this is an eerie but interesting place.

Perfect trees in New Delhi? The leaves are bent at the same angle.

She's posing, she is not kicking my shadow.

Unfortunately no access allowed and no toboggan from here.

My compass was way off, Ileana took lead. We were looking for shops so she gracefully avoided them all, we passed by the Connaught Circle without seeing much. Eventually we listened to a helpful Indian who send us to the Nurula Bazaar. We had our first tuktuk ride and then bought great clothes. Maria described her experience and we posted some pictures. Here is another take:
What takes half an hour in a jewelry store? We call it a free show. Ileana, my daughter, wants a nose ring. As usual, when she wants something is the only thing that matters, and she will do anything to get it right there and then. We just found out that Ileana, my wife, always wanted a nose ring from India, along with a sari. I don't feel safe in this store, they are giving us too much attention, we got dropped here, we don't even know where we are. The girls get into clothes, Ileana tries to get a nose ring and her mother will want a sari. I escape from the store, leaving Ioan in charge, "watch the girls, make sure they don't buy anything." He seems to understand my order, I only found out later, that he only got the first part, he watched them, while they were picking their new clothes. Meanwhile I got out in the street to "feel" the area, see what's around, what other stores, what prices are. I see a touristic agency with a big sign: "free Delhi maps." It took twenty minutes to get one of those maps, I had to answer a million questions and in the end I learned from the exercise. The agent played very nicely, asking specific questions, our trip in India, our days in Delhi, our schedule and a long series of questions of why don't I do it differently, he can arrange everything. It didn't matter that I answered most of his questions with "I just want a free map." It was a fluent, relaxed, calm conversation, even though inside I was exploding. I tried to put myself in his shoes and see when would he understand that he was losing his time and I wouldn't buy any tour from him. My conclusion, he knew all along, but he didn't mind giving it a shot and learning in the process.
I returned to the store to find the girls very happy with their new Indian costumes, waiting for me to pay! "Ioan, what did I tell you?" He became defensive for a moment, until he understood that I was joking, we all started to laugh. Then mom wants to get a sari, Maria wants one too, and Ileana starts to work her charms on me, she wants this nose ring, they cut the price from 1000 for one to "buy one get one free", such a good deal, only $20. We have all the time to discuss this, interrupted occasionally by Maria or mom who want our opinion on sari colors. Eventually, Ileana throws the trump card: "if I get a nose ring here now, I promise you that I will never get any piercing on my body, even after I turn 18." She means it, she really believes it, she repeats it. Sounds like a good deal for me, even though in the end it seems that she might have tricked me, she found out some negative information about piercing and she doesn't really want that anymore. I take the deal, we shake hands, mom agrees. Let's go look at the rings again. We confirm the deal for 2 for 1000 rupees and I ask them to hold the rings until my wife finishes her shopping. When we come back, after they spend 10000 rupees on sari-s, I ask if we can get just one ring for 500, he says their computer wouldn't accept values this small, but he would give me three rings for 1000. Ileana gets a little sac with the three rings, no money exchange takes place. She puts it in her pocket.
And then the show starts. Amazing performance, 30 minutes of trying to convince Ileana Ruxandra, "mom", that she deserves this sapphire ring. The price didn't really matter, I saw it, he said $600, I thought $400, and without any bidding or negotiating from us he slowly cut the price to $398. For half an hour Ileana repeated that she has no interest in that ring and he continued to pursue it and we all watched. We got a lesson of Indian and Romanian history, of how the sapphire is made, how the market goes, etc. etc. etc. Since India is the biggest producer of sapphires in the world, it costs much less here than anywhere else. Eventually I was able to pay for the nose rings and leave the store. Ileana Ruxandra later confided that the ring wasn't even nice, she wouldn't have wanted it even if we had the money, she thought all along of all her jewelry that she never wears. How lucky am I? We continued this show with a long discussion about commerce. In America they entice you with advertisements in the Sunday paper, free financing and so on, here they do it differently, so much differently. Ioan suggested that we actually buy the ring, since it is $2000 in Europe or US, why can't we sell it there? The children could understand that maybe we wouldn't get this money there, but they couldn't understand why we would have to pay customs for it in America!

On Wednesday we went to Old Delhi and we visited the biggest mosque, Jama Masjid. We had to take our shoes of, and as in other mosques we visited, there wasn't much too see. It's not like in the old European cathedrals where you have a famous sculpture or painting every 20 meters. There's a big open square, a little pool and a front side where people pray. Like in many other places of worship, it seems that some pray and some just pretend, watching around to see what happens. There were plenty of worshippers just watching every step we took to make sure we don't come too close or go where we shouldn't. We did climb the minaret. Women and children cannot go by themselves, this made me ask how many wives am I allowed to have? If there would have been a couple of single women, was I allowed to take them along with my first wife and my three children? The chance did not arise. They charge 100 rupees for everybody who goes up, 200 rupees for camera, 10 rupees for the guy to watch the each pair of shoes, in the end this free monument is more expensive than the paid ones. Great views of the horrible Old Delhi, no decent construction in site. I got out first and went round a part of the mosque wall, I saw some really bad images of the poverty of Delhi.
Barefoot in Old Delhi
We then walked to the Red Fort, it was nice and we enjoyed the visit in the afternoon hours, in the sunset it was really beautiful. Can you believe that the army didn't leave the fort until 2003? It's construction started in 1638, the same famous Mughal emperor that constructed the Taj Mahal. He planned to move the capital from Agra to Delhi, but he never had a chance because his son overthrew him. The 400 year old fort is a collection of several amazing buildings from a period of phenomenal power and wealth. It was used by the British army after the first Indian war of independence in 1857. The fort was already mostly dilapidated, then the British razed all but the most important buildings to make room for their barracks. The Indian army took over after 1947. But what did the army do there later? There are still too many soldiers in the fort, just as there are too many soldiers period. Despite that, there was intense reconstruction and maintenance work, and we couldn't even finish all the buildings because of the sunset. Most Indian monuments open at sunrise, close at sunset. The fort has a light and sound show every evening, but we were not going to enter again for that.

The Red Fort

Thursday we went to the Lotus Temple. This is the biggest Baha'i Temple, and at the entrance it gives a little introduction about this faith. Sounds really great and interesting, but to me it also sounds like the political manifesto of some party, they accept all the prophets, starting with Krishna, Buddha and so on, Jesus and Mohamed. If it sounds too good to be true, they also have their prophet and you would have to accept him as well. As stupid and harmful as all religions are, they hardly can accept two prophets, how can they imagine that people would accept them all? Unfortunately with my comments I upset my daughter Ileana, she would have wanted more information, maybe even a book. Amazing building, we wanted to see it ever since we learned about it 25 years ago, it should be on the shortlist of any visit to Delhi.
The Lotus temple
This is what you'd see from above the temple
We continued with another World Heritage Site, the Humayun's tomb, a little Taj Mahal, precursor of the famous one. This is the place "where they took the Obama's when they came to India." I guess this is supposed to convince me to visit. It doesn't, but we loved it.

Humayun's Tomb

Believe it or not, we will see something even nicer in just a few days.
Side view of the Humayun's tomb
We wanted to finish the day with the number one recommendation from Lonely Planet: "hear qawwali singers at Hazrat Nizamudin Darqah", a mosque where they sing after the sunset prayer, every Thursday afternoon. It should be very close to the Humayun's tomb and a security guard took us there, he showed us the building and went by his business. As we approached the entrance, a bunch of guys with turbans and white beards got really scared and aggressive, what are we doing there? A more peaceful one intervened, saying that there is nothing and we should "continue our movement." We left, it might have been the wrong place, but we were done for the day.

We took our break day on Friday and finished visiting New Delhi with the National Museum and India Gate on Saturday. I liked the museum. Here the price for foreigner is 30 times more than the Indian, but the children (Ileana and Ioan) got in for just 1 rupee, and we had a good audio guide (included in price). It pointed to us the best exhibits and it helped us understand what we saw. It was nice and disturbing in the same time to see hundreds and hundreds of young school children "visiting" the museum. They walked fast, squished into each other, occasionally touching some old artifacts, praying quickly passing by some Hindu God (in the museum!), and mostly waving at and shaking hands with our children. Here they have some of the relics/ashes of Lord Buddha and there is a warning and a guard enforcing a "no prayer rule."
The walk to the India Gate was so nice, no touts, no people, nobody. We did see some relatively clean green spaces and going to the metro we passed by some decent government buildings. It changed a bit my perception of Delhi as a city with old and crummy dwellings.

A lot of children, going very fast.
Shaking hands, first hundred, still smiling.
Besides the children, here is amazing art at the National Museum

Nothing can convince Ileana to let us have icecream.

Yes, we are in India. Why are those kids smiling???

Friday and Saturday I tried without success to get a local SIM card, but the good thing was that I had a chance to see Karol Bagh, what might be a civilized (Indian standard) commercial area.

Without a cell phone, I couldn't communicate with our prospective driver so we decided to take the train to Agra. We are leaving in the morning. We had one week in Delhi. It's not nearly as bad as some reports would make it. There are some good roads, a functioning bus system, a good metro, occasional side walks. The touts, the annoying people who want to sell something, are localized to touristic areas and so far, easily avoided. We were warned - "there are so many people everywhere", but I don't think it was quite as bad as Nepal. After a few days, slowly, the disappointment with the squalid constructions and side walks turned into a little admiration. Despite their gerontocratic government, despite the bureaucracy, despite everything, Indians are moving forward and trying to have a civilized capital. They have huge historical values and an amazing history, but I get the sense that they also have a shot at the future and I love it.

Hmmmm... I could start a cult... I have the followers.

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