Thursday, November 27, 2008
Walking in Gandhi's Foot Steps
We had been up late watching the news from Mumbai. It was very freaky to us as we had just left staying at the Taj about 10 days ago. The security there was lax. They had closed and locked the main entrance to the Heritage wing and we had to enter via the new tower wing. We kept saying to ourselves: “Why the increase in security”? To enter the Taj you had to go through a metal detector and hand your backpack or any packages to a screener. We all thought it was kind of a joke. They really didn’t screen us very well. None of the security personnel was armed. The terrorists entered the Harbor Bar, and started shooting the patrons. We had a drink there with Elizabeth on our last trip.
At any rate we needed to decide whether we would feel comfortable traveling to the border of Pakistan to visit the Golden Temple and see the Evening Ceremony. We decided to go. Hopefully you will get a further blog describing the events in the State of Punjab, enshalla.
In Delhi, we went first to the Tomb of Humayun’s. He was the 2nd Mughal Emperor. Cathy and I were very keen to see this site. We had read and enjoyed “The Last Mughal” by William Darwymple. It is the history of the how the Mughal Empire came to an end in 1857, when after the revolt by the Indians against the Empire was ruthlessly destroyed by the British. The Emperor escaped from his palace at the Red Fort where thousands were killed and hid out with his two sons at Humayun’s Tomb where he was captured by the British. His sons were eventually killed, and he was exiled to Burma where 5 years later he died.
I don’t know what we were expecting, but we were very pleasantly surprised. The Tomb is designed very much like the Taj Mahal. It is supposed to be a replica of Heaven on Earth. You go through several huge decorative gates, each followed by a large garden. As you walk through these gardens, you do not see the tomb until you pass through the final gate. When I use the word gate I am talking about a gigantic decorated structure, not a simple garden gate. Passing through the gate you reach the Tomb which is magnificent but unlike the Taj Mahal. In the center of the building is the Marble Tomb, aligned North to South as all Muslim Graves, with his face turned towards the East to Mecca.
There was increased security, throughout Delhi, we felt quite safe. Many buildings have police or soldiers with guns at their entrance. We really like Delhi and will return. Capital cities always seem to be able to get a lot of money to spend from the government.
We then went to Gandhi Smriti. This is the house and garden where Gandhi was assassinated. If only Gandhi’s non-violent ideas had prevailed! The house and gardens are a pilgrimage site. Gandhi was against the partition of India by the British. He wanted one nation. He was against the creation of Pakistan, where so many of our woes come from. Partition caused great dislocations of people when the Hindus went south to India and the Muslims went North or East to either East Pakistan or West Pakistan. Millions died on route or were murdered. Delhi was especially bad, with rioting and killings between Hindus and Muslims. Calling for peace, Gandhi returned to Delhi to try to reconcile the groups. When he realized that he could not stop the creation of Pakistan he called for giving Pakistan large amounts of money to assist the country. That is what caused right wing Hindus to assassinate him at this place. They have created a very effective and moving memorial. You start at the small house he was living in. You then follow is actual footsteps towards the spot where he was going for his evening prayer. Along the walk there are quotations from Gandhi. When you read these quotations they seem Biblical in their truthfulness and universality. Eventually the footsteps end at the spot he was killed and there is a simple stone. If only the footsteps had continued. It was very moving to be there, especially as the terrorism continued. We talked to several people along the way. One Indian, said like almost all Indians we have met: Why does America back Pakistan? They can’t understand our favoring Pakistan over India. They all feel Pakistan is a completely failed, dangerous country. By the way, since partition, not one Pakistan President has completed their term in office. They have all been either killed or overthrown.
We then went to President House. This huge governmental complex looks like it was plucked out of London and set down in Delhi with a few Muslim / Hindu architectural domes and flourishes added. There was lots of security.
From there we were ready to shop. We went to a very chic shopping area: Santushti. It is built on an Air Force Base in the middle of Delhi, so we felt quite safe! We had lunch, and I could tell there would be some serious shopping. Across the road, past the sandbags with soldiers with machine guns, was a large hotel. I went for a massage while shopping progressed.
We planned to meet for a drink after the massage and shopping, but we found out to our dismay that there was an election coming up the next day, and no alcohol could be bought in Delhi. The bars were closed. We returned in panic to our hotel. The bar there was also closed. We all went to our suite, where Cathy had the great idea of calling room service. We were saved. Four bottles of wine arrived. We switched on the TV to watch the continuing drama in Mumbai, and drank. We then decided to stay in the hotel and ordered a great meal from room service as we had to pack that night to leave in the morning for the Punjab. With all the wine we had no problem falling to sleep. In the morning our guide whose only responsibility was to get us through the airport to our plane said with great wisdom, when we questioned him about our safety: “Worry is not the Solution”.