I arrived in Delhi late Friday night and did not expect an extensive tour of the city.
I knew I only had the morning for touring Delhi as I was due in Jaipur Saturday night. I only had one must do on my list and that was visiting the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India’s largest mosque. We met our tour guide at 9am and I inquired about how to balance our day between our morning excursion in Delhi and our evening arrival in Jaipur. I shared my single minded interested in seeing the Jama Masjid. Erin introduced a new destination that had been recommended to her by her Hyderabadi friends. Our tour guide, Himesh, explained though are two destinations were in different directions we could fit it all in and still be on the road in time to reach Jaipur before nightfall.
We first stopped at Jama Masjid. I had been to the mosque 10 years earlier on my first visit to Delhi. Those 10 years melted away and I had the sense of having always stood in the large, vacuous red square, feeling the warmth of the sandstone on the soles of my bare feet. Himesh and I continued a conversation which had begun in the drive to the mosque about India’s ancient and modern history, about Hinduism, and about Buddhism. He surprised me by ordering a rickshaw to take us through the market adjacent to the mosque. I suppose “markets” adjacent to the mosque would be a more accurate description. I am referring to the Chandi Chowk, the moonlit square. This street serves as the spice market. That street serves as the diamond market. That street is for weddings and features saris from $100 USD to $10,000 USD. That street is chock full of wholesale shoe vendors. We whisked through the myriad markets on our hired bicycle rickshaw.
Our only stop was at A. Kapur’s Trading Co., a non-descript spice shop among many lining the row of spice vendors. Walking in I was clueless as to the international acclaim of this particular spice vendor. Inside I was told it had been featured in Saveur magazine and there was photo of the C.E.O. of McCormick spices visiting the store to speak with the chef owner of the spice shop. In addition to trays of green and black cardamom, four different peppers, and small pouches of saffron, the store sales dozens of spice blends for all sorts of Indian cuisine as well as a smaller selection of Ayurvedic spice blends to manage headaches, joint pain, and to enhance results of studying. We had the most delicious chai served in the store. I suppose it was my first true chai, or at least the richest chai I’ve tried, as it was essentially tea steeped in milk (no water) with cardamom and ginger. It was delicious. I purchased a fancy tea from Assam, but stopped short of buying the finest tea in the store which was twice as expensive as the tea leaves I chose. The most well-traveled delicacy in the shop were ironically Californian almonds in bulk.
I encourage you to schedule time for a walk through these market streets. One could easily spend a few hours checking out the shops and walking about the many markets, the majority of which I believe are business-to-business wholesalers as opposed to retail vendors.
We returned to our car and headed to the place Erin had mentioned to our guide back at the hotel. It’s purpose was revealed to me in stages like wisdom from a lotus. We were headed to a Hindu temple, a Hindu Temple great in size, a Hindu Temple great in size with exquisite carvings in sandstone (exterior) and marble (interior). Finally, I was told that this temple was completed in 2005. I am referring to Akshardham. http://www.akshardham.com/ I’d recommend that any traveler passing through Delhi on their way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal should make a stop at Akshardham to see the Taj’s modern Hindu complement.
I had recalled visiting the Cottage Industries market when I was in India in 2005. I asked my guide if we could stop by there. He recommended focusing on Kashmiri carpets. I knew nothing about carpets Kashmiri, Persian, or otherwise. The craftsmanship and beauty of the end product is remarkable, but I was more intrigued by the process of making the carpets. Families work together with one member of the family reciting the pattern. The others in the family twist wool or silk thread in line with the sung pattern. Each twist of thread creates a pixel. These carpets essentially are pointillist/HDTV years before these European inventions.
After this long morning, instead of returning to the hotel we returned to the car for the six hour drive to Jaipur.