At Home Abroad: Galway Girl in India, Part 3
By Regina Costello
The sightseeing adventure began on our door step of Delhi, with Ginny (Deepak’s sister) as our ardent guide. With an avid interest in history, she eagerly shared her knowledge of the two zones of the city – Old Delhi and New Delhi– that was devoured by myself and somewhat endured by Deepak.
I expected an interesting day, but I did not expect to catapulted back to my own culture immersing me in somber musings. Crossing into Old Delhi can be likened to travelling back in time depicted in the movie Back to the Future.
Our jolting rickshaw rambled through the interconnected cobblestone narrow lanes in this ancient city built by the Moghul Emperors. Looming before us were spectacular architectural structures of several magnificent historical sites that have stood the test of time. Ginny chose to take us to Red Fort and Chandni Chawk to experience the essence of this ancient principality.
Red Fort is aptly named, from the red sandstone that built it. Spanning more than 2km in length, with heights reaching up to 33 meters, bordered by a canal, it truly is an impressive acropolis. My favorite memory of the tour was the walkway that specifically accommodated elephants and their entourage to enter the city. It’s probably wide enough to fit a tour bus through today.
Glances into a turbulent time gone by are evidenced by bullet marks embedded in the walls. We strolled throughout the various halls, and private dwellings of the emperor and mistresses. The first tricolor flag of independent India was flown at the main gate in 1947, where the dream of freedom from the British became a reality.
The Prime Minister hoists the Indian flag in that spot every August 15, Independence Day. Interestingly enough, the flag colors and patterns are the same as those in the Irish flag except the colors are horizontal. The first time the flag of the Irish Republic was flown was on March 7, 1848, in County Waterford, not to be seen again until it was displayed above the GPO in 1916. Both countries, thousands of miles from each other, seeking independence from the same unwanted and uninvited authority. Somber musings indeed.
We finished up at the Fort and crossed the street to one of the oldest markets in Old Delhi. Chandni Chawk is a bustling shopping area of narrow lanes lined with hawkers reminiscent of a medieval bazaar. In business since the seventeenth century, one can purchase all kinds of goods and foods in this “shoppers’ paradise,” as it is locally known. When I think of Chandni Chawk, I recall the florists selling roses, marigolds and lotus flowers. The floral scent was so overwhelming, I had to step back. “Now that’s how flowers should smell!” Deepak commented to me.
Hailing a rickshaw, we left the bumpy streets of Old Delhi and we were Back to the Futurein New Delhi just as quickly as one exits Achill Island and enters the mainland. No evidence of Moghul living here, but in its’ place are elements of British occupation visible in the architectural style of government and civic buildings serviced by extensive metro facilities.
The British built a number of structures, including India Gate, the House of the President, and Parliament House. And yes, we saw all of them and I’ll share the more striking memories. India Gate at first glance looks like a replica of the much older French Arc de Triomphe. Dedicated to the Indian soldiers of World War 1 and the Anglo-Afghan War, eternal flames are lit at its’ base.
On to the Indira Ghandi Memorial Museum; we visited the official residence of the first female Prime Minister of India. This museum was indeed more like a home. Personal items, newspaper articles and original furniture are on view, in addition to her life’s work in public service during turbulent times. Sadly, in 1984 she was assassinated by her bodyguards as she strolled in the gardens of her home.
In that museum, President Mary Robinson came to mind, as another powerful leader who was also popular and an eloquent speaker. I saw myself as a foreigner in India, and although a proud American citizen today, I still feel like an immigrant, but I hope I will always feel that way. President Robinson initiated the tradition of a candle burning nightly in an upstairs window of Aras an Uachtarain. It serves as a beacon of welcome for returning sons and daughters of Ireland. I want that symbol to always be meaningful to me.
Last on our list for the day was the modern and unique Lotus Temple that looks like a giant half opened lotus flower against the vibrant sunset. This structure has won numerous architectural awards. It’s a relatively new building, opened to the public in 1986. The Lotus is the national flower of India, and the temple consists of 27 marble petals.
The nine entrances depict the nine major faiths of the world and 2500 people of all religions can be accommodated in this giant Bahai House of Worship to pray or meditate. The Bahai faith believes in religious freedom, a world that is divine in origin, broad in view, scientific in its technique, kind in its philosophy and dynamic in nature. As such, it is one of the most visited sites in the world.
Walking towards the temple that quiet evening, with twilight approaching was both serene and calming. Wishful thoughts for additional such structures to be in the world with global acceptance of all faiths must enter the minds of visitors.
Knowing my love for Indian food, Ginny suggested we stop at a McDonalds for dinner. Truly, this was the last place I wanted to go. Oh my goodness, it was wonderful! A menu of McSpicy Paneer (Indian Cheeseburger featuring mozzarella-like cheese wrapped in breadcrumbs, deep fried and served in a bun with the usual trimmings); McSpicy Burger; Chicken Tikka Burger; Green Chili Aloo Naan (naan bread wrapped around deep-fried chili and a potato vegetable burger); Mexican cheesy fries; India tea and Fanta. We selected an array of dishes and shared them. Really hungry from a long day of sightseeing, this dinner hit the spot.
Arriving home, we shared tales from the day with the family and crawled into bed exhausted. An excursion beyond the walls of Delhi was already planned for the next few days, with a car and driver booked to pick us up early in the morning. Agra Fort, the city of Jaipur, The Floating Palace and the Taj Mahal were on the itinerary. Our bags were already packed for the adventure that was to take me away from my new home abroad for a few days.
Sources consulted: www.britannica.com/topic/India-Gate, www.culturalindia.net/monuments/india-gate,www.aroundthisworld.com/indira-gandhi-memorial-museum-residence-delhi-india/, www.holidify.com/places/delhi/chandni-chowk-sightseeing, www.1848tricolour.com/history-of-the-irish-flag/,www.dubmantalks.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-light-in-the-window/,www.culturalindia.net/indian-temples/lotus-temple.
Regina is a graduate of History and Philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a post graduate of Library and Information Studies from the National University of Ireland, Dublin. She is the former Assistant Librarian of the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin; former Curator of Irish American Archives of the Cleveland History Center; former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Director of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red castle is “Red Fort, Old Delhi”
Restaurant is McDonalds in New Delhi with Deepak’s sister Ginny.
Lotus Temple, New Delhi.