“Travel 2012 takes wings! a 3 day visit to the Indian capital as part of the official visit to Auto Expo 2012. Join me as I sneak peak the charismatic capital city, Dhilli in the little time away from my official visit. My first flight ever, first impression of Delhi in the chilling winter, Red fort and Lotus temple”
“… Flight 6E 132 welcomes you on board, kindly wear your seat belts as we are about to take-off. Thank you for choosing Indigo; we wish you a happy journey… ” recited a pleasingly sweet female voice as I took my seat inside the Indigo airlines flight at Bangalore International Airport. It was the early hours of 8th January 2012, a Saturday that was going to be very special to me for more than a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was being sent from my office to visit the Auto Expo 2012, next I would be travelling north of Goa for the first time in my life and more than anything; this was going to be my first air travel ever. In short I was flying to Delhi for a 3 day ‘unofficial business trip’, a journey of many firsts!
I could not believe my luck when my manager suddenly asked me if I would like to visit the auto expo in Delhi. For those you are unaware, a little insight. Auto Expo is a biennial automobile exhibition that takes place in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. For 11 editions now, the organizers CII, auto major SIAM and component makers’ organization ACMA have given a treat of show to enthusiasts from all fields. Major automobile manufacturers from all around the globe consider this is as one of the prime stages to show-off their latest churn-outs and even unveil some of their new models. The 12th edition of this mega event was scheduled from Jan 5th to 11th of January, this year and here I was being offered a chance from my company to visit this extravaganza. I was not going to deny even at gun point and that evening I was flaunting the invitee passes for the 12th Auto Expo 2012!)
First-times are always memorable whatever it may be. So was my first ever air travel. Indigo flight 6E 132 was a wonderful experience. I was on the aisle seat 20D, aligned to the wings. Soon it was time for take-off, I could feel the rush of oxygen in my veins like a cyclist maneuvering through traffic, I gathered my breath, with a thud and deafening shrill, I felt the speed when the 120+ passenger carrying white craft took off. In a couple of minutes, I felt the weightlessness like that on a giant-wheel but at a much higher altitude and in no time I could see the twinkling lights of Bangalore International Airport far below, I was flying!
I was curious about one thing that I noticed in Indigo 6E132; they had almost similar looking stewardesses! I am serious, they all seemed to have got their hair done from the same stylist and more importantly they looked like siblings with the white-blue uniforms making it lot more confusing! Similarities extended into their services as well. Good job, Ms. Indigo. More fun came at 36000feet around 6.30AM. You would have guessed if you ever saw a sun rise from an aircraft. Well, I was blessed on my first one itself. Orange tinged blue horizon was visible to a farther extent on the right. Though I wasn’t on the window seat, the deep orange tinge across the rim far away was clearly visible. It was indeed a show and not to mention I pulled out my camera!). I should take this space to thank my pretty fellow traveler for clicking this picture for me. She was with a friend, as pretty as her, both of them occupying the seat adjacent to me and the window seat. She clicked few snaps on my request and here is one of them! Thanks, Ms. Fellow traveler.
After two and half hours more on my first flight and one tetra pack of ‘Real’ fruit drink from that Xerox copy stewardess, I heard the speakers come to life again. “Dear passengers, please put back your seat belts as we are approaching New Delhi, the visibility is blah blah and the temperature outside is 6.8 degree Celsius”. The last stat re-sounded in my ears, the temperature outside is 6.8 degree Celsius? Even at 9.45 AM? The most minimum I had felt was 9 degrees on my Ooty trip where I almost froze, now 6.8? what the!, All the best to me!
Acknowledging the ‘thank you’ from the same stewardess (or may be another one, they all look the same!) who served me ‘Real’, I stepped out of the cabin. It is 6.8 degrees for sure or may be even lesser, said my bones curling further inside. The board that read ‘Indira Gandhi International Airport; Welcome to New Delhi’ was partially visible in the thick fog. The runway area seemed vast but wasn’t visible anymore from a further few feet away.
After collecting my baggage, I stepped into the airport counter of Delhi Tourism board. They had a very friendly attendant who took care of every detail asked by the traveler. He even handed over a free copy of a booklet, sponsored by Delhi tourism, which had the city map, sightseeing places, metro rail map and all other details in it. I remembered those people selling Bangalore map with minimum details for ten-twenty rupees back in Bangalore bus stand. It was really a warm welcome that could be given to any traveler who is entering your city. Commendable!
I was supposed to visit the Auto expo on 9th & 10th and hence I was free for this entire day. Studying the map for a while and analyzing the distance to those places from my accommodation at Okhla, I zeroed in on visting Red Fort. What better place to start Delhi than to from the place where it all began. Delhi, here I come!
The city of Delhi is excellently connected by the Delhi Metro rails. The nearest metro head from domestic airport, Aerocity, is well connected by air-conditioned Volvo buses. The Reliance managed, airport linking express metros are a touch better than the Delhi metros. They have a direct connection to the international airport, I was told. These rails have the sophisticated feels both in its stations and the trains. Stringent security measures and orderly ticketing structure adds to the pride of these superfast connectors. The Delhi airport metro connects the distance of 20kms from Aerocity to New Delhi in less than 15 minutes with 3 stops in between, making it the fastest metro in the country. Elegantly maintained stations and coaches make the journey a great feel. I had to alight at New Delhi railway station and hop onto another metro rail that connected Chandni Chowk, where the Red Fort was located. After a light breakfast at Chandni Chowk metro station, I decided to walk the way until Red Fort.
As I treaded the foggy streets of Delhi towards Red Fort, I found this church. A gothic style, Catholic Church built by the British in 1865. The cone shaped dome and a high attic, huge columns and the yester year styling made it evident. The holy mass was being offered at the time I entered and I joined my prayers. My first sight seeing in Delhi was a lesser known church from the 18th Century.
I walked further as I approached the huge walls of the Red Fort. The walls of the fort stretched on both sides, from the center dome, for close to 100 meters. I was at the main entrance after couple of minutes and there in my sight was one of the most historic monuments of India. A large structure that was built completely in red stone, A central complex area with high, red walls stretching on both sides to a distance, on the central complex stood two minarets on either side of the central strip of small white domes, two large domes standing on two circular structures and at the exact centre a proud tri-colored Indian flag fluttering in the winds. The structure that had witnessed revolts and revolutionaries, the fort that beheld the mighty emperors, the memorial that stood spectator to some of the greatest events, the very same ground from where the prime minister addresses the country on every Fifteenth August, the glorious Lal-Quilah.
Shahjahan, one of the greatest Moghul emperors, more known for the Taj Mahal that he built in memory of his wife, is the soul & source even behind this masterpiece. As history reads, When Shahjahan decided to move his capital from Agra; he ordered to construct this imposing & huge walled city and called it Shahjanhanabad. The story dates back to 1638 when the great Moghul emperor with immense love for art and ornamental construction work, Shahjahan decided to move his seat of power from Agra to Delhi for more prestige & power. The construction work of this enormous structure took 10 years and was called as ‘Qila-e-Mubarak’, the blessed fort. For the next 200 years, this fort would go on to serve as the residence and power of seat for the Royal Family from Shahjahan until Bahadur Shah Zafar. During the rebellion against British East India Company in 1857, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Moghul was captured and was brought to the Red Fort as a prisoner. After the mutiny failed, the British destroyed the residential palaces within Red Fort and converted it into a cantonment area and later as the Headquarters of British Indian Army. After Independence, Indian Army held the fort under their powers and not until 2003 it was handed over to the tourism board. The pride and glory of this age old symbol of power was multiplied when UNESCO credited it with the World Heritage Site tag in the year 2007.
Red Fort is said to have fourteen gates (many demolished) and I was part of the long queue that was going through security checks before entering the fort through the Lahori Gate. Baggage are not allowed (except for camera equipment after thorough security check) within the fort premises and hence there is a cloak room that serves from 7am to 5.30pm, the visiting hours. A ticket of Rs.10 will entitle one to enter the fort premises and another of Rs.5 will grant access to the Indian War memorial museum. The first thing anybody would notice while around Red Fort is the cooing pigeons. They flock the entire area in large groups and cone down on the walls of the fort. As I walked past the frisking security guard, the atmosphere suddenly seemed to had transformed. The enormously high walls of the fort and another wide trench separated the palace area from outside world. The walls, minarets, domes were high with the Indian national flag playing with the wind. I entered into the long walk way that led into the palace area, called the Chatta-Chowk.
The gateway into the Moghul palace within the Red Fort. This would have been once the way Shahjahan made an entry into his palace in a royal grandeur. This would have been the path through which once the Moghul queens were carried in their howdahs. The entrance complex serves even today as a business kiosk, like it was during Shahjahan’s days. The information board here says that vendors used to sell their products on either sides of this royal street during the Moghul reign. To keep the history alive, even today there is Red Fort Vendors association that has limited number of kiosks on either sides of the fort gate. Visitors can buy various handicrafts, artifacts and ornamental works on sale.
As I walk further, the long gate way ends and opens up into a small lawn area before another two storied complex called ‘Naqqar-Khaana’. This was the band-stand or the complex where palace courtiers used to proclaim the arrival of their beloved king. The palace courtiers would stand around this complex and proclaim in unison. This usually would be addressing the king with all his titles and then his name with great honor & respect and ending with the common word ‘Bahuparak’(a word roughly meaning ‘is arriving’ or ‘live long’) recited twice. This chanting would welcome the king into the palace and also inform his arrival to the ministers and other noble men in the courtyard so that all of them rise in respect. Beyond this gate was another small open yard which was used as the courtyard for general public during the Moghul days.
The public would gather in the open space on either side of this walk way that led from Naqqar-Khaana to the next building complex that looked more royal than the previous two, the ‘Diwan-I-Am’. The walk way would end at the steps of Diwan-I-Am, which was the public addressing court of the Moghuls. The wide complex has huge columns with intricate art works from the Moghul period and a balcony beyond the huge columns. This balcony or ‘jharooka’, with beautiful gold and silver artworks, was the seat or throne on which the Moghul king would sit and address his people. There was another layer of ornaments and jeweler works that separated the king’s balcony from the common man.
This was the end of access for common man during those days of Moghul kingdom. Only the palace officials were allowed beyond this point within the Red Fort. Walking around the Diwan-I-Am took me to a white complex constructed in the typical Moghul style of architecture, the Diwan-I-Khas.
With minarets and domes on top of the four corners and façade of arched ceiling between every pillars that seemed like doorways into the complex, this one was a comparatively large hall with four umbrella shaped constructions on four corners. The large hall with a chamber at the centre was the place for private audience of the King. State guests and other important people were treated at this very place. A huge rectangular chamber was at the centre of the complex and this is believed to the place where the famous Peacock throne presided and was the seat of the King while addressing the gathered. The Peacock throne and the legends with it, including the stunning Koh-I-Noor diamond would be another blog in itself.
French traveler n Jewel expert Tavennier writes, ‘The throne was to be three yards in length, two-and-a-half in breadth and five in height and inside was to be thickly set with rubies, garnets and other jewels, and it was to be supported by 12 emerald columns. On the top of each pillar there were to be two peacocks, thick-set with gems and between each two peacocks a tree set with rubies and diamonds, emeralds and pearls. Among the historical diamonds decorating it were the famous Koh-I-Noor (186 carats), the Akbar Shah (95 carats), the Shah (88.77 carats), the Jehangir (83 carats) and the second largest spinel ruby in the world — the Timur ruby (283 carats). The Peacock throne is believed to be taken by the Persian kings who advanced into India during the later years. But the note of travelers from Moghul days clearly shows the glory and pomp of the dynasty. It even has a water channel that flowed through the centre of the hall, Nahir-I-Bihisht, the stream of paradise. Even today there are remains of silver ornamental works, roof arts with precious jewels and other glorious signs of the impeccable Moghul architecture. The most striking of the works are the verses of Amir Khusrow inscribed on the walls which reads, ‘if there be a paradise on the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this’.
Almost opposite to the Diwan-I-Khas, behind the Diwan-I-Am are the imperial living rooms of the Royal family. Overlooking the river Yamuna, this glorious living area is said to have been designed in resemblance with the description of paradise in the Holy Quran. The Nahir-I-Bihisht flows across the centre of room, with water being fed from Yamuna thorough towers. Amir Khusrow’s verses are inscribed along the walls even in the living rooms.
I walked around this place with the many tourists that were thronging already. I was running out of time and had to wrap up my quick visit and found this Indian War memorial museum situated above the Naqqar-Khaana. This museum depicts the changeover of Indian war strategy and style over the period from Battle of Panipat towards the First World War and Industrialization by British. This was set up as a tribute to the soldiers who fought in the world war. It houses some of the rarest collections like swords, Knives, Sheath with ivory and iron handles, Zulfikars, chest armors, inscribed shields from as late as 1850s and then slowly transforming into Muzzle loading guns, revolvers, pistols, gun powder, bullet magazines etc. It also has various communication and signaling equipments from the early 1900s like buzzer exchanger from Germany etc. Many war models, carrier models, Soldiers dresses and etc are also on show taking us back to the 18th century.
It was time to complete my quick look into Red Fort. With façade of arches, glorious domes, high minarets and highly intricate art works, this citadel of Moghul glory beckoned for another visit. As I walked past the cooing pigeons flocking the lawns of Red Fort, the verses of Amir Khusrow was ringing in my head, ‘if there be a paradise on the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this’.
My quick sightseeing amidst the Auto Expo visit had to be planned. I hardly had few hours in between my visiting hours before the return flight. Luckily another piece of the jigsaw fell in place. The famed Baha’i House of Worship a.k.a Lotus Temple happened to be at a stone’s throw away from the place where I stayed at Okhla. I decided to cover this much talked about place on the evening of first day and I headed to Nehru place in the Delhi Metro.
Baha’i House of worship or Lotus temple as it is called is situated in Bahapur, at about 2kms from the metro rail station of Nehru place. I alighted at Nehru Place metro station and took an auto rickshaw to the famous landmark. It hardly took 5 minutes for the natural gas powered three-wheeler to take me there.
The lotus temple is the worship place of Baha’i religion that was found by Baha’u’llah. With a noble intention to bring the world together under one belief, the Baha’i faith was first preached by a Persian who was martyred by religious orthodoxy. In 1863, Baha’u’llah was highly responsible for taking this faith beyond countries and had tens of thousands of people following the Baha’i faith. The Baha’i teachings of oneness of mankind, common foundation of all religions, universal peace found many followers over the years of its existence and today after 157 years of its birth, the Baha’i literature has been translated to over 800 languages and people from over 360 countries propagating the faith.
As their information pamphlet says, the Baha’i house of worship in India is the latest of seven edifices raised in different parts of the world, each with distinctive design and inviting people of all religions. The Lotus shaped temple in Delhi is one of the most beautifully designed of all the Baha’i temples, at least as per the pictures available on various modes. I walked among the thousands of tourists that were visiting this wonderful structure. As per one study, in the year of 2010, the visitors at the world famous Taj Mahal were outnumbered by those visited the Lotus Temple. I could see people from different places around the world. There were Telugu speaking babus from my very own South India, the omnipresent Keralites and Gujarathis, an Assamese school excursion group, the paajis from Bhatinda and innumerable localites. There were a good number of foreigners as well, most of them from different parts of Europe and few from the Americas and South Asian countries. I walked among all these people, in between the colorful gardens, towards the Lotus temple.
The design of this Lotus shaped temple was influenced by the religiously important flower in India, Lotus that blooms colorfully in a pond or lake. Accordingly this lotus shaped temple is surrounded by nine large pools of blue, clear, pristine water making it immensely eye-catching. It was the daily prayer time at Baha’i temple and I joined the queue that was waiting to get inside the temple. Most of the officials here are Europeans assisted by few Indians and they combine their efforts to make every visitor understand the values of Baha’i faith. As I gathered with others at the doorsteps, temple staff explained the Baha’i concept in Hindi & English to the crowd. Before we could enter through the huge doors into the temple, we were once again reminded to keep silent.
The first thing that I noticed as I entered the huge hall, the interior of Lotus temple is the divine calmness. The atmosphere inside is immensely serene and the (may be) sound proof walls & doors separate the interior from the bustling crowd outside. It is amazing how eloquent could silence be. And humans, it seems, have an intimate connection with it. In the centre there was an altar lit faintly. The hall was huge enough to accommodate more than 1000 people. With benches laid in half-circle and a pointed ceiling that formed the interior of the sky pointing petal, this chamber of silence was cool and calm. It was the absolute place for everyone who planned to meditate. As I walked out of the hall, back into the noisy exteriors, I was handed a pamphlet that explained the Baha’i religion in short. Leaving back the photo posing crowd, I walked into the lawns of this sprawling 25 acre campus.
The view of this glorious floral inspired structure is multiplied during late evenings when it shines under lights. The petals seemed to turn golden in the aesthetically focused lights. Needless to mention that I got engrossed in clicking the shutter until the guards announced it is closing time.
It was getting uncomfortably cold. Yes, having lived all my life in South India between temperatures of 18degress and 35degress, the weather here was more than just cold. It probably dipped below 5 as the night fell. I curled into the warmth of blankets after some spicy dinner, awaiting a big day tomorrow!