Saturday, August 13, 2011

Red Fort Tantrums and Dropping Drunks at a Delhi Train

We all have tantrums. Mine doesn't come as often, especially during my solitary travels. But after being semi-evicted and fined from the Jama Masjid (India's biggest mosque), I was testy and a bit jittery. I took a rickshaw through Delhi's oldest and busiest market - Chandni Chowk which was a dizzying, albeit spell-binding journey into the heart of India; it was a street ride like no other (check out the last photo below). I was careful not to hand my camera to would-be robbers, but it sure was a challenge. I was heading towards Lahore Gate.

Upon reaching the Red Fort, one of Delhi's UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the city's largest historical monument, I headed straight to the ticket kiosk. The massive fortress was a sight to behold, with its eye-popping red sandstone fort standing rather forlornly amidst a throng of excited tourists. I paid my $2 entrance (locals pay 10 rupees) and was instructed to deposit my backpack at the baggage counter (they use "cloak room"). I had to pay 10 rupees to deposit my backpack, but upon getting my claim ticket, the people at the counter further asked for a donation! I handed 5 rupees but they demanded 50 rupees! You just love it when donations are being imposed by beggars, don't you? After having been fined 200 rupees from a mosque, paying $2 entrance fee for the Red Fort and another 10 rupees at the cloak room, I felt I had been much abused. These people seemed to think that money grew right out of the orifices of my body. How much for the air I breathe?

I trodded towards the entrance gate, a massive fortress that could intimidate the meek, but I was beyond beauty, pomp, pageantry or historical grandeur. I was in a tantrum I've never experienced in a while. I refused to even raise or use my camera while navigating inside the fortress. I didn't care, and to this day, I understood why.

The Red Fort (aka Lal Qila) was built during the time of Emperor Shah Jahan who also commissioned the Taj Mahal and the Jama Masjid. He would march out of the fort on an elephant and people would wave and smile as he was a beloved emperor. He respected other people's religion despite his being a mughal king, thus a muslim.

Construction of the massive fort started 1638 and took 10 years to finish. He was supposed to move his capital from Agra (where Taj Mahal stands) to this behemoth Delhi fortress they called Shahjahanabad. This didn't materialize as he was eventually imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb at the Agra Fort.

Right inside this main gate is a vaulted arcade called Chatta Chowk. I was actually wondering why a tiangge was allowed inside the fort. Souvenir items and trinkets abound. Since I was sporting a humongous tantrum, I was understandably disinterested. But the beauty inside flowed through - there was a Drum House, Halls of Public and Private Audiences, the puritanical Moti Masjid and the Rang Mahal. It's a complex much like Agra Fort. In fact, at one point in time, it used to be home of more than 3,000 people. There was another museum inside but when I learned I had to pay - again! - on top of all the rupees I already paid just to get here, I scampered away, glad I had the option to actually say "no" to something associated with this culture of overcharging tourists. It was irritating and quite frankly inhospitable.


Sometime during the day, I was able to ride the city train (MRT/LRT, Metro, tube). My mood had improved by then. A couple of years ago, I read a piece at the Inquirer's Super section that unevenly compared Manila's MRT to the Parisian Metro, and I wanted to check out Delhi's.

I disagreed with the writer's observation saying that rush hour at the Parisian Metro was orderly and people weren't thrown together like sardines in a can, as it was with Manila's MRT. The writer must have taken the train to Hogwarts. Parisian trains are exactly a similar experience with Manila or London's tube during rush hour. Who ever says otherwise is fibbing big time. India's Delhi trains actually fare better which was unexpected. The Indians queue where a train door opens, and once inside, they are well behaved, properly attired (you don't see people wearing shorts, sandos or undershirts and flip flops; and if you do, you know who the tourist is) and they don't push once inside. This is the big city after all. People are urbane and observe a more cosmopolitan behavior. But taking long distance trains in India is a different matter.

While on my way to Connaught's Place, my trainmates sat stiffly as they gazed at a guy who took a whole row of seat; his head falling down the aisle, his limbs plopping lazily and seemingly lifeless. "Is he dead," I heard a few concerned whispers. There was one way to find out. I went up beside the guy who, by then, was half crouched down the floor. I took his arm and could smell alcohol. I palpated for his pulse and it was full and regular. "He's alive, just drunk!" I declared. I could hear sighs as the crowd went back to their own concerns. No one else went near him. I wasn't trying to be a hero, but it's hard to disregard when you're seated right across this inebriated soul. I took my seat and hopped out at the next stop.

It had been a full day that tested emotions and patience. I was looking forward to move on, realizing how I disliked Delhi (but that has since changed).

This is the Eye in the Sky!

City train in Delhi with people queueing.

Rickshaw ride through Delhi's oldest street, Chandni Chowk.

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