Monday, December 7, 2015

India - Being thrown out of a mosque...

In the previous post you can read about our thoughts on 'normal' Delhi. We had already walked the backroads, been through Delhi with a tuktuk, experienced it's mad traffic and the amazing city life. But Delhi has other things to offer too. It was time for some history! While waiting for the Myanmar visa we decided to have a tour of the city together with two other couples who were in the same boat, visa wise, as we were. It was to be an experience, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Yet as they are what happened, we also want to share them with you. 

I'm sure lots of you have read about the scams going around in India. They are real, we've experienced them ourselves too although managed to avoid most of them just in time. While they can be costly and tiring, most of them are not too serious (as long as you stay sharp). Today though we experienced something we feel is serious... Our first stop was the Jama Masjid, India's biggest mosque. We have been in a big mosque before, in the modern one in Pakistan, but the Jama Masjid is an old mosque and was therefore on our list. Although I'm glad we went, we did not get any further than a couple of metres past the gate... all because the staff at the entrance decided it was quite acceptable to treat us like dirt, call us names and scream into our faces when they didn't manage to steal one of our fellow travellers' bags...! Yes you read it right, they tried to steal one of our bags...! It all started when one of the ladies in our group decided to put her camera in her bag rather than paying a double camera fee... Her husband was taking the photos, had paid the fee for it, and she thus didn't need to use her camera. Fair enough. 

The staff at the Jama Masjid wasn't having any of it and demanded her to open her bag and get the camera out... when she refused, as it is her camera and her bag, they pulled the bag from her shoulder(!) and tried to open her bag to get the camera out themselves...! In any other country this would have been seen as stealing and the persons involved would have been sacked, but not at the Jama Masjid mosque... They even tried to pull the backpack from her husbands' shoulder too... Five people, all employees from the mosque were pushing and shoving them around, so we stepped in to balance the situation. Upon which they started yelling that all tourists are bastards...(!) that we had to go back to our own country...(!) and quite a bit of other really nasty racist stuff. Another member of staff heard the commotion, hurried towards us and tried to apologise for their behaviour but at the same time his hostile colleagues just continued doing it. It was seriously nasty. 

Trying to make the most of the day regardless of how were were received there, we continued to the Red Fort. The first thing we noticed there on arrival, as it was right at the entrance and quite hard to miss, was a sign which stated that the entry fee for foreigners was 25x higher than for Indian nationals... The 'We welcome you to India... but rather see your money' feeling certainly became stronger now. What a friendly way to treat visitors, especially as the extra foreigner fees are not used for the upkeep of the Red Fort but simply disappear into the pockets of the tax departement (the same department which also charges you tourist tax on every drink or meal you buy, a tax which can be as high as what you bought in the first place...). Irrespective of the amounts we had to pay, which we don't think are high by the way, we do feel it's wrong to charge differently solely based on skin colour or race. A Concession for people with a low income would work much better and be fairer too. I must admit it is tempting to think we should do the same for people from India who visit our country (like we heard many overseas visitors say)... and also let them go through the same unfriendly visa process as we have been and then charge them as much for it too, while giving them the wrong visa just like we and many others have had... But to be honest I hope we will never lower ourselves to such tactics and uphold our beliefs in treating everyone equal and with respect... The reason we're writing this is because it's real and just like our positive experiences we had in Delhi, see previous post, we feel this should be told.

The Red Fort is well worth a visit though as to be honest, its name doesn't do it justice. It was simply named that way because of the red sandstone used for the surrounding walls. Looking at the building itself, which is quite grand, they could have come up with something better, something which reflects the beautiful building that it is. For nearly 200 years this was the residence of the Mughal emperor, right up until 1857, and as such has all the grandeur one would expect. It was also the political and ceremonial centre of the Mughal government where quite a few events took place which have had a long lasting impact on the development of the region and India was we know it today. Currently it's open to the public, for a fee, and houses a number of museums.

The building style was originally Islamic but also has a mixture of Timurid and Persian styles, clearly visible in the various pavilions. As the Red Fort was the citadel of Shahjahan when he moved from Agra to Delhi, no expense seems to have been spared. Altogether it took 9 years to complete, quite a long time to wait for your new house! It boasts extensive gardens and in 2007 became a Unesco World Heritage Site. On India's Independence day, August 15th, the prime minister delivers the nationally broadcasted annual speech here. Even if you are not interested in history, but find yourself in Delhi, do not miss the Red Fort, it is well worth a visit.
One thing to remember when visiting Delhi is to take a tuktuk when you want to go somewhere. Don't even bother yourself with driving, the parking fees are just about as much as the tuktuk driver will charge you to drop you off at the gate. It makes the day less stressful and much more fun too. 

Another place well worth visiting, we thought, is Humayun's tomb. It's the resting place of the Mughal emperor Humayun and was commissioned by his first wife. The Persian influences are clearly visible and impressive. Like the Red Fort, this became a Unesco World Heritage site as well. There are several tombs on the site, one of which strangely enough not only pre-dates the Humayun tomb but is also of an emperor who fought against the Mughals. The saying 'Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer' apparently also applies when they've died.

We found the outside of the buildings and the gardens the most impressive. The interior lacked a little imagination, we thought. We know it's a building which houses various tombs but it was all a bit too clinical, simple and lacking the grandeur of the outside, which is beautiful. There are so many emperors buried here that we wondered what would happen if they were all suddenly resurrected... :-) While the above two monuments are well worth visiting, the feeling of being discriminated against became stronger as the day progressed. Like I wrote earlier, it's not the amounts but the feel of it which sorts of spoil it, and did so for many tourists judging by the comments we heard.

At the end of the day we reflected on what we had found in Delhi over the past days. For two people who were seriously out of their comfort zone, who enjoy the solitude of places like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Outback Australia, going to Delhi was unbelievable and unimaginable. Yet we somehow enjoyed the madness, the excess, the colourful people and the bizarreness of it all. It will never be a place we would want to live but it sure was an amazing experience! It was the people who make this city the amazing place that it is. The people who live and work in the back alley's, the colourful characters who give this place its incredible atmosphere and make it so much more enjoyable.