Tag Archives: mosque

Delhi

This morning there was a major eclipse in India. In parts of India it was a total eclipse, but in Delhi it was about 80%. We woke early and headed out onto the roof to watch. This eclipse was apparently special because at 6 minutes it was one of the longest, a duration that will not be matched until 2132.

In the morning we visited the famous Red Fort (Lal Qila) in Delhi. Completed by the great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1648, the same guy who built the Taj Mahal, it has been the site of many important political speeches and each year on Indian Independence Day (August 15), the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the ramparts of the fort. In preparation for that, there was a crew scrubbing the front walls of the fort. Notice the bamboo scaffolding tied with twine, and the men climbing it without any safety leashes.

After the fort, we walked around Old Delhi for a couple of hours. Old Delhi is a maze of small streets filled with shops. We had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall selling ‘paratha’, traditional fried bread served with ‘chutneys’, a variety of savory, spicy, and sweet accompaniments.

We wandered down the street into an Indian bakery and ordered something that looked like a bird’s nest, about six inches across. While Patrick was ordering, there was someone with a video camera behind the counter. Upon exiting, Diane was in discussion with a group of Indian media students, who wanted to interview us on the subject of street food. We consented to a brief interview. They asked a) what we’d eaten, b) whether we enjoyed it, and c) were we concerned about cleanliness. Our answers were a) just about everything we could find, b)) absolutely, and c) we haven’t been sick so far. However, it’s sometimes easier to enjoy our meal without seeing the kitchen or even the restaurant. Dim lighting helps. Perhaps that’s why Indians don’t eat dinner until late.

After lunch, we headed for Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India (also built by Shah Jahan). The skies in the east were very dark, and the wind started to pick up, so we knew that rain was imminent. We had to put our sunglasses on to protect our eyes from the dust whipped up by the wind. We almost made it. The skies opened just before we reached the mosque, and we took cover under a tin shanty at the entrance. The rain was blowing sideways under our cover, and we were concerned that the roof might rip off. So we made a break up the steps in the torrent to the mosque. The water was cascading down the steps like a water fall. We arrived soaking wet, and took cover under the huge entrance archway with over 100 other people. Diane was wearing a pink tank top that she’d bought the day before, and which was by now totally soaking wet — a bit like a wet T-shirt contest, but at a mosque. We were immediately chastised for wearing our shoes, which should have been removed prior to this point, but there was no one outside to tell us that. It was probably swept away by the rain and wind. Diane put on an additional shirt that she had, one with sleeves, as quickly as possible. When the rain subsided, we toured the mosque, which was really just a vast open compound, with very little covered space. It faces West, because when you’re India, Islam’s holy city Mecca is in the West, not the East (as it is in Canada). The ground was tiled with red sandstone, which heated the rain water, creating warm puddles like bath water. Children were playing in a huge puddle, which was like a kiddy pool at an amusement park.

We’d heard that scams abound in India. Especially in the larger tourist cities, that everyone wants to take our money. This shows up in many ways. Taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers that flatly refuse to turn on their meters, and that insist on fixed fares much higher than Indian people pay. Touts that tell you the official tourist bureau or the train ticket window for foreigners is closed, so they can direct you to a private travel agency. So far, we’ve avoid all of the obvious rip-offs. The only scam we’ve experienced so far is purchasing a pair of reading glasses for 400 Rp (about $10 Canadian) that were only worth 100 Rp. Oh, and we purchased a long distance calling card for about $50 that we found out only works in Mumbai, a city that we probably won’t be going back to, but we’re not sure whether the salesman knew this or not.

India is a handkerchief haven. At home, Patrick sometimes gets grief from friends because he carries a hankie, which is seen as an old-fashioned and even slightly disgusting. With the advent of Kleenex, hankies have fallen out of favour, but they’re much softer and avoid a raw nose during hay fever season. However, in India, handkerchiefs are everywhere. Most people carry one to wipe the sweat from their brow. Due to their waning popularity in Canada, it’s difficult to purchase a quality hanky – anything softer and more absorbent than sandpaper. But in India, people on the street offer to sell us hankies several times a day. It’s just that easy. Hanky heaven. A billion people can’t be wrong.

Egyptian Hospitality

Today is Yom Al-gu-m’a, or Friday in English, the weekly Muslim holy day. The mosques peal five times each day, the first before sunrise, and the last well after sunset, but on Fridays at around noon they also broadcast their ‘sermons’ over the loudspeakers. We’re getting used to it, and I’m sure it would be very interesting if we spoke Arabic. The location relative to the street and the nearest mosque are essential criteria when evaluating a hotel room in Egypt.

We’re writing this from seats 19 and 20 on the bus to Dahab Egypt. A mere 20 hours from now, around noon tomorrow, we’ll have driven under the Suez canal, crossed the Sinai peninsula, and we’ll be in a relaxing seaside community on the Gulf of Aqaba, near the Red Sea.

We’ve been in Luxor for the last 3 days, visiting the ancient tombs and temples of Egyptian royalty and gods. In pharaoenic times Luxor was called Thebes, and the history here is amazing. It makes England’s long history seem like the recent past. Almost all of the monuments we saw were about 3500 years old, the complex construction and artistry of which is still truly impressive today.

Yesterday was a great day. We got up early, took a ferry across the Nile to the west bank, and negotiated a taxi ride to the Valley of the Kings. Here, the tombs of sixty-three pharaohs have been discovered so far. Some have been open since antiquity, and contain Roman graffiti that is 2000 years old. The most famous of these is King Tutankhamen’s tomb, which was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. This was the last tomb found in the Valley of the Kings until 1995, when a large new tomb was discovered. Exploration and excavation of the valley continues to this day.


We visited the tombs of 3 pharaohs — Ramses IV, Tuthmosis III, and Tawosret/Sethnakht. Each tomb goes deep underground or into the base of the cliffs, contains many rooms and passageways, and is decorated with carvings and paintings. Some still contain the stone sarcophagus of the original occupant.


Afterwards, we hiked out of the valley, and walked to Deir al-Bahri where the temple of Hatshepsut is located. A steep trail, though not as steep as the Grouse Grind, led upwards for about 20 minutes, where we reached a ridge with a spectacular view over ancient Thebes and the temples below.

Later that afternoon, we were invited for dinner to the house of a young Egyptian man named Ahmad Ali, whom we met in his shop when we stopped to buy water. We’ve experienced Egyptian hospitality twice on this trip. The first time was in Aswan, when we met a nice man of about fifty-five named Mahmoud, who every evening sat outside the barber shop of a friend, and engaged us to practice his English. We visited with him twice, helping him with his already impressive English vocabulary, and he in turn, teaching Patrick some basic Arabic.

We had our hotel manager go with us to buy some Egyptian sweets, which we took to Ahmad Ali’s house as a gift. His family’s home was an old four story building, with a dark staircase and small rooms. We were met on the stoop by his father’s mother, who he insisted on referring to as ‘grand-father’. Ahmad Ali took us first to the roof top to proudly show us his goats and chickens. Included in the small herd of goats were two newborns a couple of days old, and a pregnant female who, after he checked her privates, he said would delivery tomorrow ‘en shalla’ (god willing), He was surprised to learn that we did not have any goats, chickens, or cows.

Ahmad Ali and his entire family live together. We met his two sisters, mother Saida, his nephew Hussein, and niece Jasmine. When asked how long his family had lived in the house, he didn’t seem to understand the question. He talked about his grandfather, but I think he didn’t know because it had been in his family longer than anyone can remember.

Ahmad Ali’s sisters and mother made us a fabulous traditional Egyptian dinner of salad, rice, fuul (a cooked bean dish something like refried beans) roasted chicken, and two kinds of bread. They set us a communal table on the living on the floor and Ahmad Ali sat with us and ate dinner. The ladies did not join us until later for tea. Ahmad ate with gusto, and talked with his mouth full. I think he said that he only eats one meal each day. Diane, a lefty, had to stay conscious to remember to use her right hand only.

Over tea, we talked with Ahmad Ali’s sister who knew some English and was interested in learning more. She sat with Patrick looking at the Lonely Planet guide book’s Arabic language section. Patrick continued to develop his ‘shoia-shoia’ (little bit) of Arabic and she practiced her English. Meanwhile her 2 year old daughter Jasmine, who was quiet shy, was doing everything she could not to not let us see her look at either one of us. After many friendly smiles Jasmine and Diane played a game of peak-a-boo. Before the evening was over Jasmine had warmed up to us and even shook our hands good-bye.

Ahmad and his family were extremely gracious, showing us true Egyptian hospitality. It was an amazing experience. We hope that if we have the opportunity to show the same kind of hospitality to travelers to Canada that we will do the same. How many Canadians would invite total strangers to their home for dinner?