Day 03 - Sunday, October 30, 2016 – Visit Qutab Minar; Explore New Delhi; Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (Sikh Temple) and Soup Kitchen, Diwali Celebration with Sujay’s Family
Happy Diwali! Today begins the Hindu Festival of Lights, the most celebrated holiday of the Indian Calendar. Originally a harvest festival, it is celebrated in the autumn each year as a tribute to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
Last night was short but we are trying to get our bodies accustomed to Indian Standard Time that is 11.5 hours different from Mountain Time. We woke at 6:30 and readied for the day.
Instead of the normal Namaste greeting everyone was wishing us a Happy Diwali this morning. The waiters at the breakfast buffet were very busy because the hotel is full, as so many people were coming for the five-day celebration.
The buffet was very generous with many kinds of fruits and vegetables along with many varieties of bread and sweet rolls. The British influence is still felt here as we saw the makings of a typical English breakfast of eggs, ham, sausage, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans.
We went out into the courtyard to get a chance to test the weather. The temperature was 75 degrees and the humidity 85% with overcast skies. Vic got out his new Cannon 7D – Mark II and took a few photos of the comings and goings of this beautiful hotel.
Our Tour Director, Sujay Kumar Lall met us at 10:00 am for our welcome briefing and we were able to meet the other 14 people on this tour. As usual, we have a varied group of travelers with us from coast to coast in the USA.
Because of the holiday and the even more congested traffic, Sujay suggested that we change the itinerary a bit for these next two days. At 12:15 we got on the bus and met our driver, Sadish and the bus assistant, Salin. We also met Raj who was to be our local guide in Delhi for he next two days.
Sujay gave each of us a garland of marigolds to wear to celebrate Diwali and as we drove to the restaurant for lunch, Raj explained about our neighborhood with its broad, tree-lined avenues of New Delhi, designed by the British.
We had a glimpse of the President’s Palace and the India Gate, two of the famous landmarks of this area. Our lunch was at the Grill House where we were served a broth starter and then several meats and stews, all eaten with fried flat bread called naan.
At 2:00 we got back on the bus and made our way through exceptionally heavy traffic to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (Sikh Temple) and Soup Kitchen or community kitchen. We had to take off our shoes and socks and wear a kerchief over our heads to visit the kitchen and temple.
As Sujay explained, this program feeds over 10,000 people three meals each day. Volunteers do all of the preparations and it is known as one of the most religiously tolerant programs of the world. No person is turned away and all faiths and economic conditions are welcome.
Because of the Diwali celebrations, there were thousands of believers and many tourists like us at the temple. As we were there to observe, but not pray, we were very respectful of those devotees who were there to worship.
We left the temple with its rhythmic chants and the Sikhs men in their colorful turbans and full beards, and the women in bright beautiful headscarves and gold jewelry. We found our shoes, cleaned our feet, and then walked to the waiting bus.
Our next discovery was the Qutab Complex and Qutab Minar (Tower) begun in 1192 and built to commemorate the beginning of the Muslim rule of India. Standing 73 mm high, almost 240 feet, the red sandstone was glistening in the afternoon sun.
Originally thought to be an astronomical observatory from the 4th Century BCE, the complex and tower are now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi. The park was an especially busy area this Sunday afternoon and many families were enjoying the ancient ruins.
From the Qutab Minar we rode the bus to the nearby Metro Station of the same name. We had all been invited to join Sujay and his family for their traditional prayers, candle lighting, and Diwali dinner.
The Metro took us about 15 minutes from his gated community and the remainder of the journey was on the rustic three-wheeled motorized rickshaws called Tuk-Tuks. These taxies dart in and out of traffic and in no time at all our hosts greeted us. Sujay’s wife, Ratna; his son, Rohit; their daughter, Mitali; and Sujay’s grandson, Aiden were all present for the festivities.
Mitali’s husband Leon joined us after a business trip. They treated us like their long lost cousins from America. Our evening was delightful and will be remembered as a highlight of this OAT trip. They shared their Diwali prayers with us and we helped light the candles to be put all around the home and on top of the roof garden.
Aiden, the 4.5 year old was the entertainment for the evening. A few of us had brought gifts for the family and Aiden was more than willing to open them all. We had a welcome ceremony and then while the final meal preparations were being made, we took a walk around the neighborhood.
Many of this community were out on their balconies or on the streets and everyone greeted us warmly. The lights, candles, and fireworks reminded us of Christmas, New Years, and the 4th of July all wrapped into this autumn holiday.
After dinner and a walk to their roof garden, we got to play with sparklers, and Leon shot off a few fireworks. The panoramic view of Delhi skyline and constant fireworks told us that almost everyone in the city was enjoying the holiday as much as we were.
At 9:30 the Tuk-Tuk drivers came back for us and took us to the Metro Station. We rode all the way back to the hotel on the last train of the evening. It was 11:15 before we got home and began the journal and sorted photos.
We had another late night but it was worth every minute for our wonderful opportunity to enjoy Diwali, the Festival of Lights with Sujay and his generous family.
“May the festival of lights brighten you and your near and dear ones lives.” Traditional Diwali Greeting
Accommodations: The Claridges Hotel, New Delhi - - - Meal: B & D
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Great photos Vic. I bet you love that Canon 7D :)
What did you take as your gift from CO? I have you in my Travel log group for Indonesia - let me know if you don't want to receive them! Yes, going to the Trip Leader's home - what a fabulous experience!
What great and colorful pictures. I can just see y'all going barefooted. Glad I was in your pocket - they didn't see me, and I could keep my shoes and socks on. LOL I know this place is so devastated and poor, but I didn't see it. Is this a holiday we celebrate in the states? If so, which one. Today, Frank (Mr. Eyebrows) ashes was spread on top of Mt. Zircon in Maine - his request. Looking forward to tomorrow. Sleep well
So nice to finally have time to catch up on your latest adventure. You're convincing me that India is definitely one to consider...lots of local color and cultural experiences to keep you interested. Sounds like a great trip so far. Keep those blog postings and pictures coming...we love your work!
Wishing you continued safe and fun travels!
How fun! What kind of gift do you take that typifies CO - need suggestions as I leave for Indonesia in 12 days! Enjoy!
Great adventures as always! Thanks for sharing.
Fun to go to India with you and re-live our OAT trip from 5 years ago.
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Sounds wonderful! It seems just like yesterday I saw you on Friday walking down Capella. Jealous!