Tuesday, 03-03-2015 — Thursday, 03-05-2015.
Days 195 — 197.
Our last three days in India sort of bunched together. One day we did nothing but make the six-hour journey from Jaipur to Delhi (as great as it as having a driver, we were getting tired of being in that car for long stretches). Then we spent a day catching up on some of the sights we'd missed the first time around, tried unsuccessfully to explore the neighborhood a little bit, and ate at India's best restaurant before we departed for Istanbul.
When we arrived at our hotel after the long drive to Delhi from Jaipur, Rakesh offered to take us to the Hanuman Temple, which was sort of near where we were staying. It was a Tuesday, which is the day of honor for Hanuman, the monkey king. We were tired from our drive and we were sort of burned out on temples in general, so we declined. But I regret not going, because later on we got a glimpse of it, and it was pretty wild. It's dominated by a giant statue of Hanuman pulling open his chest to show Rama in his heart. And you enter through the mouth of a monkey. This is what it looks like:
Hanuman statue by Stephen & Claire Farnsworth via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
When you're traveling with kids, it's not possible to not want to go to a museum dedicated to toilets. So one morning we struck out to find the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. It wasn't the easiest place to find, either. Rakesh (our driver, who had encyclopaedic knowledge of the roads for 1000 km around Delhi) didn't know where it was, but he knew the area and, after a little looking around, found it. If you're interested, here it is on a map).
The museum is part of Sulabh International (sulabh means easily available), an NGO working to clean up India by promoting proper sanitation, waste management, and education thereof, and the museum is part of that mission.
The small museum, listed as the third weirdest museum in the world by Time Magazine, traces the history of human sanitation from ancient times, through the medieval era, and into modern times. There was a framed photo of John Harington (the inventor of the flush toilet) and another of plumber Thomas Crapper, who improved and popularized the flush toilet. There are also a number of different toilets on display, including a toilet that resembled a stack of books, and Louis XIV's toilet throne, and a modern composting toilet.
There was also a scale model of the world’s largest toilet complex. The real one is in Sidri, a town in western India that draws millions of pilgrims every year who worship at the shrine of Shri Sai Baba. In the past, this has caused a waste problem for the town of Shirdi, so in 2009 Sulabh International built this free public facility that has 120 toilets, 108 bathrooms, 28 special toilets, and 5,000 lockers for the visiting pilgrims.
And good news! You can visit from the comfort of your own home with the museum's virtual tour.
But as silly as the museum might seem, it comes with a very serious message about dealing with human waste. In the past, India has has a problem with open defecation and public saniatation. Sulabh's founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak has invented a low-cost solution called the shauchalaya, a twin pit-toilet that not only provides communities with low-cost toilets (made locally with available materials), but also helps compost the waste, turning it into valuable fertilizer. There are a number of these on display in the courtyard right outside of the museum.
It's also worth nothing that our tour guides here were women. In fact, this was the only place we saw in India where women were working in a public space.
As billboard all over Delhi remind us, the Qutb Minar is the world's largest brick minaret. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, (under the name Qutb Minar and its monuments) and one that we missed during our first visit in Delhi.
Because it's a UNESCO site, admission was 250 rupees for adults (the kids were free), and as soon as we had our tickets, we were swamped by eager guides who wanted to take us around the site. We passed on these, much to their horror. "But how will you know what you are seeing? The history?" I told them we'd figure it out—it's what we do.
There are a lot of different things to see inside this complex, which roughly approximates the 11th century city of Lalkot. First of all, there's the 73-meter, seven-story Qutb Minar itself, which dominates the site. There are 379 steps inside the structure that lead to the top, but tourists haven't been allowed to climb it since 1981, when 45 were trampled during a panic invoked by a power failure.
Additionally, here you can find the Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque, the first mosques built in India, the tomb of Iltutmish (one of the kings who built the site and who completed the Qutb Minar), a hallmark of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Alai Minar, and a mysterious non-rusting iron pillar.
As tall as Qutb Minar is, it would have been dwarfed by Alai Minar, which was designed to be twice the height of Qutb Minar, but after the first story was placed, the man who commissioned it died and the work stopped. This is all that remains.
In the courtyard of the Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque stands a 21-foot tall pillar of iron that, even though it dates back to the 4th century, remains remarkably non-corroded. In total, the rod is 24 feet tall, but three feet of it is buried in the ground. The rod has a high phosphorous content and was often anointed with some sort of oil (some think ghee) to help keep it corrosion free. it is inscribed in Sanskrit and has an indentation on top that was thought to hold a statue of Garuda, the mount of Vishnu.
The Lotus Temple is just one of those things you have to see. It's a Bahá'í house of worship (one of eight n the world) and is ope to all people of all religions to We didn't have enough time to go inside (the crowds are pretty thick). It's an amazing sight, though.
Going it Alone in Delhi
So on our last full day we didn't have a driver any longer. And rather than sit around the hotel all day, we decided we'd try to get out and see a little of the neighborhood. Samantha found a nearby place called the Karachi Sweet Shop that sounded cute, so we decided to head over that way. Short version—it was a disaster.
First of all Google Maps isn't all that accurate in Delhi. It had our hotel placed a few blocks away, so I was hoping that the sweet shop was in the right place as we struck out. But that wasn't the real problem. The real challenge we encountered was that as soon as people saw white faces on the streets of Karol Baugh, they rushed forward to help. And as we'd learned during the week here, help in India generally came with a price.
As soon as we were out the door, we were inundated with auto rickshaw drivers. They'd follow us down the street, honking, getting our attention, and asking where we were from, where we were going, where we were staying. Unlike Cambodia or Thailand where a polite, "No thanks" did the trick, these guys were incessant in their pursuit and wouldn't take no for an answer. They all wanted to take us to Connaught Place. One guy even pulled over and ran up to us with a map to show us where Connaught Place was.
We managed to make it through this throng and followed Google Maps to the location of the Karachi Sweet Shop—but it wasn't there. As we considered our options, we waved off three more auto rickshaw drivers.
And that's when a man came up to us. He was a little older, well-groomed and well-dressed. He asked us how we were doing. We said fine. He said he lived in this building right here and asked us where we were from. We said California. He said he had three kids, one in Ontario, one in Mumbai and one somewhere else. We said that was nice. He asked us where we were going. We hesitated, but we told him. He said oh, that's right over here. Follow me. I said I didn't have any money for tips. He said, "No, my friend. You misunderstand. No tip necessary."
I wasn't sure about that and with much caution and more than a little reluctance, followed this guy down an alley to an adjacent street—and right to the Karachi Sweet Shop. It was kind of where Google Maps said it would be, but it was on a street that wasn't on the map. It would have been really hard to find it without help.
I thanked the man for his help and, as I went inside, he told me that if he could call us an auto rickshaw when we were done eating. They would charge him only 20 rupees but they'd charge us 120 rupees. I declined saying that wouldn't be necessary, we weren't doing any touring that day, and went inside to have some lunch. It wasn't our best meal.
After we were done, we were going to head back to the hotel. As we left the restaurant our friend came up and said "Sir, sir! Let me call you a rickshaw!" I was a little surprised he'd been standing outside waiting for us (odd for a a guy who was "on his way home" when he ran into us). I said "No thanks, I said we didn't need one," and we walked off down the street. The gent looked pissed off, but I'm still not entirely sure what he had planned for us—and glad I didn't find out.
Earlier in the week, as we were looking for restaurants to try, we stumbled across Andy Hayler's review of Indian Accent, supposedly the best restaurant in India. Andy Hayler had done right by us before (when we visited Tsukunejima in Horoshima), so we decided to try it out.
Indian Accent is inside the Manor Hotel in the New friends Colony, which is in one of India's ritzy neighborhoods, and Rakesh arranged another driver for us (a nice gent by the name of Anil) who was right on time and knew where we needed to go.
While not as mind-blowing as tsukunejima wa for us, the meal was fantastic. It's hard to go wrong with blue cheese naan and pulled pork phulka tacos. The head chef even came out to ask us how we were enjoying the food, which was a nice surprise.
On the 45-miunte drive back to Karol Baugh, the streets were starting to get crowded with people beginning to celebrate Holi (the Hindu spring festival of colors) by lighting bonfires in the streets. While it was cool to see masses of people crowded around huge fires burning in the road—and as much as we would have liked to see the colors of Holi—it seemed like a crazy scene for two young girls, and we were happy to be heading our for Istanbul in the morning.
- Traffic accidents: 1
- Herds of cows on the freeway: 1
- Pushy auto rickshaw drivers: 11 (at least)
- Bonfires seen: 2