Stop: Delhi, India by Elliott Hester
on photos for more images of India
more than 1 billion inhabitants speaking 18 major languages and
at least 1,000 minor languages and dialects, Indiathe birthplace
of Hinduismis indeed one of the world's most fascinating cultures.
during my first morning in the capital city of Delhi, as Hindu prayer
music blasted from the temple across the street from my 1-star hotel,
it wasn't language or religion that made my jaw drop when I looked
out the window. I was shocked, instead, by the sight of cows. Three
of them. The chubby bovine creatures ambled down the street among
cars and pedestrians. No one seemed to notice the cows but me.
spending a few days in the country, I began to understand why.
to Hindu scripture, cows represent nurturing and fertility. Bulls,
though more aggressive, command divine respect because the Hindu
God, Shiva, is often depicted riding one of them. As a result, these
animals are considered sacred. They are allowed to roam freely through
tiny villages, midsized towns and large metropolitan areas, creating
surreal images that might make Salvador Dali grin from the grave.
once saw a cow standing among eight or nine men on a busy street.
Ruminating thoughtfully, tail flicking lazily against its own hide,
the cow seemed to be contemplating human conversation.
watched a bull march straight down the middle of pedestrian lane,
nudging people out of the way with a flick of its horns. It seemed
to understand who had the right of way.
saw cows reposing peacefully beneath the shade of trees, rummaging
through garbage dumps, grazing in city parks, and eating from the
hands of loving Hindus who care for the sacred animals as if they
were communal pets.
I watched in disbelief as cows made the city's insufferable traffic
jams even worse.
for example, my excursion to Jama Masjid, the country's largest
mosque. I left my room at the Hotel Ajanta ($14 U.S. per day) and
stepped into the heat of Arakashan Road. The dusty, partially-paved
path is crammed with slouching wooden shops, mobile food vendors,
and a slew of hotels and hostels that provide basic accommodation
for as little as $5 or $6.
many of Delhi's two-way streets which seem too narrow to accommodate
even one-way traffic, Arakashan is overrun by a hodgepodge of zigzagging
vehicles: cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes, bicycle-rickshaws, bicycles,
push carts, ox-driven carts and the ubiquitous three-wheeled auto-rickshaws
that weave through the resulting traffic jams better that any competitor.
hopped into a passing auto-rickshaw and negotiated a $5 round-trip
fare. For this price, the driver agreed to wait two hours while
I visited the mosque, where 20,000 Muslims sometimes worship at
I soon learned, is just one of many aspects that makes India so
30-minute drive to Jama Masjid was rife with drama and adventure.
After leaving Arakashan Road, we turned onto a major thoroughfare
and were overwhelmed by a traffic jam, the likes of which I've never
seen before. Vehicles came at us from a dozen different directions.
Horns screeched persistently, breaks squealed, engines revved impatiently.
a rugby player slamming into the scrum, my driver wedged the auto-rickshaw
into the swarm of vehicles. He manipulated the throttle, inching
past a bicycle-rickshaw whose driver did not have a good angle.
We pushed past wobbling ox-driven carts that could have rolled off
the set of a 16th-century period film. We moved past massive trucks
that spewed clouds of black exhaust. We bobbed through a sea of
rickshaws, and past countless pedestrians who braved the narrow
gaps between vehicles.
mid-afternoon temperature hovered around 105 degrees. Heat and auto
exhaust combined to brew a oily broth that swept through the open
carriage and stuck to my skin. Every few minutes or so, the driver
would hawk up a big gob of spit, and let it fly. Such is the adventure
of driving through Delhi.
one point we found ourselves behind a big black bull that moved
through the street in slow motion. Vehicles skirted around the revered
animal as if there were an invisible force field protecting it.
But no matter how hard my driver tried, he could not navigate around
the bull. Automobiles and rickshaws had us hemmed in on both sides
and from the rear.
rolled along, a few respectful inches behind the bull, waiting for
an opportunity to pass. I sat there on the sticky vinyl seat, as
my driver abruptly angled left and stopped, leaving the bull's enormous
posterior mere inches from my face.
when the unthinkable happened. The creature's tail suddenly rose
in the air. It stopped walking, either to concentrate on the moment
at hand or because the cars in front had restricted forward progress.
I was then given an up-close-and-personal view of an act you don't
read about in tourist brochures. An act that occurs a thousand times
each day in Delhi, an act that gives the city a special farm-like
the bull sat down right there in front of us, oblivious to the traffic
mess which had now been exacerbated.
we finally reached Jama Masjid, I lumbered from the auto-rickshaw
and walked toward the crowd ascending the stairway. But before I
reached the first step of the beautiful 350-year-old mosque, before
entering one of three massive gateways and climbing the great 120-foot
minaret to gaze at the sprawling city below, before any of this,
I stepped in something. Something soft and mushy, left behind by
a sacred cow.
here for more images of India
stop: Mysore, India.
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