Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dehli, India 8/10/07

I don't know about you all, but I'm having an exciting week! Swindling, sabotage, and leopards! I arrived in Delhi, India last Thursday evening and survived for a whole 10 hours before I got ripped off by anyone. Granted, most of that time I was asleep. The following morning, after some, well, not really any, negotiation with the front desk, the attendant arranged for a car to pick me up and "take me around Delhi" which, for 1000 rupees, was actually limited to 80 km total travel. And this was supposedly typical for a full day of 8 hours of sight seeing. Yeah right. I had the driver for 5 hours, saw 2 sights, never even made it to the center of town, and paid for 30 extra km. (Swindled!) In rationalizing the situation I figure (1) the big city of Dehli is more expensive than the smaller southern towns I was in last January and (2) the car had A/C, which is 2-3 times more expensive than non A/C. Nonetheless, I was rather peeved at the front desk because they insisted on making my plans, when I had already been offered a ride all around the city, with no km limit, and the return trip to the airport included, for only 500 rupees, albeit without A/C. . Whatever.

I visited a bit of historical Dehli, and a bit of modern Dehli. The highlight of the historical site was the Qutb Minar—the largest single tower in India, it's a five storeyed "victory" tower was built around the end of the 12th century. It was incredibly striking for its red stone was intricately carved, and rose to 238 feet, contrasted against a beautiful blue sky and the lush green trees of the grounds around it. The courtyard had an intricate gateway that was embellished by carved panels with passages from the Koran—it is also one of the earliest buildings in India to display Islamic architecture. The complex itself is one of those that continued to be built onto throughout history, and it also houses the oldest extant mosque in India.

For a modern taste of Dehli, I visited the Lotus Temple. This is an incredible building—27 marble lotus petals look as though they are about to unfurl at any moment. The approach to the entrance is slightly uphill, so the white lotus is illuminated by the Sun, against a deep blue sky. It is a Baha'I House of Worship and they invite followers of all faiths to meditate and attend their daily services. I certainly took the opportunity to contemplate over my own deep reflections. At the Visitor Information Center, I learned more about Baha'i than I'd known before: the prophet that called himself the Bab meaning "the Gate" and who spread this faith, revealed himself in the 1860's in Persia. His exile and persecution of course helped to spread the religion. Its foundation rests on the idea that all humanity is one race, advocates tolerance, etc. They believe that there are nine basic religions in the world, so nine is considered a divine number. There are eight Baha'i Houses (the ninth was destroyed in an earthquake), at least one on each continent (I don't think they count Antarctica). Whenever someone asks where I am from I say Chicago (because how many Indians have heard of Wisconsin), so the Baha'is got very excited because Chicago is where one of these temples is located.

So, that was my highly abbreviated view of Delhi for this trip. As the nation's capital, one could easily spend a week there and not see everything. Instead, I rode back to the airport and caught my flight to Pune. The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT)—we astronomers are very clever when it comes to naming our telescopes—is a two hour bus ride north of Pune. There is only one bus that leaves at 7 am from the NCRA facilities on the Pune University campus, so I stayed in the NCRA dormitories for a night and caught the bus the following morning.

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