Mar 122012
Crowded bazaar full of ruined buildings, merchants, busy people and toursits

After a tormented half day, visiting Raj Ghat was somewhat refreshing. Gandhi always inspired me much, and visiting his memorial reminded me how lucky I am to be here, in this magical country. Chloé, Adam and me sat down on a bench to talk and decide where to go. There was a public water fountain nearby, but I didn’t dare to try and drink from it, even though some locals did. Everyone strongly suggested to not do it unless I want to catch some very nasty illness. Even most of the locals did buy bottled drinking water, and so did we.

I decided to leave my heavy backpack behind for a while, and wash my arms, chest and face, and wet my hat. The heat was unbearable, and I was technically breathing hot steam which felt like it burns my throat and lungs, and I couldn’t escape anywhere from it, but the cold water gave me a few minutes of refreshment.

I didn’t want to see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort or the Lotus Temple anymore, just wanted to escape. But I had no idea how – I had a new challenge – find a way out and reach my next target: Manali. I explained Chloé and Adam how bad I feel, and they agreed to help me find a bus station or a ticket office. But first we had to eat something. We left Raj Ghat behind and started walking. I don’t remember how, but we learned there is a bus station nearby, so we headed there. We also tried to find food but with no luck. Soon we found the station, which reminded me to a trash dump, but there was no ticket office and nobody seemed to know anything so we gave up. There was a kind of cafeteria too, but all we could get was drinking water and ice cream.

As we headed back to the main road, we had a very interesting encounter. My memories are quite cloudy about this part, most likely because of the heat and the fact that I didn’t really sleep for like one and a half day and didn’t eat for almost a day. I’m not quite sure how, but we bumped into a cheerful man, talking with others on the street. The first thing I remember clearly is that we are already talking with him. He asked about where we are from. We told, and one of us asked him the same.

 – I am from Pakistan! – he said proudly. This answer pretty much surprised me! My understanding was that India and Pakistan are in very bad relation with each other, not even far from actual war. But what surprised me even more, was what he revealed next:

 – I’m Christian. – he told us. WOW! A Pakistani Christian in India! Now, that was something beyond me. I thought Pakistan is strictly Muslim state. And all this information together was something I had no idea what to think about. I think one of us asked him what he is doing here.

 – I am guest of Indian Government.
Now, that topped it – I got totally confused. My brain didn’t really work anyway. I don’t remember if he explained it there, or later, but the point is this: His name is Nasir, and he is a Christian missionary, and also a peace advocate and diplomat. He was there for two reasons, first to organize some programs and education for children (which I think at least partially involved teaching English), supported by the church, and second to try to mediate between the Pakistani and Indian government. As he said, he believes Pakistan and India should be friends and helping each other instead of fighting, and he hopes that one day the two countries will live alongside in peace. And all this together was almost unbelievable. Then, at some point, he just said the magic words:

 – Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something?
After trying to find food without luck, and being tormented by hunger so long, suddenly we bump into this man, who believes in love and peace, and invites us to eat! Isn’t life just wonderful? I believe there are no accidents, and it was for a reason that we just met. You can call that luck, miracle, synchronicity, whatever – the point is that he showed up at the right place in the right time. We told him we were actually looking for food and are pretty hungry so we would accept.

He happily led us on and we followed. For a few moments I thought, what a stupid thing is to follow a total stranger into some unknown areas after he promised us free food… but somehow I had a feeling that we will be alright. We passed through the dirty station we saw before, and into a governmental area. We entered a gate and met some guards armed with semi-automatic rifles. They didn’t seem to like us being there, and talked a bit with our new friend, then he continued his way and waved us to follow.

 – I told them you are with me. You will be fine. – he said. The guards gave us an unfriendly face, but didn’t say a word.

I had to note that even though this area was cleaner than the rest of the city I’ve been before, there was also lot of trash on the ground, and a lot of dogs around that seemingly nobody cleaned up after. He led us behind a building into a small garden with a small terrace and a few people who instantly recognized our host. They quickly got us some chairs and some tea. That was the first time I drank masala chai, a traditional Indian beverage made of black tea, milk and spices brewed together. I was amazed at how delicious it was! At that point it was the best tea I ever tasted. We sat down and continued our talk about all kinds of things. From the main building a few children came and joined us. In the meanwhile the others prepared some kind of fireplace and started cooking.

Nasir was very cheerful and curious, he wanted to learn as much about our countries and cultures as he can. He asked about many things and we happily told him about our nations. We also learned a bit more about him, and he gave us his cards with email and website addresses. Now I am looking at this site to help my cloudy memories.

He was there on behalf of The Voice of Peace, a non-governmental, non-profitable peace organization established & founded by J. Bruce Herman in May 1998. It is coalition of human rights, peace organizations and large number of God-fearing people etc. [...] It was formed up in order to deal with the issues lacking justice. Its involvements are extended on grassroots level to promote human rights education. Mobilization of the people as well as advocate for human rights and peace promotion. – from their website.

While we talked the food was served. I had no idea what it was, but it was really delicious! Now, thinking back, I think it was Paneer Tikka Masala (paneer, a low-fat, soft, traditional Indian cheese and vegetables in spicy sauce) with puri (A kind of bread fried in oil. Similar to the traditional Hungarian “lángos”.) and naan (Traditional leavened flat bread). Anyway, it was one of the best things I did eat during my 50 days within the borders of India, and it went well with the great masala chai. I was very thankful, and all this events gave me back my good mood, and restored lot of energy. After eating he invited us inside the main building where we met a lot of children. They were also very curious about us, and instantly jumped on the opportunity to put their more or less English knowledge to use with us. They asked a lot of questions and were very excited about us. We talked a bit with the kids, and soon decided its time to move on.

We thanked Nasir and the others all the kindness and love, and of course the delicious food and tea, and headed to catch a rickshaw. Our next target was Paharganj. We tried to find a rickshaw, but in this part of the city it seemed to be very hard to find someone offering a fair price. Most of them didn’t want to go any lover than 5-600 Rupees so we just walked away. After a long walking alongside a multi lane road one rickshaw driver offered us something just above 200 right away, so we took it.

Crowded bazaar full of ruined buildings, merchants, busy people and toursits

Paharganj, Main Bazaar

The Main bazaar of Paharganj. It cannot be confused with anything else. This colorful, busy bazaar is the heart of backpacker, adventurer and low-budget tourist life in Delhi. It is full of shops selling all kind of merchandise, guest houses, cheap restaurants and buffets, Internet cafes, money exchangers and travel agencies. Many or most of them are illegal, and you must be very careful if you want to do fair business and not cheated. I was still culture-shocked so I find it scary and overwhelming, but now, looking back, I actually like it. It sounds strange even for myself, how can I like this place, all in ruins, full of rubbish, aggressive merchants and customer “hunters” hired by guest houses who go after you and try to convince you to rent a room… but I still like it. To be honest, it reminds me a little bit to some scenes from Indiana Jones movies. This was where the journey started to become a real adventure. And I am sure the next time I go to Delhi – and I am sure it’s written in my fate that I must return one day – the Main Bazaar of Paharganj will be my first target, and the “basis of operation” for further explorations in Delhi.

Crowded bazaar full of ruined buildings, merchants, busy people and toursits

Paharganj, Main Bazaar

You can look at pictures, watch videos and read blogs, articles and books about India, but the reality is just far beyond imagination. No matter how much you try to prepare, the first time you get there you realize it is much more crazy, atmospheric and amazing than you ever thought. Even though I saw lot of misery and poverty, lot of sadness in the eyes, there is still something wonderful about this place. Maybe the most amazing, that with all those miseries, crime rates in India are still amazingly low -at least, unless you consider ridiculous prices a crime: merchants usually try to sell you everything extremely expensive compared to local prices. Later on some Indians I befriended told me that if I want to know what is the correct price for some merchandise, just divide the first price the merchant says by TEN.

Gothic portal

Gothic portal

The bazaar was really busy, really crazy, and somehow, still charming. It had a lot of ruined buildings, some new some are pretty old, and some very interesting, like a Gothic gate I have no idea how happened to be there. We were approached by many beggars. I had a very bad experience with beggars in Hungary, many of them in Budapest are very aggressive, and usually only want your money to buy alcohol or household chemicals they inhale as a form of strong and very damaging drug. They usually not even accept food if you offer them, rather tell you to give money instead. In India however, it was very different, but I didn’t realize that at that time. The beggars were somewhat aggressive, following us around, repeating “Chapati! Chapati!” I didn’t know what it meant, I thought it may be something like “donation” or “alms”. Only late I learned that a chapati is a very cheap, plain flat bread, technically the cheapest food you can find in India. At most places it costs like 5 Rupees (5 Rupees = 0.1 American Dollars = 0.07 Euros) which is nothing. If I did know, I would have certainly bought them a few, but at that time I just walked away.

I came across a very beautifully ornate building, that first I thought was a mosque, but then I realized that it’s front is full of stores, and apparently a guest house – mosques don’t have jewelry stores in them! It still looked like a ruined mosque though. I was thinking about going inside, but I was afraid I might be unwelcome. Now that I write this post, I researched the Internet to find out what the mysterious building might be, and, finally found it out.

Ruined mosque with illegal stores and guest house in its premises.

Qazi Wali Masjid

I was right, it is a mosque – or it is supposed to be. The Qazi Wali Masjid is a historic building. The main mosque area is inside, behind the front I have seen. According to The Hindu, India’s national newspaper, the building is almost a hundred years old, and the guest house (lodge) and the shops are illegally constructed and run, but the civic bodies have allegedly turned a blind eye to the fact that many rooms were rebuilt and changed, often damaging the historical building, even though the Delhi High Court ordered the lodge and shops be removed and the building restored to its original condition.

Ruined mosque with illeal stores and guesthouse in its perimeter.

Qazi Wali Masjid

As far as I could see, the building is full of invaluable, beautiful engravings and even wall paintings were visible through the windows. I found a photo of the inside of Qazi Wali Masjid as it looked like in 1986. It is amazing, that since January of 2002, when first attempts to force out a due legal action in defense of the buildings were undertaken, still nothing happened. Moreover, it seems the illegal constructions continued and now the damage is even greater. It is very sad how such a thing can happen in plain sight. But this is far not the only injustice I came across through my journey. To read more about this case, check the article in The Hindu.

And this is the end of part 2. Even though I planned end it with my arrival to Manali, there is so much to tell, that it would end up very long, so I continue in another post.

Here are two more photos of Paharganj, Main Bazaar:

Crowded bazaar road

Paharganj, Main Bazaar

Crowded basaar street

Paharganj, Main Bazaar

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