This morning we
enjoyed an excellent breakfast buffet before meeting a driver whose services
David Baker has been using for years. He goes by the name of Jasbir, and is
quite a pleasant competent driver. He arrived in a six seat crossover type
vehicle, at 8:30 in order to take us to the Rashtrapati
Bhavan, the Indian President’s residence. It was originally built by the
British as the Government House or the Viceroy’s residence during the time of
the British Empire rule of India.
We had to have reserved a tour in advance and
security was tight when we arrived. Jasbir parked outside the wall and we made
our way through an initial ID check before being allowed to enter the walled
compound. Once inside at the registration area, our passports were crosschecked
against the reservation and we had to go through a metal detector and pat down.
A guide, whom we often had trouble understanding- our ears aren’t used to
Indian English yet – led us through impressive room after room, including the
large room right under the dome at the center of the complex. It was all built
to impress and it did precisely that.
The guide emphasized how rooms are used by the Indian
government now, which is understandable. I would have appreciated hearing more
about the British period, but perhaps not much is known about that now.
After finishing the tour, we regained the van and drove
around the permiter, the grounds cover more than 300 acres, to another gate
where we again parked so we could view the museum of the residence. There were
displays about all of India’s presidents and some artwork that dated from the
time of the various Viceroys that ruled during the period sometimes called the
Raj. A particularly well versed guide with more easily understood (to us) English
showed us around and gave excellent explanations of various exhibits.
This took us to about noon. We then drove to Birla House
(now known as Gandhi Smriti), where Mohandas Gandhi spent his last months
living simply with a wealthy family in rooms in their mansion in central Delhi.
It was also the place where he was assassinated on 30 January 1948. Concrete
footsteps follow the path from his rooms to a place where was going to pray and
address a crowd of followers and well-wishers. The steps lead to a small
memorial on the spot where he was shot. It was thought provoking. Gandhi is of
course revered in India as the father of its independence.
We then drove on to a bookstore Mr. Baker often visits,
where one can have books bound in leather for only about the equivalent of $10.00.
I bought a Jim Corbet omnibus, and put placed it in the queue to have it
rebound. We hope to visit the Jim Corbet Tiger Reserve later during our visits
Then we drove to the Red Fort, the main residence of the Mughal
dynasty emperors from 1639 to 1856, when the British took over. The Mughals
were a Muslim dynasty with Turco-Mongol roots that came from Central Asia,
which intermarried greatly with Indian Rajput and Persian bloodlines. The Fort
is quite famous for its scale and the beauty of the red sandstone used to
construct it. After paying the entry fee David hired a guide for us and we walked
through the main entrance. Many of the structures inside, the residences and
mosques and so on had been pillaged or were heavily damages and are being
restored. Still the visit was quite fascinating. There were very few westerners
visible among the visitors. This is an extremely hot season in Delhi, it was
over 100 F, and so many tourists choose to come at other times.
The heat and humidity took what was left of our energy, so
after our visit we regained the air conditioning and had a brief drive around
Connaught Square, a prime shopping are of New Delhi (New Delhi was laid out by
the British, next to Delhi, when they moved the capital of the British Raj from
Calcutta to Delhi).
It was well used, educational day, and a tiring one. Now
tomorrow we shall drive north east to our next stop.