After leaving the Taj Mahal, we grabbed lunch and hopped on a bus to New Delhi. Our friend Lehar has family living in Delhi, and they generously offered to host us for a few days. Poor planning and the Taj being closed on Fridays meant we were already a day late, and somehow our three hour bus ride turned into a seven hour sweat box. Despite our tardiness, all was forgotten when we arrived to Lehar’s Aunt Payal and Uncle Rupesh’s home. We were greeted with warm smiles, conversation, and the best food we ate in all of India! Later that night we got a surprise: Lehar’s cousin Chhavi, her husband Dinesh, and their daughter had come to stay for a few days as well.
That night we spent several hours with our hosts planning our stay. The following morning we woke up to the most amazing and filling breakfast before heading out for the day. Rupesh insisted that we see the Akshardham so we went there first. The Akshardham is a beautiful Hindu campus with gardens, a temple, and numerous shows and exhibitions detailing the life of Hindu leader Swaminarayan. The complex is enormous and you could easily spend several hours taking it all in. Unfortunately they do not allow cameras so use the links above to see some pictures.
After exploring the Akshardham campus, we both had stinging eyes and runny noses from the thick smog. We picked up face masks, rode the subway for a few stops, and wandered through a crazy street market toward the historic Red Fort. When we reached it, one glance told us not to even bother: we could barely see the fort through the haze! Oh well. This is what it is supposed to look like.
Our last stop before heading home was at a craft beer bar. The only beers we had found in India were Kingfisher and Tuborg - which got really old really fast - so we were excited to try something new on the bar’s extensive menu. Unfortunately, they happened to be out of everything… except Kingfisher and Tuborg.
The smog was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. We learned New Delhi was “the most polluted city on Earth” during our visit and that breathing the air was like “smoking 40 cigarettes a day”. Rupesh and Dinesh explained that while Diwali fireworks had contributed some smoke, the majority of smog was coming from nearby farmers burning their fields. This was unfortunately compounded by seasonal stagnant winds. They also told us that school had been canceled in New Delhi and the surrounding districts for the next three days due to the smog, but that this was really just an empty gesture as everyone would likely be breathing the same air in and out of school. Their kids were super excited though!
Despite the smog, we had an amazing time staying with Lehar’s family. Not only were we fed the best food ever (seriously!), we were able to ask them questions about things we had observed during our time in India. We talked about the Indian education system, private and public schools, city versus country life, and how the times are changing generation to generation. They taught us how to eat certain foods (some of which we were embarrassed to find out we had been doing wrong for weeks…) and introduced us to several new dishes. We discussed the smog, politics, and how to overcome such huge hurdles like pollution, overcrowding, traffic, and litter.
The subway in New Delhi is one particular example of progress we discussed. Despite litter being a normal thing in most of India, Delhi’s subway system is surprisingly clean. Spitting and littering anywhere on the subway is subject to a fine which is actually enforced. They have also implemented women-only subway cars to promote respect for women’s safety. Dinesh mentioned that the city is trying to do a really good job with the subway as it is a model for the rest of the country both as an example of a working metro system and how to implement change in other areas. For example, if there is trash everywhere, what is one more wrapper? But if the place is spotless, when someone litters, other citizens will complain and help to enforce the rules. This concept could be applied to other areas such as traffic laws, so long as they can get past the tipping point.
To help answer our many questions about Hinduism, Rupesh and Dinesh took us to a very unique temple nearby. They explained some of the history and significance behind many of the deities depicted throughout. One interesting thing we learned is that you need to pick and choose who to pray to depending on your desired outcome. For example, one might pray to Lakshmi to increase wealth or to Shiva to find a soul mate. Different deities have different requirements for prayer. Shiva is one of the most worshiped gods simply because he is the easiest to please.
We continued our education when we got back home with a horoscope reading. By entering in things like the specific time, date, and GPS coordinates of each of our births, we were able to see if we were in fact a good match. Astronomically speaking, we are very compatible!