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Phil's 1998 India Travelogue

The Chartarpur Temple Complex

After doing a lot a of walking around New Delhi, which can be nice the further south you go -the streets are wider, the tourist areas end, and it is mostly schools, hospitals, government buildings and such on big tree lined streets. Quite comfortable and much cleaner than the denser Connaught Circle area.

But, as this being my last day in Delhi, I wanted to hit some of the sights that were not on my packaged tours. One of them is the Gauri Shankar temple in Old Delhi, a temple dedicated to Shiva - for some reason I feel some kind of sympathy or connection to Shiva, so I want to go to temples that are dedicated to Him.

Gauri Shankar Temple is down the block from the Red Fort, you know, the place where the big festival is happening with the 700 or more busses (actually I don't think it is a Muslim festival, I got several different opinions as to what it is, well whatever it is, there's a massive glob of humanity attending it).

So I hire a cab for a decent fare, even though I know it's way more than what an Indian pays, and we head towards Gauri Shankar temple. Apparently the driver did not know the extent of the festival, and when we got to the outskirts of old Delhi, we hit a traffic jam that it probably still going on. Along the way, at traffic lights, a beggar missing his legs from the knees down on a cart comes to the car and I give him a 5 rupees coin (12 cents). Then along comes a couple of women holding babies, and I realize that I may have started a parade. The cab driver was arguing with the woman while she was pleading with me to give her some baksheesh, but I held my ground, and after a long time, she went away, Just like in the US, beggars claim a street corner, and I see lots of women with babies working their corners. The driver seems to agree, even though he spoke very little English, that if they're cripple or infirm, give them baksheesh, but if they can walk upright, no baksheesh, as a general rule.

Well, we sat in traffic for awhile, and the driver was getting freaked out, and he tries to tell me about another temple 15km away, and I'm thinking, he's got me in his cab, and wants to extend his fare, the sneak. But seeing that there was no way we were going to get near Gauri Shankar temple, I thought, OK, I'll bite, I'm on vacation and what's 12 extra bucks (of course that is a lot in Indian terms, on a vacation in India, but perhaps he got something good to show me - there's certainly a dark side to guides, as I and many others have experienced, but the bright side is that they can lead you to very wonderful places not in the guidebooks, and can be a front person to get you into otherwise inaccessible places).

So we drove, and drove and drove - every 15 minutes or so, I would ask how far and he's say "10 more kilometers". Errrr..OK. So we drove for what it seemed to be halfway to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), but still in South Delhi. I noticed the area was a lot nicer, cleaner (but it still had a need for cleanup in places), and going through a constructions material area, it actually looked similar to some places in Long Island, NY, just take away the Devanagari (Hindi script) and put up English signs.

Then finally in the distance was this huge tower, and the driver points,"There!". Being a large structure in the distance, it still took 5-10 minutes to get there, and as soon as he turned left onto the temple street, I was treated to an incredible sight of a temple complex that was over a mile long, with buildings of all kinds of architecture, new temples with intricate roofs filled with the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses under construction, quite a sight. Just as before industrial revolution Europe, the church was the highest and most predominant structure in a city or village, these temples were kings and queens of this suburban South Delhi area.

The driver pulls into the parking lot of one main temple (I couldn't figure out if this was a random selection or not), and I go across the street to a very large shoe removal area, and check in my shoes (temples have a very organized system for preparing you for entrance). Then onto a long sink to wash one's hands for more purification. Again being greeted by very curious stares and even a question or two in Hindi, which I could not answer, I enter temple, which is a large expanse of about 75 meters square. In that expanse are several smaller temples, one totally white marble, gorgeous.

Again, as soon as I walk on the expanse I can feel a palpable current of shakti in my body. Good temple! I went into several small chambers containing altars of Krishna and Radha, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, Durga (apparently this is known as a Durga temple). Indian families, all well dressed, the women in their best saris and made up beautifully, come and go, some standing for a moment, receiving a blessing, leaving a coin offering, and move on. Others sit on a rug in the small room just to be there a bit longer. I notice that even the little baby girls have mascara on, which strikes reminders to me of JonBenet Ramsey, but apparently to look impeccably your best for receiving a blessing is a common custom.

I move onto another small chamber containing the Goddess Durga - the priest is performing a puja on the area around the statue and the woman is reciting verses of scripture. A man near the chamber railing sticks his finger in some kind of substance, apparently ash and places a tilak on my forehead. Standing just to the left of me is an Indian soldier holding an Uzi machine gun, seemingly out of place - don't know but perhaps to protect the goddess statue or the offering box or both.

I'm letting the joyful shakti flow through my nadis (nerve channels) after a long taxi ride, and enter yet another medium sized chamber, this one without an altar, but in the front is a square brass dais, with brass canopy, and this place is _potent_. Along the walls are pictures of India's most recent line of famous Gurus and saints, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Shirdi Sai Baba, a few whose name I don't know. They are placed along the sidewall similar to the stations of the cross in a Catholic Church. I'm thinking which big boy has been sitting in this place? It was a very powerful place to be.

As I pass another altar with a large swastika (Hindu and Tibetan swastikas point in the opposite direction to the Nazi swastika) and a large symbol that looks like a 6 pointed Jewish star (but is some representation in Hinduism), I take leave of this wonderful place, with my only regret that I didn't have my camera to photograph the intricate detail of these temples (I was told by my hotel concierge that Old Delhi could be a rough place and never trust a cab driver with your valuables). The drive back seems like 10 minutes.

So, after dinner at Nirula's on Janpath, a nice western oriented Indian restaurant that serves pizza, ice cream and veggie burgers (BTW, MacDonalds is in India also, to my great shock and disappointment), I go home past the several back alley bazaars, that I am used to frequenting, my internet cafe hole-in-the-wall,the smelly urinal area, the dozen or so touts that I know recognize by face (one comes up to me shoving a package of hankies in my chest, and I remind him,"I was just here 10 minutes ago!" and he laughs) the choking bus stop, now some bizarre walking ritual, I settle early into my hotel room for an early rise to what my be an even greater event of carnage, mayhem and chaos: The New Delhi Railway station (the concierge reminds me, watch for pickpockets, and watch for guys who act official than tell you that the train has been cancelled and please come with him...).

The New Delhi Railway Station: Aaagh!

In the movie Trading Place, before they make their big kill on the option floor, Dan Akroyd tells Eddie Murphy,"nothing can prepare you for the carnage you are about to witness."

That quote seems appropriate relative to my experience. I checked out early morning from my hotel, hoping that since it is early morning, the mayhem may not be so bad. I was wrong.

As we approached the station, I could see that it was abuzz with activity already. And when my taxi pulled into the parking lot, there were scores of men milling about, official porters squatting in position in one section, and when the cab stopped, well, let's put it this way:

Did you ever see when a movie star, or some famous member of some political scandal gets out of his/her car and the press is right there ready to pounce on him/her? That's exactly how it felt. As I got out of the cab, the silent cry went out "white guy with MONEY!".

About six to 8 guys came at me, asking if he could carry my bag, or come this way sir with me. When this happens, when a crowd forms, there is usually one guy who is actually the official guy, but is dressed like all the other guys. Your job is to spot him and let him lead you. I couldn't trust any one of them in the moment, so I grabbed by 600 pound expedition trunk, and tried to find my way, with an entourage of people all willing to be my best friend, for the right price.

But as soon as I got to the building, shaking a few guys off, I realized that I couldn't make heads or tails of the sign, being very confused in the moment by all the chaos. You have to slightly translate the English signs into what you think they mean. Does Ticketed mean tickets but needs to reconfirmed, and Reservation mean you already have one or need one  What I am discovering, in a foreign land for the first time, is that, for each new endeavor, you make your mistake the first time, and then you get street-smart real fast. Your first dinner out, your first taxi ride, your first purchase of an item. I made a mistake each time that cost me money, fortunately, not a lot of money, being India. But you don't want to let it happen again, and you file it away for the next moment, when you can come out a winner by not being ripped off.

So I made all the mistakes: one guy stayed with me and told me my train was on platform 12 and come this way. I'm struggling with my bag over the curbs, so I finally give in to his little porter friend, about 5 foot tall, 98 pound, who, with some help getting my bag to his head, proceeds to walk around with it on his head like it weighed two ounces. Impressive.

So they start going off in one direction and I ask isn't it the other way, and he says ok if you want to go that way, and he shows me some badge saying that he's some official representative (of course it's in Hindi, it could have been his library card for all I knew). Then we go outside and the porter seems to be going away from track twelve, so I yell to my guide, "hey, isn't it that way, like the sign says?", and he yells something in Hindi to my porter, who turns around and proceeds to go in the right direction. The guide asks me if my ticket has been reconfirmed, so I deftly run to the Reservation window, and the guys says to go to track 12. The guide begins to take leave, and I try to give him a small tip, and he says,"I don't want your money, this is my job", which is a first for me in India, and perhaps this is a two man con.

Finally the porter goes up and down several stairs without any strain and puts the bag down right where my train coach car will be. I start fishing for coins for a tip, and he says, 80 rupees. Aha now I get it, So I give him 55 rupees, which is a ripoff, but in my world that's the difference between 1.90 and 1.15. But it's the principle, and one does not want to be nickled and dimed to death for an entire vacation. Even though it isn't much difference, you do not want to set a precedence for everybody else by allowing yourself to be ripped off too greatly and too frequently.

The Shatabdi Express train arrived, and taped to the side of the train was the listing of passengers, and sure enough, Coach C-1 seat 60, Phil Servedio, on a computer printout. I was soooo glad that little event was over.


Next, Rishikesh

Page 10.