Up early, as we have to meet up with our personal tour guide at 9:30 this morning. After a superb breakfast in the '1911' restaurant, we get to the lobby 15 minutes late, to find him waiting patiently for us….( I find that most Indians seem to be the patient type here) He introduces himself as Mr Dixhit (it's pronounced 'Dikshit') but he tells us to call him Arun….. thank goodness for that. He is quite a young guy, and speaks very good English. With our trusty driver Dev Singh waiting outside for us, airconditioning already on and cold, we set off. Our first stop is in Old Delhi near to Chandi Chowk…. it's the Masjid-i Jahān-Numā, built by Shah Jahan, the guy who built the Taj Mahal ( Ok, he didn't physically build it himself, but he did commision it and pay for it).It is also the largest & most popular mosque in India. (Memsahib is underwhelmed by this information!) Building of it began in 1650 and took 6 years to complete ( what took 'em so long?)
Security is seemingly non-existent, though you do have to pass between an airport scanner to enter the grounds….even though it is quite obviously 'out of order' ! There is also a 'Guard' on duty, but he has obviously had a big night , because he is asleep. Considering that in the last couple of years there have been two serious terror attacks here ( in April 2006, there were two explosions here, wounding 14 people, and in September 2010, two Taiwanese tourists were injured after gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a bus parked near the entrance) you'd have thought security may have been beefed up a bit….. maybe it had!
I have deliberately kept this information away from Memsahib, as I dont need to spook her anymore than she already is. A Mosque visit would most definately feature at the very bottom of her 'bucket list', if she had one. We remove our shoes and proceed through to the Mosque entrance, where M is stopped and told she cannot enter dressed so provocatively. I thought she looked quite demure, but she certainly doesnt want to inflame the wicked passions of any of the men around here, so she accepts the offer of a head-to toe robe to wear.
I'd have to concede that the Mosque itself is mightily impressive…..even Memsahib is impressed…..It's huge and can hold over 33,000 worshippers…..that's a lot of people….. must take a while for them all to pass through the one security gate!
The atmosphere in the mosque is not at all reverent….in fact quite the opposite, everyone seems to be out to enjoy themselves, and every one was very friendly towards us. We stop and talk to a group of people, males and females and kids, sitting on the ground in the shade, having a picnic-type lunch. They invite us to sit and join them, which Memsahib does, and is quickly surrounded by dozens of curious and happy onlookers ( she loves it when she is the centre of attention!) I thought that she was particulary brave (or foolish) to eat some of the food they offered her…..she may come to regret this later! A baby was thrust into her arms at one stage, but I guess it wasn't used to being cuddled by a white women, and he screamed like a dervish ( appropriately so) and while he struggled to free himself, accidently scratched m's face in the process. ( Savlon will fix that….hopefully)
Considering that we weren't especially keen to visit this place, it was a rather unique experience, especially for Memsahib. She left with a fresh understanding and acceptance that people are basically the same everywhere, no matter our different religious beliefs ( or in my case, my non belief!) That alone is something worth coming here for.
PS: I have just read that the Immam of the mosque was set on fire by a disgruntled worshipper during prayers yesterday evening! “Security?”