Searching for places of worship – and for myself?

The walls are high, security is tight. Cameras are not allowed. Nor are mobile phones or mp3-players. Even mirrors and USB-sticks need to be locked away before entering. When I passed the security gate, I had to take off my shoes for inspection. My tiny purse got searched.

The only thing I wanted to do was visiting a temple. But Akshardham is so sacred that everything is forbidden. Smoking and drinking alcohol for example. Pets. Impolite and rude language. Own food. Only “pure, fresh vegetarian food” is served at the food stalls.

Akshardham

In “respectable clothes to respect the dignity of the place” I entered. And was stunned by the beauty and grandeur of the work. Ashardham looks like a clean, unworn, uneroded version of a world heritage site. The huge temple of pink stone and white marble, financed by the sect Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), was only finished in 2005, but the craftsmen used old techniques to carve the mandir.

I felt at ease. Going around barefooted (shoes are not allowed), seeing not a single piece of rubbish, hearing no honking, I relaxed. I was so relaxed that I feared to be one of the uncountable Europeans that come to India in search for spirituality. But I wiped that thought away when I saw hairs and toenails of the guru and nearly started laughing because it so reminded me of Jesus ‘ relics.

lotus temple

Later I went to the Baha’i Temple, better known as Lotus Temple, because of it’s shape that remind of a lotus flower. But there I felt the feeling of church again. This time like I was in a modern protestant one. Even though the Lotus Temple is beautiful from the outside, it is completely unadorned from the inside – and resembles more an huge community center for sports and concerts than a room for prayers.

peacock

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Indian logic

It was about time to approach Mahatma Gandhi, India’s national symbol. So I found my way to the Gandhi Smriti (Gandhi remembrance), the place where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life and where he was shot on January 30, 1948.

one of the guards

In the garden the guards kept at least two monkeys, apparently to keep other monkeys out. Or maybe it was to entertain the visitors – because in the museum there wasn’t much entertainment.

fun?

Maybe the most interesting part was the showcase with Gandhi’s glasses and sandals. Nearly all other walls of the ground floor were plastered with huge signboards that described his life and ideas in many glorifying words. Too many words – reading all of it seemed impossible. And even though I didn’t manage to pay attention to every word, I realised that some fragments and quotes were used several times. Every time I was confused and wondered: Have I been standing here before?

Gandhis last "steps" to the point where he was assassinated.

Gandhis last “steps” to the point where he was assassinated.

The upper floor hold a weird multimedia exhibition. Already on the stairs I couldn’t pass a guy that wanted to make me speak into a pipe – and no matter what I would say, the machine “converted” my words into a song of Ghandi that then blared from the speakers.

Actually I understood non of the exhibits. All was about much light and sounds and strange figures, but I learned nothing about Gandhi. Finally I found two videos shown on screens. But the headphones of one of them didn’t work. And the headphones of the other had a cable so short that it was nearly impossible to look at the screen when putting them on.

No wonder the dustbins near the museum didn't make much sense either, with no path leading to them.

No wonder the dustbins near the museum didn’t make much sense either, with no path leading to them.

From Klingenthal to Delhi – via New Zealand?

Receiving a parcel is gorgeous. Even more so when it is sent by the grandparents and is filled up with home-baked cookies, chocolate, a candle and the typical fir green that stirs up memories of christmas during childhood.

Not so nice though if the parcel was ill-treated somewhere on it’s long way and got damaged. The one I got was cracking open on the sides so that someone had to put it in a plastic bag in order to not loose any of it’s contents.

So first I frowned when I saw it. But then I looked inside – and there weren’t only warm words from my grandparents, but also from a Detector Dog Handler. “Dear Sir/Madam”, the letter read. “Due to the enthusiasm of one of our Detector Dogs, the exterior of your mail item has been damaged during our Mail Screening Process. I apologise for this and would like to suggest that you contact us should you have any concerns. Yours Sincererly, N. Tierney + K9 ‘Chico'”.

Attached to the letter was a card of the dog that apparently had bitten into my parcel. On one side of the card I saw a picture of the dog, posing with it’s tongue hanging out. On the other side there was data like it’s age and breed. How lovely!!!

What even added to my surprise: The cute letter wasn’t put into the parcel in India. Nor in Germany or somewhere on the way in Dubai, Qatar or perhaps Moscow. No, the letter was sent by the “Ministry for Primary Industries / Manatu Ahu Matua”. In New Zealand.

When I called them up, a lady as nice as the letter told me everthing I wanted to know: Yes, it sometimes happens that mail from Europe ends up being in New Zealand, even though it was meant to go somewhere else in the world. “Your parcel must have been on a detour”, she told me.

In New Zealand all parcels get checked. “We have bio-security dogs”, the lady explained. They are trained only to detect animals and plants. It’s because New Zealand is very keen to protect the environment against influences from other countries (not that scores of sailors had hundreds of years to bring thousands of species onto the island and so brought the Kiwi nearly to it’s extinction).

All the food survived the trip. But not very long in the office.

Brigitte might have found the solution for the detour: My grandparents forgot to include “India” in the adress. And maybe someone in the post office saw “New Zealand” instead of “New Delhi”.

Delhi’s third city: Tughluqabad

Somewhere in busy Delhi there’s another one. A huge area of nothing than grass and thorny scrub und ruins, stretching across 6,5 kilometers. Cows and donkeys are grazing there, monkeys climb the crumbling walls. It once was the third city of Delhi, erected 1320-1324 under the reign of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq as a fort.

After his death the city soon was abandoned. But some basic structures are still standing: the several stories high outer walls, enormous rainwater tanks, big enough for swimming and diving competitions, a secret tunnel, formerly several kilometer long, and, best preserved of it all, the Mausoleum of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq.

Living in a Zoo

Sometimes I feel like working in a zoo. And this is not because we are wolves in sheep’s clothing or behave like bulls in a china shop. No, there are real, funny and sometimes frightening animals around us.

Recently I saw an elephant trotting along the road when I was going to work. At the entrance gate I was greeted not only by the usual, always in your way stray dog, but also by a monkey with enormous red balls that was watching the entry. In the courtyard the real guards were nurturing two kittens with milk.  And in the office the mosquitos kept on coming in, even though I had bought an “All Out” to keep them out.

It looked more frightening in real life. Really.

But it can go better: A big wesp-bee-hornet-like creature one day flew into the office and started building a nest at one of our lamps. As Hindus can’t kill animals, we removed the nest. Then the creature built another one. We removed it again. It got angry. I got scared. We closed the door.

In the end, maybe, it was because we are busy bees.

Ethnography of Indian Spices

All philistines and novices of Delhi were calles by Heritage Educationist and Classical Dancer Dr. Navina Jafa. With her we traced the genesis of street food from the 17th century to present times on Chandini Chowk. We walked along the history of spices and got to know about their effects on humanity. As I now know, spices played an integer part in the role of history: in cooking, politics, religion, war and, of course, romance.

Hard Work for a Workout

Looking at the map, my neighourhood could be a good place to find a jogging track. There’s a lot of green, even parks. But that’s the map.

The Golf Course in the Northwest is off limits. Totally isolated. The stream to the West is a foul-smelling sewage channel, with it’s banks full of garbage and without a single blade of gras. The Stadium to the Southwest is always locked up. Lodi Gardens, Green Park and Siri Fort are too far away.

So I peered towards the East. Some railroad tracks are running there, but living in India for some weeks now, I know that they can be crossed anywhere at any time. Directly behind them waited the reasonable sized Millennium Park for me.

I did it as the locals do and just crossed the railway tracks.

But I didn’t take Indian logic into account. So once I reached the park, I was blocked by a huge wall with bared wire fence on top. As the entry to the south of the park is blocked by houses, I had to walk all the way to the north, between the tracks and the wall, for nearly one kilometer, until I reached the end of the park. Around the corner – and there all entrances to the park stood wildly open.

I thought I could also try the North and ended up in a huge, lovely nursery, full of heritage sites like tombs and also big stretches of greens. It is open to the public and the people had no problem with me walking through the premises. But when I asked at what time they open in the morning so that I could come for a run – the officer in charge told me the nursery is not for running and they wouldn’t allow it. Pfff.

Girl shot dead by urinating man

Normally I don’t care much about crime stories. I feel really safe in Delhi and ride my bike at 10 or 11pm at night. But this one really affected me, partly because it happened so close to my home in Nizamuddin. And also because when I came to Delhi, in the beginning I always felt the urge to say something if someone was peeing at a wall or defecating in the open.

Here’s the horrible story: A 17 year old girl was shot dead because she had objected to a man’s urinationg at her home. According to the police, the man lived in the same building and relieved himself at the staricase leading to the house. The girl and ther mother were serving dinner at the time they noticed it. They shouted at him to leave. An argument followed, the guy left. But he came back to the apartment after some time with his pistol and shot the girl and her mother. The young one died, the mother barely survived.

Street life

Initially I wanted to write something about ambulances today. Or, to be more precise, about their absence. I saw one this evening, a rather small white van with flashing light. And even though I’m out on the streets every day, this was the first one in weeks. Only once I heard a sirene so far. And fire trucks or police cars racing somewhere? No, never.

While I was giving this fact some thoughts, I suddenly was taken by an even more unusual sight: two camels. Gracefully they paced along the arterial street in front of me, carrying two guys and a lot of blankets. Note their jackets and hoods – it’s getting pretty cold already.

I can do it on my own! – Well… no.

I firmly thought I could organise everything alone. But then I called a women at the local government to inquire about a story. She asked me to speak Hindi, and when I replied I couldn’t, she hung up. I wanted to write about a man in the slum Dharavi who gives classes in acting and dancing. Many of his students went into Bollywood and a lot of media organisations already spoke to him, so he asked for money. And I heard about the Dabbawallas, who collect home cooked food in lunch boxes and bring them via bicycle, train and handcart to the office workers – but I couldn’t get hold of the organisation.

Prachi, my stringer

So I employed Prachi, a local stringer. It was the first time for me I asked a freelance journalist to contribute to my storys. It was a good experience! She made all the above possible, because she knows whom to ask and how to talk to them. She could also translate for me. Plus it is much more fun to go around in the city when you have someone to talk to and share the meal with. Thanks!

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