Friday, January 28, 2011

The New Face of the Indian Army

Wednesday, Jan. 26 was Republic Day in India. This day is a national holiday. There is a big parade in central Delhi with marching bands, military units and fancy weapon systems. The parade also includes beautifully decorated floats that highlight the culture and unique customs of each of India's 28 states. For protection, the Republic Day Parade is usually guarded by thousands of police, special forces and army units from all over India.
As many people do here, we celebrated the day by taking a mid-day walk on the grounds of nearby Humayan's Tomb. The weather is near perfect from Evan's birthday (Jan 22) on through the end of February - so it was great day for a stroll.
We learned a little more about the Mogul Emperor Humayan, and his son Akbar from some new historical displays in the park. But what made this walk truly memorable was bumping into the Indian Army on our way out. I'll just call them "the Gals from Gurgaon," which is where their unit was from: Gurgaon, Haryana. I guess the women had just been given a short leave, after parade duty, so they all came to visit one of Delhi's prettiest parks... We happened to bump into them on our way out.
Charming, confident and outgoing, these young women make such wonderful representatives for India's modern defense forces. It was a pleasure to meet them!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hauz Khas

We went exploring in a neighborhood not far from ours called, Hauz Khas. The name is derived from Urdu - Hauz meaning "water tank" or lake, and Khas meaning "royal." This area dates back to the end of the 13th Century during the period of the second (of seven) city of Delhi, known as "Siri."
The ruins here are quite beautiful. Hauz Khas is being renovated by the Archaeological Survey of India, and includes a Mosque, a seminary and a series of Muslim tombs.The neighboring Hauz Khas Village has been built up around narrow, winding alleyways. It offers some very good restaurants and boutiques to explore and sample. The village is probably as close as you can find for a hip, trendy neighborhood in Delhi - unfortunately with the standard rubble, debris and trash found almost everywhere in urban India. We'd been to the village before to try a restaurant and to explore some shops, but oddly, we had never wandered to the far side to visit the ruins.
The archaeological site has wonderful, new, easy to read signage that explains almost every aspect of Hauz Khas. The kids had fun exploring 700 year old chambers and climbing the ancient stone stairways of the complex. The park includes a wonderful, renovated stone walkway (90% complete as of Jan '11) that encircles the lake. The water is a bit green, but the park is peaceful and fairly well maintained. The park also seems to be quite a college scene... students were walking and hanging out; joking and enjoying each other's company. We had a really good day. Hauz Khas was a great place to be on a sunny winter's day and a fun way to spend time as a family - especially since Saturday was Evan's ninth birthday!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chilly in Dilli

January is when winter falls on New Delhi with a clammy chill. The fog - most of which is smoke - blankets the city for much of each day. The temperatures really aren't that bad by western standards - typically 45 - 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But when you don't have central heat and your floors and bathrooms are tiled in marble... an apartment becomes more of a walk-in refrigerator than a home.
We have two rolling space heaters. These are great for keeping the bedrooms a little warmer at night. But our living room never really gets above 60 degrees in January. The warmest place, by far, is under the covers in bed.Outside everyone is bundled up... as if they are living in Oslo, Buffalo or some other cold, dark, northern city. Scarves are used in imaginative ways to cover the body - turned in to turbans, babushkas, face masks, etc. Blankets are worn as part of one's outer-wear.
To be honest, living in Delhi in the winter is a little like camping at home during the off season. Taking a morning shower is a painful experience even with hot, running water. Our food at dinnertime has to be eaten quickly (if you want a warm meal), and of course there is the ever-present smell of campfire smoke. The smell gets on everything - clothing, towels, sheets and bed covers. Lesa and I went on our morning walk this past Sunday and counted 19 campfires in our neighborhood. Workers huddle around small yellow, smokey flames every three or four lots. These cold morning scenes look almost post-apocalyptic to me....
... until we turn a street corner and see scores of stray dogs wearing their quilted, doggy jackets.
The sad animals swelter from April to October in the intense heat, only to find a wool doggy jacket strapped to their backs in November - just when the weather is getting lovely. Worried locals donate the jackets each winter to the street dogs. Afraid the animals might be cold. Sterilization, might be a kinder, more cost effective program. Less puppies, less doggy jackets to buy next winter.
The best thing about this time of year is the food selection. Things like strawberries, apples, broccoli and peas are all plentiful, fresh, cheap and tasty.
We might have to eat fast, and our fingers and toes are usually cold (and the dogs look a little silly), but we still manage to be amused, have fun and enjoy the season. For soon we know the temperature will again rise to 115F.
Ah, winter in Delhi.