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INDIA CALLING - A LAND OF SPLENDOUR AND CONTRASTS
 
(2014 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: MANSOOR LADHA



I had the urge to visit India, the place of my ancestors, although I had already been living in Canada for 40 years.

We Asians from East Africa had no connection with India except that our ancestors hailed from there. Now India was calling; there was this great urge to merge with our ancestral homeland.

As the plane descended, my anxiety and emotions heightened. I was finally going to step on the soil of my ancestors. We arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport at 2:00 a.m. The air was misty, foggy and full of dust-like particles.

A Rich Heritage

Delhi is a city of contrasts; the most powerful emperors in Indian history ruled the old section while New Delhi became the capital of British India in 1911. It became the seat of the Indian government following independence in 1947.

The city boasts of three UNESCO Heritage sites: Qutub Minar, Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb. One of the most important landmarks of Delhi, Qutub Minar measures 72.5 metres high. In 1638, Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of Red Fort (Lal Qila) to serve as the residence of the Mughal emperors. Humayun’s Tomb is the burial place of Mughal Emperor Humayun, whose design was incorporated in other Mughal landmarks such as the Red Fort and Taj Mahal.

Rajghat is one of the most popular sites in New Delhi as visitors, tourists and Indians clamour to pay homage to the great Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of Indian independence. The site is on the itinerary of every foreign head of state who visits India. The black marble tomb is inscribed with the words “Hey Ram!” (Oh God)—the last words spoken by Mahatma Gandhi as he fell after being shot.

Another interesting place in New Delhi is the 18,580-square-metre, 340-room Rashtrapati Bhawan, the president of India’s official residence, which features a combination of Mughal and European architectural styles.

Blessed with numerous parks, Delhi is a garden city of blended cultures. A must for tourists and one of the most prominent wholesale and retail markets of India is the more than 300-year-old Chandni Chowk. It is the busiest and one of the most prosperous trading centres of Delhi, dealing in iron and hardware, paper, and utensils of brass, copper and stainless steel. Here, we encountered Muslim shopkeepers in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi, Tibetans and Ladakhis along Janpath, and Kashmiris in the handicraft emporia around Connaught Place, all adding to the cosmopolitan feel of the city.

Delhi residents have to deal with automobiles, scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and rickshaw-clogged streets on a daily basis. Locals do not appear to observe any traffic laws and drive any way they want along crowded streets where cows, considered sacred among the Hindus, have right-of-way.

Centres of Art

Our next stop was Varanasi (Kashi), the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus. Often called Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. Hindus believe those who die in Varanasi attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Considered a symbol of Hindu renaissance, Varanasi has flourished as a centre for knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts.

From Varanasi, we went to the mystic Khajuraho, a small town famous for its graphic representation of sexual and erotic postures on the walls of its temples. The beautiful artwork has gained the attention of art lovers all over the world however, the real reason for their existence is anyone’s guess. 

No visit to India is complete without seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra, a city ruled by three Mughal emperors: Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Akbar made Agra the centre of art, culture, commerce and learning, but it was Shah Jahan who made it famous by building the Taj Mahal, the seventh wonder of the world, as a tribute to his wife, Mumtaz. It attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Gateway to India

We arrived in Mumbai, which has been described as ancient yet modern, fabulously rich yet achingly poor. The city of Mumbai, considered the gateway to India, originally consisted of seven islands, which were joined together by a series of reclamations. Mumbai is a city of contrasts, with its grinding poverty and its ostentatious wealth. Today Mumbai is the financial and business capital of India and the centre of the Hindi film industry, famous worldwide as Bollywood, which produces more than a thousand films annually.

Tourists from the west will be at home in Mumbai, which has quite a few huge shopping malls specializing in sports items, weddings, jewellery, clothes, shoes, restaurants, designer watches, purses, games court, electronics, music galleries, beauty salons and lounges. Often described as “the city that never sleeps,” Mumbai offers a wide range of nightclubs, discotheques, lounges and bars to nocturnal tourists.

Beach Capital

We had arranged to spend the last three days in Goa, the beach capital of India. Goa has had an endless list of rulers, the last being the Portuguese whose influence is found in the state’s architecture, cuisine and lifestyle. A number of beautiful churches, such as St. Caveman Church and Bom Jesus Basilica, were built by the Portuguese.

Goa is famous for its Goan cuisine, considered one of the best in India. The principal diet of Goa includes fish, rice and coconut, a very important ingredient of Goan dishes. It was a real treat to have fish cooked Goan-style for lunch, following a swim and a refreshing cold beer.

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com), in conjunction with its Star Alliance partners, offers service to India via Frankfurt and London, England. For more information on India, visit incredibleindia.org.

 
 
 
 
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