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Connaught Place New Delhi.  Photo Tom Corban.

There is a a special time for reflection on any trip. For me it comes when the 12 envelopes containing documents that say things like Heathrow to Delhi, Delhi to Varanasi, Camels in the Thar Desert, Mountain Biking in the Himalayas and so on go leaving just to two envelopes; Shimla to Delhi and Delhi to Heathrow Airport.
The rubber band connecting me to home has stretched as far as it can on this occasion and it is now pulling me back home. Its a sweet sort of sadness.

We spent 2 days driving back from the Kee Monastery to Shimla, a day there, then the overnight bus to Delhi. The bus was more comfortable than it sounded, the seats reclined and we slept most of the way arriving at the hotel in Delhi at about 6:00 am where we were reunited with our warm weather clothes.

Shimla had been a surprise. Although we had only been away 10 days the cool days and cold nights had given way to hot bright sunny days and warm nights. The change in Delhi was even more noticeable as the daytime temperature was into the high 40c. From 12:00 to 16:00 it felt like an oven and scorched your throat. Even though there were 2 days and one night before the flight home, for me it was the period of reflection I mentioned.

Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Cooking in the market with temperatures of 45c.  Photo Tom Corban.

In the heat, and with having been in a very remote area the city traffic was something to behold. In order to try to reduce the pollution the authorities have introduced an Odd/Even car system. This allows vehicles with a registration number the ends with an odd number (1,3,5,7 and 9) to drive on odd days of the week (1st, 3rd,5th etc) and cars with registration numbers that end with an even number (2,4,etc) to drive on even days ( 2nd, 4th, 6th etc) This only applies to Private cars.

Personally I can’t see a difference as there were so many cars ignoring the policy but the media say that over 1000 people were prosecuted in the first day. its a novel approach and shows what a problem the pollution level is. I have seen some reports that say Delhi is the most polluted city on earth. If so it would not surprise me.
Delhi is so busy, although now it is so hot it does seem to slow down around mid day There don’t seem to be many tourists around although its sometimes hard to tell. There are quite a few people who have adopted Indian clothes and mannerisms and its hard to tell if they are just enjoying the experience or wether the piece of elastic connecting them with home has has snapped leaving them establishing new roots in Delhi. This “home” business is not as simple as it sounds.

 

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Connaught Place.  Photo Tom Corban.

New Delhi was built after the destruction of much of the city during what my old history books called “The Indian Mutiny” caused by making the sepoys use gun cartridges sales with animal fat including pig fat. the seal had to be bitten off the cartridge in order to pour the gunpowder into the rifles, which, understandably Muslims were not willing to do.  More recently the event is seen as a stage in the Indian fight for Independence. From what I have discovered since the bigger issue than the cartrdges  was the fear that there would be some process which would eventually coerce people into becoming christians. The cartridges were quickly changed but the fears over religion increased and there is evidence that there were some fairly right wing fundamentalist christian preachers causing problems. When the East India Company first started operating many of its employees (and high ranking officers) had a flexible approach to culture and religion. Some became Hindus and some Muslims others mixed religions to come up with something that made sense to them. Often they had many wives and lived the lifestyle of Mughal Emperors. Somehow this seemed to change into an inflexible approach where the Brits, their beliefs and their systems were “right” and needed to be imposed onto the rest of the population. Its worth remembering that the East India Company were just that- a company. Although they had their own army they were subjects of the ruling Moghul and got their authority from the fact that they were his official tax collector. Some historians these days see it not as a mutiny but as the early stages of a fight for independence.

Anyway the rising was put down with a horrendous ferocity destroying many parts of Delhi in the process. If I remember troops were called in from Afghanistan as reinforcements. The backlash from the British seemed to be more focused on Muslims possibly because the rebels had got the backing of the Mughal and had “united” behind his authority.
From what I have read this caused a split in the Muslim community between those who took the view that the western way of life had arrived and they must find a way of adapting and those who thought that this was some sort of punishment and they needed to go back to a simpler time, revisit the scriptures and ensure that the proper faith was being followed. According to the historian William Dalrymple these fundamentalists moved north into Pakistan and Afghanistan and eventually provided the seeds for Al-Qaeda. When the British in Afghanistan were sent to India as reinforcements there was an uprising in Afghanistan which was “punished “ again with ferocious brutality by the British when they returned. The East India Company (who had also smuggled Opium into China on an industrial scale) were disbanded and the British Government took over the role of governing India. As Mrs Duffey (my history teacher in 1963) would have said “An example of a massive cock up by private industry that has to be picked up by the state? Discuss”

In any case the destruction of Delhi gave the British a chance to create a more modern city centre from where they could administer “Empire”. The glory of English Empire is still there in the architecture but it is all rather tawdry now except for the shops which come as a shock after spending most of our time in the Main Bazaar in Old Delhi.

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All that awaits us now is a final walk to India Gate for the sunset and a long flight home.Then in the semi sleep in a metal tube at some unimaginable height, if I am lucky, I will come up with a plan to make the rubber band stretch a little further next time.

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