Delhi, officially the National Capital Territory of Delhi, is a city and a union territory of India containing New Delhi, the capital of India. The current population of Delhi in 2020 is 30,291,000, a 3.03% increase from 2019. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on the site of India's modern capital by Hindu, Mughal, and British rulers, with each adding their own flavor. We climb aboard a rickshaw to experience old Hindu streets in traditional fashion. Our rickshaw rolls through the 300-year-old Chandni Chowk Bazaar on our way to the old Muslim Quarter. There, we visit a local home to meet with a Muslim family, a rare opportunity to gain firsthand insights into the unique challenges of everyday life for Muslim families living in a predominately Hindu community. Power lines are seen tangled and knotted throughout the city, making it a nightmare for electricians who struggle to fix power outages and blackouts. Many of the cables have been placed illegally, with locals taking advantage of the confusing tangles to steal power from their neighbors or commercial properties.
Dhobi Ghat is an open-air laundromat with rows of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. Home to the dhobis and their families, the Dhobi Ghat has seen this occupation passed down from one generation to the next. For 18 to 20 hours each day, the workers flog, scrub, dye, and bleach clothes on concrete wash pens, dry them on ropes (clothespins not needed), neatly press them, and transport the garments to different parts of the city.
Gandhi Smriti, formerly known as Birla House or Birla Bhavan, is a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. It is here where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life before his assassination on January 30, 1948. Footstep models mark the path Gandhi took on his last walk to the prayer ground where he was assassinated. Mischievous monkeys run amok throughout the museum and hiss if you get too close.
The Masjid e Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama Masjid of Delhi, is one of the largest Sunni mosques in India. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1650 and 1656 at a cost of one million rupees and was inaugurated by Imam Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari from Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan. The mosque was completed in 1656 AD with three great gates and two 40-meter-high minarets constructed with strips of red sandstone and white marble. The courtyard can accommodate more than 2500 people. There are three domes on the terrace which are surrounded by the two minarets. On the floor, a total of 899 black borders are marked for worshippers. The architectural plan of Badshahi Masjid, built by Shah Jahan's son Aurangzeb at Lahore, Pakistan, is similar to the Jama Masjid.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is one of the most prominent Sikh gurdwara, or Sikh House of Worship, in Delhi and is known for its association with the eighth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Krishan, as well as the Holy River inside its complex, known as the "Sarovar." It was first built as a small shrine by Sikh General Sardar Baghel Singh in 1783, who supervised the construction of nine Sikh shrines in Delhi in the same year. The grounds include the Gurudwara (kitchen), a large Holy pond, a school, and an art gallery. As with all Sikh Gurdwaras, the concept of langar is practiced, and all people, regardless of race or religion, may eat in the Gurdwara kitchen (langar hall). The langar (food) is prepared by gursikhs who work there and also by volunteers who like to help out.
Thimphu is the capital of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. A deeply Buddhist land, Bhutan places a higher value on its cultural heritage and the well-being of its people than economic progress and material wealth. The first country to embrace a revolutionary philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan also wishes to preserve its natural beauty, a law requires that at least 60% of its land remain forested for future generations. Thimphu is the only capital city in the world that doesn't have a traffic light. Instead, policemen in Thimphu stand at major intersections and direct traffic. Across the Wang Chhu River, we visit the Choki Traditional Art School which trains disadvantaged children in Bhutan's traditional arts of painting, sculpture, and carving. We also visit the National Memorial Chhorten, a shrine built to memorialize the monarch who opened the doors of Bhutan to the outside world, and walk across a cantilever bridge, a bridge built using cantilevers that project horizontally into space and are supported on only one end. At night, we enjoy the illuminated Dechencholing Palace, whose architecture is entirely in Bhutanese traditional style.
As we depart Thimphu for a 5-hour drive to Gangtey in the vast glacial Phobjikha Valley, we stop at Dochula, a mountain pass dotted with more than 100 chortens (Buddhist Monuments) and thousands of prayer flags. Each hue of the prayer flag signifies an element, and the flags are always arranged in a specific order, from left to right: Blue represents the sky; White the air; Red fire; Green water and Yellow the earth. After ascending the Dochula pass, we visit Rinchengang, a village noted for its stone masonry, before arriving at our tented camp where stay for 3 nights. While in Gangtey, we visit the Gangtey Goenpa, a remote 17th-century Buddhist monastery set on a forested hill overlooking the Phobjikha Valley. Here, we meet and interact with the local monks and learn about the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. Next, we visit the Khewang Lhakhang, a Buddhist temple where we interact with the head monk and his students. Before departing Gangtey, we meet young students at a nearby village school where we visit their classrooms and play a game with them.
After our 3-night stay in the Phobjikha Valley, we drive 4 hours for a 2-night stay in Punakha, which served as Bhutan's capital for more than three centuries. Situated at the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers, we visit the Punakha Dzong, widely hailed as the most splendid example of the fortress-like monasteries that dot Bhutan's landscapes. It is Bhutan's second oldest and second largest administrative building, rising six stories and organized around three courtyards. We also walk through the Punakha Ritsha Village, a model red and white rice growing village in western Bhutan where the houses are made of pounded mud with stone foundations. At the end of the hike we visit the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten (stupa), which overlooks the Punakha Valley. It was built to ward off evil spirits in Bhutan and across the world and to bring peace and harmony to all living things. We also visit the Punakha Suspension Bridge, the second largest suspension bridge in Bhutan and one of the world's oldest.
After a 5-hour drive from Punakha, we arrive in Paro for a 3-night stay. Here, we visit the Rinpung Dzong, a large Buddhist monastery and fortress that was built in 1646. We also take a challenging hike to the Paro Taktsang, commonly known as the Tiger's Nest, a monastery perched on the face of a sheer cliff some 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley. Considered the Holiest site in Bhutan, it is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Starting at an elevation of 8,000 feet, in just 3 miles, we are at 10,000 feet. Legend has it that a former wife of an emperor willingly became a disciple of a Guru in Tibet. She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to this cliff. In one of the caves here, the Guru then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy and came to be known as the Tiger's Nest. Before our return home, we visit the 7th-century Tibetan Buddhist temple named Kyichu Lhakhang, where an orange tree magically bears fruit all year long.
Floyd Schleyhahn Photography www.floydandjodi.com