Smells of powder and smoke invade the air, and firecrackers are exploding everywhere. Today is one of India’s biggest celebrations – Diwali. It’s nighttime and I am walking the streets of Delhi trying to find a place to witness and photograph some this tradition. I finally settle on a temple near to the hotel in which I’m staying. People are coming and going; they light candles, pray, light more candles and light some more fireworks before going back home to celebrate with family and friends.
Diwali is a big thing here. Also known as the festival of lights, it’s a five-day celebration observed by the Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities. I could not feel more than blessed to be here and witness it. But I am not here to see Diwali; indeed, it was just pure coincidence that it happened while I’m on my first trip to India. Delhi is the first place I am staying before going further into Varanasi and other cities in the province of Rajasthan.
Delhi is captivating, perhaps the closest thing to mayhem I have ever seen. Twenty-five million souls call it home, and with that humanity just happens. The air feels thick; there is a constant mix of fog, incense and mankind polluting the atmosphere, making breathing difficult at times. And then everything else is thrown into the mix – monkeys roaming the streets, cows wandering around like it’s normal, ox carts, push bicycles, motorbikes, tuk tuks and autos sharing the streets, and the constant blaring of horns. A two-lane road in Delhi is normally used as a four-lane road, with vehicles coming from every direction; for me, the first impression was quite simply pandemonium.
Beyond that, I’ve quickly realized how different customs here are. An unconscious traveler can be quickly overwhelmed and easily scammed; very creative stories abound the streets to either get a commission or just charge you more. But hey, once the first shock passed and I concluded that it’s normal that tuk drivers demand three times the money of what was originally asked for a trip, claiming some nonsensical arguments and another dozen similar fables, then I got to enjoy Delhi.
It’s a city dotted with dusty bazaars, Mughal-era architecture, massive fortifications, incredible temples, and of course its people. A city where magic and mystery can be found at every turn of every corner. I only had a couple of days to wander around and photograph Delhi before I continued to visit the main places I came to see in North India. I wish I had more time, especially to stay put longer in some places and make more photos, but overall it was great to have a nice introduction to this city. So where did I go?
Perhaps the most known and busiest market in Old Delhi. Variety and authenticity is what you find. Food, textiles, spices, books, sarees, electronics, and anything imaginable can be purchased here. The narrow lanes are host to shops of all kinds. It’s easy to get lost and amazing for people watching and street photography. I really had fun here, though it was unfortunate that due to the Diwali festivities the prior night, many shops were closed and the activity slow.
Originally called the All India War Memorial, this is an iconic monument in the city dedicated to the soldiers of the undivided Indian Army who died in First World War. The place was full of tourists as it is an obligated stop for any Delhi tour. Perhaps it was a canopy across the monument that I liked, maybe the beautiful gardens around it or the light at the time I was there. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt peaceful and special.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Mostly recognized by its golden dome and flagpoles, this is the most prominent Sikh house of worship. The complex includes the Gurudwara, a kitchen and a large holy pool. This was an amazing sight. To get in I needed to cover my head with a bandana that was provided there. Inside, the temple was full of people chanting and praying. It was almost noon and the kitchen was working aplenty; in here the concept of langar is practiced. Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. Basically, they feed over one thousand people every day regardless of race or religion. The kitchen is run by volunteers. The temple is also well known for the huge sacred pool, where people come to bathe their sins away and worship.
The Lotus Temple is another wonderful site that I wanted to see. Inspired by the Lotus flower the structure is composed of twenty-seven marble “petals”, three for each of the nine entrances. This temple is a Baha House of Worship, and like other houses the temple is open to all religions. It is mainly a gathering place for worship without denominational restrictions. Unfortunately, there was a lot of people and we were rushed through without many possibilities of shooting. Like in many other places around India, tripods are prohibited. I tried to stay as long as I could to take the cleanest possible photo but ended up being kicked out, escorted by guards to the gate. That’s how I was able to take this last image with no people, but beyond that, if I make it to Delhi again I’ll try to find out if there is any way to get access after hours with a tripod.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the compound has an array of monuments and buildings. The most well known is the Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret, and at over two-hundred-feet high with five distinct stories it’s really impressive. The buff red-colored sandstone bricks along with the intricate carvings around them are just beautiful. The other structures on the complex are also pretty good. I particularly liked the Alai Darwaza, arches and domes, all combined with exceptional craftsmanship that shows on the intricate marble decorations and incrusted inscriptions throughout the building. There is also a mosque and several tombs to see. It was quite hard taking photos here, and I also returned at night, but of course no tripods were allowed, so it was a bummer and I couldn’t get any good photos of the place during nighttime.
Located in Old Delhi, this mosque is one of the largest in India and is truly amazing. I made it here the first day and the light was fading away, almost gone; it was too late and I couldn’t access the interior as there were prayers going on. Still, I managed to take some photos from the courtyard. Its architecture is fantastic, in fact I liked this place so much that I went back early in the morning. Getting there at opening time was great as the mosque was almost entirely empty with the exception of a few locals. The intense fog from the prior night’s fireworks of Diwali helped to give a unique atmosphere. The Jama Masjid was without a doubt my favorite place in Delhi and I am glad that I returned during the daytime.
In all, Delhi was a great intro for everything that was going to come in India in the following days. All the photos from this post were taken with the Fuji X-T2. All the images from Delhi are available for prints and licensing; just click on them for more info.
That’s all for now – more photos from India coming soon.