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Delhi, day 1

First day in Delhi.

Huge, madly crowded, noisy, a complete sensory overload – love it !

Need real stamina to visit this city and it’s all about knowing the places where you can unwind and relax (unless you happen to be staying in a five star pile, though more often than not, these aren’t so conveniently located).

A bit like Cairo actually, where my favourite places to relax are (besides Fishawy and Sequoia), a park on a hill whose name I’ve forgotten, and Ibn Tulun mosque with its vast, serene courtyard and its sparse, cavernous yet airy interior.

So happens that in Delhi I rather like Jama Masjid – ancient, vast, sparse, a wonderful, peaceful oasis within the bedlam of old Delhi.

It occurred to me the larger places of worship in huge, diverse cities have a wonderful, relaxed quality. The courtyard of Jama Masjid, on this Sunday, was actually quite crowded with many people who’d had the same instinct as ours – though the vast majority of visitors evidently had no intent to pray there and were enjoying the mosque and its courtyard in groups of friends or family much as they might have enjoyed a trip to the park. Come to think of it, not so sure a majority of people there were even Muslim.

Reminded me of the Omayyad or Great Mosque in Aleppo – now sadly and tragically laid to waste. This was enjoyed just in the same way by families and groups of friends, ambling around, chatting, even picnicking. You wouldn’t see that in Cairo, but Aleppo, with its ancient mix of Sunni, Shia and Christians, provided just the context for this agreeable, laid-back use of certain places of worship. No doubt, a mosque that has weathered the passing of centuries, invasions, fires and the like (though, tragically, less so the current civil war), shall hardly take offense from being used as a place of peaceful and joyful gathering.

So here we were, soaking the rays for a fair while in the courtyard of Jama Masjid, when a group of young local men approach us asking if they might, each in turn, be photographed next to us. Quite amused, we naturally oblige. A few moments pass, and another group comes along asking the same favour - and again ! Each time, we were asked where from we hailed, and our response - Switzerland - inevitably sent these young men into rapturous praise, such that we might have been the Messiah, a particularly riotous thought and situation in this courtyard of Jama Masjid !

Though I very much like my home country, it never ceased to astonish me in how dizzyinlgy high regard it - a tiny speck and a thorn in the side of the EU - is held in certain parts, not least in India - and indeed in Pakistan where I first stumbled upon this strange phenomenon years ago.

Whilst this was amusing and disconcerting enough as it was, I was a little aback when a guy from our second group of fans, as he approached us, asked if he might sleep with us for a photo (to be fair, we were indeed lying on the ground). Once the photos had been taken, the same bloke effusively thanked us "for the opportunity of sleeping with us". Not kidding, this is an actual quote, word for word.

Incidentally, the photo for this post wasn't taken today (I've yet to select, cull, lightly edit and upload my photos of today) but on my last visit to Delhi, 4-5 years ago.

Righty-ho, tis rather late, so I'll plunge into a few pages of a really fantastic novel I'm reading, Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra - and bid you goodnight.

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