Day -3

India Arch

Our morning was spent greeting old friends from all over the world who have come to New Delhi to start this Rally. It’s amazing, but we know 75% of the crews, who have participated in other rallies with us. 

The Indian authorities require that you be in the country 3 days before they will release your own car to you......crazy, but that's the rule. This requires surrendering your passport to authorities to prove your date of entry into the country; giving them a copy of your International Driver’s License and assorted permits. We started that process today with the organizers and we will be ready to pick up our cars in two days. 

India is a fabulous country. The sights, smells, the colors, the culture, food, and music are totally unique. It is unlike anything you experience in the western world. The country has thousands of years of history. It has been conquered by many of the regional powers over the centuries. The longest and most important invasion came from the Mughals who originated in Persia. They more or less ran most of the northern part of the country from the 1400s until they were formally pushed out by the British in the early 1800s. Their military proust forced the local maharajas to conform to their dictates. They built military forts, beautiful buildings and, of course, converted much of the population to Islam. The first Mughal Emperor, Babur, was highly literate with a large library; the second Mughal Emperor was obsessed with astrology and astronomy. Later emperors were alcoholics and drug abusers, but throughout, they all built a bureaucracy that made the country run more or less efficiently. The Emperor Akbar was personally illiterate, yet he created a branch of government called the Ibadat Khana, which encouraged leaders of different religious faiths to meet and have discourse on their philosophies.......including Jesuits, Jews and Hindus; truly remarkable for its time. Most of these Mughal Rulers had several wives and very large harems and their courts involved thousands of retainers. On the birthdays of some of the Emperors, his subjects would give him gold, diamonds, rubies and other precious stones equal to the Emperors my case, that would be a lot of jewelry. 

In 1612, the future Emperor Shah Jahan married his lover Mumtaz Mahal. He was 20; she was 19. She bore him fourteen children, although many did not live past childhood. Mumtaz accompanied her husband on all of his military campaigns living in tents even when pregnant. In 1627, Shah Jahan acceded to the throne and four years later Mumtaz died giving birth to the couple's 14th child. On her death bed, Mumtaz made Shah promise that he would not have any more children with his other wives and that he would build a grand tomb for her remains so that future generations would always know the story of their great love. True to his word, the Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as the final resting place for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. More on the Taj Mahal when we get to Agra at the end of the rally, but this story gives you some perspective of the wealth and power of the Mughal Emperors. 

Change of gears: the Sacred Cows and Arranged Marriages 

Everywhere you go in Delhi, and everywhere else in India, you see wandering cows....usually untethered and unattended. The cow is sacred for the Hindu population. Hinduism has great respect for all animals, but especially the cow. Referred to as Mata Gau or Mother Cow, it is seen as the animal that sustains life with its milk. Whatever the reason, Hindu do not eat beef and they will not kill or harm a cow. As a rule they wander everywhere (especially after they stop giving milk when farmers turn them loose, rather than slaughtering them or paying to feed them). They wander through the markets; they sit in the median on large boulevards and they stop traffic everywhere.......they may be sacred, but sometimes it takes considerable patience to deal with them. 

Marriage is serious business in India. Indian law prohibits discriminating on the basis of religion or caste, but when it comes to marriage these rules are disregarded.....religion, caste, sub-caste, economic status, language, horoscopes and even eating habits are all relevant when contemplating marriage. The Sunday newspapers carrying many advertisements hailing the sterling quality this or that particular prospective bride or groom. The want ads are literally labeled "Wanted Brides" and "Wanted Grooms." There are go-betweens (usually other family members), dowries, contracts, and all sorts of arrangements to be made before a proper Indian family will let a child proceed with marriage. Today, some of these restrictions are starting to fray in big metropolitan areas, but in the countryside it is much the same as it has been for hundreds of years....and before you scoff at this system, consider that India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world.

In the next installment, we'll talk a bit about the British Raj and it lasting effects on India. For now, we're off to Saffron, another recommended restaurant for Indian cuisine.