Raj Ghat, The Heart and Soul of India
This was a most wonderful revelation, and if I have to leave tomorrow back to America, I can say that I've found the heart and soul of India embodied in the burial site of Mahatma Gandhi. Raj Ghat, as it is known, is a 150 meter square park, an island of peace situated just south of the Red Fort.
I wasn't expecting was about to happen as I entered Raj Ghat, taking off my shoes to enter. Firstly, there was a palpable energy of peace that immediately and deeply touched my heart as I walked towards Gandhi's burial tomb of black marble, 6 feet square, with an eternal flame right beside.
As I approached the tomb, I was in tears, and what arose was an almost hysterical feeling of joy and sorrow, such that I could barely hold myself back from balling in front of a bunch of Hindus who seemed totally impervious and unconscious to the powerful presence that emanates from this place.
Now, technically speaking I'm not a Hindu or follower of Gandhi, though I have such great respect for him. And Richard Attenborough's tribute to him in the movie Gandhi ranks as one of the most moving films of all time for me. So I do have some kind of deep respect for Gandhi, but what I felt in this moment totally engulfed that.
As I circumambulated the tomb three times, as it is customary, I had tears running down my eyes, I was so touched as such a deep emotional and spiritual place. It was such a wonderful surprise, and in a bit of a contrast to the physical scene, where some people were moved and tearful, some were profoundly respectful, touch the black marble, then putting their hand to their third eye and heart, but for most it was the stereotypical Japanese tourist thing, people wanting to photographed with their family next to the black marble tomb. It seemed on one hand to be such an unconscious blasphemy to such a sacred site, but then I'm just some westerner here, perhaps being a bit overjudgmental, but then perhaps not.
My guide and I eventually moved to the grassy area a few yards from the tomb. I told them that this place is such a special place, a true temple, and he could see that I was very moved. But no sooner than two minutes go by when he tries his emporium spiel again, and tries to sell my a palmistry reading for 100 bucks, telling me that he has such a natural gift for it, and that if I don't tell anyone my wishes during his reading, they'll come true. I'm thinking, Jesus Christ, one more hour with this overbearing dude, and it really soured my emotional mood. He has a way of being overbearing with such a nice mannerism that I find especially true of many Indian hucksters. It is so unctious because it has such a sweet face.
But being soured, I decided to go back to the tomb to see if what I was experiencing was simply emotional energy or not. And going back I could still feel the potency of this place very obviously, even though it was not creating an emotional reaction. Real presence, real spiritual force. I felt like this place was that heart and soul of modern India, because Gandhi, unlike the pantheon of Hindu gods, was a man alive not long ago, and whose work has affected every Indian alive and probably anyone who believes in political freedom. I am sure that Gandhi is alive in the heart of every Hindu, and they bring their heart to this place, naturally empowering it without the need of priest or pujarist.
If you ever go to India and Delhi, come to this place. There may be innumerable spiritual gurus, teachers, ashrams, sects and religions, many having extremely different points of views(to the point of violence), but all those differences converge at this point in Delhi - this is one place that is special to all of them (and this apparently includes Muslims, as I saw them at Raj Ghat also), and therefore this is why I call this place the heart and soul of (modern) India.
Cruising Delhi on My Own
Once my tour was over, I felt free to do whatever I damn well pleased, so this involved simplying walking the streets of New Delhi. I ventured out for lunch to my first restaurant called Standards, around the corner from the Rivoli "adults for only" movie house, playing Cave Girl Island (it is so cute how the Indians get English just a little wrong to make it sound funny). This area in SW New Delhi is only 5 minutes walk from my hotel, but I have to pass a small bus depot with many busses spouting huge amounts of smoke, and an outside men's urinal, which reeks so badly of uric acid that my eyes burn within 20 yards of it. The stench is almost overpowering, and I'd rather piss on the side of a building (which a lot of men do), then go anywhere nears this facility. I remember a friend put on a one woman play on her experiences of travelling through India alone as a woman. She did an imitation of a Hindu man whipping it out on the sidewalk and taking a pee, which is hilarious when a woman does the gestures.
Anyways, I got a full course N. Indian thali meal for under 3 bucks, such a contrast from Switzerland! The food was great, no adverse reaction, etc. Then I went over the back-back alley to check my email, and to find out that the Yankees won teh World Series. New Yawk, New Yawk, so nice, they named it twice! I also discovered why there are throngs of people in this back alley - there are scores of booths offering the Indian lottery, and apparently it is an addiction for a lot of Indian men, a sad testament to their desparation. As they say, lotteries are taxes on the poor.
I also ventured out into Delhi alone in the evening, trying to get to the Laksman Narayan temple nearby, but I got totally lost - the piles of debris, rotaries and shops all look the same at night. Trying to trace my way back I heard a familiar tune, a tune that I have sung so often it is in my bone marrow - arati, a devotional song that Indians sing to their guru or chosen god/goddess. This version is a North Indian tune that I sung as as student of Guru Maharaji, which is different than the Nityananda/Muktananda/Love Ananda/Adi Da version (say that 5 times fast, it's catchy!). Upon hearing that whatever nervousness I felt in being lost evaporated, I felt at home in this foreign land. But I kept getting accosted by the touts, so much so that I know some of them by name. Take Mohammed, fer instance, my best friend, who keeps trying to get me to come to a local emporium. He walked with me for blocks, and I told him I was Australian (Aussies are poorer than us Yanks, and therefore they touts aren't as aggressive), and he said,"Yes I can tell you're Australian". Uh-huh. Anyway after a second walk with him, I said, "Mohammed, do you want to know one of the first words in Hindi that I learned?"
"It's CHALLO" ("get away/get lost") He laughed hard and did get lost. But after a while so was I, even though (as a male with millenia of hunting skills in my being) I consider myself one with good directional skills, I was lost, and so I took my first auto-rickshaw ride, only 75 cents back to the hotel - good thing, I was walking in the exact opposite direction!
I woke up this morning with a joyful heart and burning lungs. Only my second full day in India, and I already feel in synch with the spiritual energy here, which surprisingly is extant even in crazy Delhi. This whole country must be a spiritual vortex, as we're walking on ground sanctified over the millenia. I learned from various teachers, such as Adi Da and David Wheeler that there is a distinct connection with the shakti energy and geography. Certainly there are vortices in America; Marin County where I live, for example is one - Mt Tamalpais, an unusual east-west mountain range is a goddess image, known to the Indians as "the sleeping lady" (it does look like a woman on her back); Santa Fe is another famous vortex, and David Wheeler showed me around the Columbia River Gorge, which separates Wash. and Oregon. There are spots that are definitely potent, in one little state park along the river. But basically, I can feel a strong current of happiness that is all pervasive. It makes whatever hassles I encounter worth it.
But I have to leave Delhi, or else I will start hawking up some major black loogies (oh, thanks for sharing, Phil). The air is so bad here, it's really beyond description. My wife Annie, being somewhat environmentally sensitive, made a wise decision to stay home. I figure I can handle it for a few days - when I get to Rishikesh, it's time from Yogi Bhajan "Breath of Fire" to cleanse the lungs. But before that, can someone mail me about 200 pounds of comfrey-fenugreek?
If you come to India, definitely bring a few of those air filter masks, they're cheap.