Saturday, November 12, 2011

India 12

This Mosque is in Fatehpur Sikri, dates from 1571, and welcomed all visitors with open doors. As a result, there were a lot of people who appeared local to my eyes who had set up little encampments in the shady arcades that ring the courtyard of the mosque. They were not particularly elaborate; I'm not sure if that's because the people couldn't afford anything elaborate or if the encampments only lasted for the day and everyone left in the evening. Some were selling prayer beads or tourist trinkets or crafts. Others just seemed to be sleeping or hanging out or living.

When we returned to Delhi, we attempted to visit another famous old Mosque in Old Delhi (I think also called the Jama Masjid), with a somewhat different policy. Upon reaching the main door, we discovered that some enterprising fellows had printed up tickets and were charging a few dollars for obvious tourists such as your correspondents to enter. Our trusty guidebook claimed entry to the mosque was free, and we strongly suspected that this was a scam and none of the "ticket money" would go to the mosque. We told the ticket sellers so, and said we would not be paying but that we would still like to enter.

The ticket-sellers found our reliance on Lonely Planet's suggested price structure unconvincing, and physically pushed your correspondent away from the door. Not jostled, but the kind of push that a junior-high student delivers another when trying to provoke a fight. Perhaps even a "What are you gonna do about it?!" push. Your correspondent, ever the diplomat, restrained himself from pushing back, but I admit it took a bit of an effort to convince myself that de-escalation was probably the right call. One of the ticket-seller's goon companions was a guy who looked about 55 years old, but had a rod of bamboo about an inch thick and four feet long that I saw him swing forcefully and eagerly at a bunch of kids who were apparently too close to the door for his desire. He brandished it, threatening tourists who didn't want to pay their bribe (not limited to us at this point). Had it come to that, I can't promise that my restraint would have continued. He was wiry, but I could have taken him, stick or no. It did not come to that, but definitely not a public relations win for the Indian people.

In the end, we chose not to pay, and chose not to enter the mosque, which from what we could see of the courtyard through the door, was pretty similar to the one we'd seen in Fatepur Sikri, pictured again below.

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