Staring us down at the shrine of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti
The TukTuk dropped us in a maze of small, busy lanes, which opened into a wide street packed with people. But bang – without any traffic! It came almost as a shock. None of the screeching and honking that seems inseparable with motorized vehicles in India. Why? We could only guess. Most likely a precaution after a bomb went off near the shrine in 2007.
Other strange experiences lay ahead. One was the staring. The eyes of what must have been thousands of people were upon us for the next two hours, as if we were brightly colored aliens. Another one was the painful sight of so many crippled beggars. Many unable to walk, they were desperately stretching out their skinny arms towards us, asking for money. It was horrible. Never before in India had we seen such a gathering, but there was no other way of getting to the shrine.
Now to call it a shrine is a bit misleading, since it actually encompasses a vast area: stalls selling offerings, mosques, courtyards, and at its center – the tomb of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti. All surrounded by high walls and a gate equipped with metal detectors.
Security measures do not allow bags or cameras to be taken inside. This left us with the dilemma as where to keep our cameras. The solution was to visit in shifts. Kelly and Heidi went first, covering their head with scarves. You never know. What could have been the most amazing visit – a beautiful shrine with a colorful crowd milling around, sitting, sleeping, preying, chatting – for Heidi and Kelly turned into a running gauntlet. The staring was relentless. We wished being able to ignore it, but couldn’t and ended up leaving a lot sooner than we really wanted.
But worse was yet to come. When Gilles took his turn, Kelly and Heidi were to wait outside near the entrance where soon a big crowded gathered around them. First just looking, then one after the other they took out the mobile phones and started taking photos of the two. It was bizarre. Heidi was so tempted of taking photos of the spectacle herself but she did not dare to move an inch away from Kelly, who drew the attention in the first place.
We still wonder what caused the attraction. Being the only non-Indians in the street? Having a blonde teenage girl with us? Or simply that obviously non-Muslims visited a Muslim shrine? Never did we feel unsafe or threatened, but being stared at has a very uncomfortable feel to it.