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The Family Visit – Act I

February 25, 2010 1 comment

Food poisoning may have soured the final moments of my family’s trip to India, but the rest of the week was phenomenal. Here are some tales from the first leg.

My parents and my brother arrived in Delhi on a recent Saturday afternoon, expecting, after 20 or so hours on planes, to be heading to their hotel for a relaxing afternoon and a much-needed nap. Instead, they were greeted with the news that they had an hour and a half or so to pull themselves together for an afternoon tour of some of New Delhi’s historical sites.

New Delhi

After exchanging greetings of “Namaste,” hands pressed together on our chests, with the dozen or so hotel staff opening elevator doors, entry doors and car doors, we all jumped into our big white van. And with “Tourist” emblazoned in enormous white letters on our windshield, we pulled out onto Delhi’s crowded streets and made our way, conspicuously, to one of India’s most-visited tourist sites: the Qutb Minar.

The Qutb Minar is a giant brick tower—more than 70 meters high—completed three-quarters of a millennium ago, situated amid ruins of a mosque, tombs and other stone monuments. The complex also houses an iron pillar, that has mysteriously shunned any rust over its nearly two-thousand year existence.

From there, we drove north for a stroll around Humayun’s Tomb, the ostensible model for the Taj Mahal, which I wrote about a while back. And with the sun setting over the red sandstone tombs, our first day together in Delhi drew to a close… though not before Zach and I stopped at one of my favorite Delhi restaurants for an epic feast washed with by a few frosty bottles of Kingfisher.

Old Delhi

Sunday morning began with a quick breakfast of yogurt, (vile) chai and some freshly squeezed orange juice. Then we hopped in the tourist mobile for a tour of Old Delhi.

After a quick drive past the flower-lined lawns of the Rajpath and the opulent Parliament House, we made our way north, past a seemingly endless and chaotic Sunday shoe market, to the grit and bustle of the predominantly Muslim old city.

Our first stop was the Red Fort, a sprawling complex surrounded by gargantuan burgundy walls built by a 17th century Mughal emperor to protect his capital. The site, which once housed some of India’s most precious possessions—a peacock throne that now sits in Iran and some priceless jewels now set in the British crown are among the riches pilfered from the site—was used as a military base by the British, who knocked down many of the Red Fort’s original structures to build lodging for members of the Raj. We then walked through some of the cramped streets of the bazaar before ascending the steps of the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.

We then hopped on the bus for a quick stop at the Raj Ghat, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi, after which we parted with our guide and headed for Char Bazaar, a famous restaurant not far from our morning’s sites.

With the Delhi touring done, I thought it time to give the family a true taste of life in Delhi: a rickshaw ride.

The ride down to my house—my parents and my brother crammed in the backseat and me up front with the driver—was pretty standard: shaky with a few close calls, yet mostly uneventful.

But it was the ride home from dinner later that night that really introduced them all to Delhi’s favored mode of transportation, with our driver hooting and hollering as he revved the engine, swerving one point to avoid a massive tree growing right in the middle of the road. (Yes, you read that correctly. There is a large tree sprouting out of the center lane of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.)

Back at the hotel in record time, we complimented the auto wallah, paid our fare, took a few deep breaths, and turned in for some much needed rest.

Chai

We started early on Monday before the flight to Jaipur. My brother and I trolled the streets near our hotel for a breakfast joint. Turns out that 8:45 a.m is a bit early for Delhi-ites, and our destination was still shuttered. So we grabbed a cup of chai from a small stand on the street—my brother’s first taste, and, sans the compulsory singeing of his fingers by the overflowing elixir, he loved it—and made our way back to the hotel.

Once inside, we wandered into the hotel’s main restaurant where before us stood perhaps the finest breakfast spread ever concocted: yogurts of all flavors, glistening coconut water, fresh tropical juices of all sorts, flaky croissants and breads from across the globe, cereals, omelettes, cured meats, and a dozen or more Indian and East Asian specialties.

But even after such a glorious meal, we were craving something to wash it all down. This time, the four of us took to the street, and a few moments later, we were again sipping fragrant tea, a fitting end to the first leg of our tour of the Golden Triangle.

I’ve got a few new photos up on my Flickr page. Will post some more in the coming days.

Comic Relief

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Still battling the stomach bug, but this story, from yesterday’s Times of India, made me chuckle:

If you were looking for another goof-up at the Commonwealth Shooting Championships, the organizers didn’t disappoint. Just a day after playing the wrong national anthem during a medal ceremony, there was embarrassment over the size of the Indian national flag.

Just before giving the medals to winners in the 10m air rifle event, where home hopes Gagan Narang and Sanjeev Rajput won gold and silver respectively, the organizers realized that the size of the two Tricolours to be hoisted was different. One was quite small and the other larger. A replacement flag was found after a frantic search but lo and behold, the new one was also too small.

The hassled organizers wrestled with the problem and came up with a ‘solution’ – they removed the big flag altogether and used just the two small Tricolours. It would all have been fine had the UK’s Union Jack, fluttering proudly on the third pole for the bronze winner not been a great deal bigger.

Red Thai Curry

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Don’t eat it, especially if it’s got prawns in it, even if you’re at one of the finest hotels in India.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned on this adventure, that one resonates loudest at the moment.

I’m entering day four of my first bout with food poisoning. Completely debilitating, though things seem to be improving. I knew this would happen sooner or later. Just another wild experience along the way…

I’ve got loads to share about my family trip to Agra and Jaipur. Unfortunately, all of that will have to wait a few days until things here get back on track.

In the meantime, you can head over to my Flickr feed, as I’ll be uploading a bunch of photos over the next few hours.

Hope all’s well, and please stay tuned.

Attack in Pune

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I really appreciate all of the emails and notes of concern in light of such tragic news. I’ll have more on this after my trip. Just wanted to say thanks for your thoughts, and let everyone know that we’re doing fine.

AutoMadness

February 12, 2010 5 comments

The family arrives tomorrow morning! We’re heading down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then on to Jaipur for a glimpse of the Pink City, so the blog will be offline for a week or so.

But I couldn’t leave town without sharing two quick stories from earlier today.

1. Tried to hail an auto while standing in a bus lane. While talking to the auto driver about the fare, a bus came and actually slammed into the rickshaw, basically saying “get out of my lane.” Interesting way of dealing with the situation, seeing as there was enough room for about three buses, but I guess he had a point. Now I know not to hail autos in the bus lane.

2. Riding in an auto. He honks at someone standing on the side of the road to get out of the way. The guy refuses to move. Words are exchanged. Some grabbing ensues. Faces are slapped. Then the pedestrian grabs a drinking glass from a tea stand, threatening to hit the driver with it. The auto driver then whips out a foot-long screwdriver, threatening, in response, to… well, you know. I hopped out at this point and walked up the block. About two minutes later, the driver, slightly disheveled, pulled up alongside me. I hopped back in, and the two of us went on our merry way.

Will be back in a week with lots of photos and, hopefully, some more great stories. See you then.

Wasn’t Expecting to See…

February 10, 2010 4 comments

… an elephant walking on the highway this morning!

Walked out my door for work today. Took a five-minute stroll to the main road to pick up an auto-rickshaw. Hopped in an auto. Pulled onto the highway, driving in the wrong direction (common occurrence here).

Walking toward us was an enormous elephant, its trunk painted with florescent green and pink stripes (Mardi Gras, perhaps?). Atop it sat a seemingly tiny man, cross-legged, dressed in tattered white linen.

Maybe he was on his way to work, too.

Sunday Evening Ragas

February 8, 2010 1 comment

I had the incredibly good fortune last night to be brought to a music festival celebrating the 83rd anniversary of the death of the Sufi leader and Indian musician Hazrat Sufi Inayat Khan.

Sufism — just by way of background — is a mystical faith rooted in Islam, and classical Indian music is a key element in Sufi devotional practices.

We dropped by the Inayat Khan dargah, or shrine, for a performance by a trio of renowned Indian musicians playing traditional instruments, including the rudra veena, an ancestor of the sitar.

The performance took place in a small room, with Inayat Khan’s shrine at the center, draped with orange and burgundy flowers. Around the shrine sat about 50 people. Women covered their heads. Some in the crowd sat with their eyes glued to the performers, others with their eyes closed, deep in meditation. We were all barefoot and cross-legged, crouched on small carpets, entranced by the exquisitely improvised ragas that flowed from the musicians before us, they, too, perched atop pillows and blankets and prayer rugs.

I’m not quite sure how to describe the experience, except to say that it was equal parts spiritual, mystical and beautiful. We were only able to stick around for an hour or so, though we were told that you can catch live music like this a couple nights a week in various places in Delhi.

I was able to record about two minutes of last night’s performance. Click on the following link for a short clip: Indian Classical Music – Inayat Khan Darga.

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And in other news, congratulations to the city of New Orleans!