Sunday, February 18, 2007

India - Further Impressions on the Second Day (Slight Panic)

We actually managed to sleep quite soundly on the very comfortable bed provided in the guest room by our hosts, the Sabharwals. We eventually managed to crawl out of bed around 10:30am and staggered out of the bedroom around 10:45am. At this point (after we noticed the temple right across the street), we met the other couple staying at the Sabharwal residence – Angela and Chris – a nice young couple from Washington D.C. Sudhir, our very entertaining host introduced us to them and then he and his wife Aruna proceeded to finish discussing their itinerary for the day, which coincidentally enough consisted of many of the same points of interest that we were thinking of visiting.

Just as Angela and Chris went back to their room to finish getting ready for their day out on the town, Sudhir leaned over and hinted that since our agenda was much the same as theirs, that perhaps we should just piggy-back our day onto theirs and go out on the town as a foursome. When they came back to the room, we brought it up and they went for it, so we quickly finished getting ready and set out for a day around Delhi.

It turns out that one of the many services offered by the Sabharwals is a driver that will take you wherever you wish to go over the course of an entire day for about US$40. This turned out to be fantastic since we now had somebody that we could trust taking us directly to our points of interest and then staying with the car (and our stuff) whilst we wandered around.

Our first stop was for lunch at a relatively old restaurant called Karim’s, which happens to be very close to India’s largest mosque – Jamma Masjid. It was here when we first started to get to know our travel companions, as well as started to get to know Indian cuisine. We enjoyed a wonderful mean of Chicken Burra, Butter Chicken, and Palak Paneer, washed down with a glass of Pepsi (not traditional, but a relatively safe option considering what we had heard about drinking the water).

After lunch, we wandered outside and made our way over to Jamma Masjid. This was a very interesting trip in that (a) it was the first time that any of us had ever been to a mosque and (b) the architecture and ambience was very unique. To start, we had to take off our shoes before we were allowed to enter, and we were encouraged to check in our shoes with the young men sitting at the entrance. Although we were a little concerned about the safety of our footwear, there is a strange trust that arises from being in India outside of a mosque, so we went for it. We were also charged a nominal fee of about 200 rupee, but this was quoted in our guides as the standard rate, so we felt we were getting a good deal. From there, we entered the mosque and soak up the ambience.

The mosque had a large courtyard in front of a magnificent structure, inside of which we were not allowed. The courtyard had people sitting about in various states of repose – unusually enough, those that chose to lie down were accosted by what appeared to be guards of some sort sporting wooden sticks, which they used to literally poke those that were lying down. There were also several large bowls towards the center of the courtyard along with a large yellowish area in the very middle of the courtyard. It turns out that the yellowish area was birdseed, which we presumed were there to distract the legion of pigeons that were hanging out on the minarets of the mosque. This was a little disturbing since we were walking around either barefoot or in socks, but we got over that out of necessity.

From there, we proceed to take a rickshaw ride around Old Delhi, which included parts of Chandni Chowk, a remarkably cute and exquisite Jain temple, and the Red Fort. This was a fascinating and scintillating ride, full of near misses with pedestrians, a few shops paying our rickshaw pilots commissions for visiting customers, and a nice leisurely walk around the Red Fort grounds, which were hauntingly similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing. At the end of the three hour tour (a three hour tour), we paid our drivers roughly 500 rupees (300 for the ride and 200 for the tip – a bit of a rip off), we got back into our vehicle and headed over to Akshardham to poke around for a little while.

Akshardham is a ridiculously beautiful example of neo-classical Indian architecture, and a remarkably successful confluence of old Indian culture with modern technology. While I have yet to figure out exactly whom this glorious tribute was built for, I am glad to have visited it – albeit only for about an hour. When we get back to Taiwan, I want to do more research on this place that will inevitably find its way into the top ten lists of the next edition of every single India guidebooks from now on. For a glimpse of what it looks like, I suggest doing an image search under either Google or Yahoo...cameras were not allowed on the site...

From here, we went back to the B&B to freshen up a bit before dinner. It was then that I finally had a chance to start getting to know Sudhir a little better, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. Sudhir is nothing less than a spectacular host. He went out of his way to make sure that we felt comfortable, secure, and well taken care of. He made sure that our restaurant reservations were all in order, automatically pushed out our reservation when it became obvious that we would not be able to make it, ensured that Chris (AKA Eric) and I were sufficiently liquored up before hitting the road, and gave us a bit more information about his family.

From there, we went over to the Maurya Sheraton, located in the Diplomatic Enclave, for dinner at a restaurant called Bukhara. This was a restaurant recommended to me by Sid Agrawal, and also turned out to be a restaurant that Sudhib suggested to his guests when they wanted a fine dining experience.

This place was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! While the ambience left something to be desired (not bad, but nothing interesting), the food was nothing short of life changing. First of all, silverware is not provided, which means that you have no choice but to get at least a little feral and eat with your hands. This is not an issue since all of the food is custom made for this. We ordered the Sikandori Raan, which is a beautifully crusted “whole leg of spring lamb marinated in malt vinegar, cinnamon, and black cumin, first braised in the marinade and then finished in the tandoor”. We also enjoyed an amazing chicken curry dish (murgh something or other) – a dish so delicious that you could coaxed into believing that God (or Allah or Brahma or Buddha) is back in the kitchen. The Paneer Tikka and the butter naan were both good, but just not on the same plane as the other two dishes. We topped it off with an Argentinean Malbec from Terrazas, which just completed the experience. I just cannot say enough good things about this whole dining experience, so I will just leave you with the comment that the food served this evening is easily on my list of the top ten meals I have ever had in my life…

Chris and Angela turned out to be such good company that we have made arrangements to meet them in Udaipur on Wednesday to enjoy at least one more meal before our paths diverge for good (at least on this trip) when they head down to southern India.

That’s about it for Day 2. Melanie and I are both so exhausted from running around all day long (and gorging ourselves on Indian fine dining) that I simply cannot keep my eyes open any longer…

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