Delving Deeper Into Dehli

December 30, 2007

We're staying in a posh part of Dehli in some houses by the lovely Lodi Gardens called Lutyen's Bungalows (Edwin Lutyen's was one of the two main architects responsible for the layout of New Dehli). By Western standards the accommodations are more youth hostel than three star hotel, but by Indian standards are fairly decent (how easily we adjust our perceptions). It has a hot water tank that lasts for a solid 12 minutes or so, toilets in the rooms with decent plumbing, and free wi-fi meaning I can roll over and check my e-mail or the temperature outside in bed with my iPhone. The houses are funky, but completely homey and I can think of no where I would rather base this trip. It gives off a family-run feel with lush gardens and trees in the back, hot water bottles in the bed, and chilled bottled water and Kingfishers at a reasonable rate. They also serve breakfast including great paratha and masala tea and eggs.

We began our second day in Delhi by walking to the Lodhi Gardens for a stroll. The Gardens include beautiful hills of green grass, trees, and lakes interspersed with Lodhi tombs from the Pashtun Muslim dynasty which ruled in the 16th century. This was one of the most peaceful places we had been in Delhi so far and the weather was cool and sunny with gorgeously clear skies. The Lodhi Gardens reminded me of a destination for frisky teenagers to skip school or young couples to wile away the day having a picnic. We wandered amongst the tombs scrawled with graffiti inside and watched school children playing manically over the vast lawns. They stopped to wave and say hello at every opportunity.

We then walked over to Khan market which had been recommended more than once to me, but which resembled a rather uninteresting row of stores with a few winding back alleys with specialty shops. Apparently, the lure of Khan market is the wide availability of upscale goods -- everything from car parts to stereos to home furnishings tailoring to electronics -- almost nothing that we needed. We had one o'clock reservations for Bukhara in the five-star Sheraton hotel and we took our first auto-rickshaw over -- a deliriously wild ride.

Bukhara is a tandoori restaurant of note because of how much Bill Clinton raved about it on his visit. We knew it would be a little expensive (actually turned out to be a LOT expensive even by New York standards) and their specialty was a black lentil dal simmered for 24 hours with a variety of spices. The food was served without silverware and was absolutely exquisite. I ordered the Murgh Tandoori which was a whole chicken marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, malt vinegar, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, red chillies, yellow chillies, turmeric, and garam masala. We also had butter and garlic nan (again puffy and delicious) with the dal bukhara consisting of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic simmered overnight on a slow charcoal fire and finished with cream and a dollop of unsalted butter. The dal tasted like thick, creamy chili, though lighter and less acidic with complex spices. I couldn't get enough of it -- by far the best dal I've ever had.

We took an auto-rickshaw back to Central Park in the middle of Connaught Place, Delhi's largest financial, commercial, and business center. Here we got taken for our first, pardon the pun, ride. The driver insisted we go check out the shopping district just north of Connaught Place assuming that being Americans we only wanted to shop. We thought he had dropped us off within walking distance, but as it turned out he was only trying to get us to go to his friend's store (a common scam I had read about) and we were quite a ways away. We were completely marked in that part of town and besieged by rickshaw drivers trying to take us to various parts of the city. We finally hooked up with a guy that earned our trust by pointing out all of the rickshaw drivers following us and dropping us off in an area where we would be less likely to be solicited. We walked through crowded streets where sellers hawked their wares feeling increasingly more vulnerable. The park at Connaught Place turned out to be scrubby and awful where shady characters studied us carefully. Jean and I decided to split up and she walked down to the National Gallery while I headed over to Jantar Mantar nearby.

Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory built in 1710 to measure the positions of stars, their altitude and azimuth, and to calculate eclipses. It looks like modern sculpture with an incredibly futuristic feel and measuring dials carved in stone over the enormous structure. With it's curved lines and sloping walls, in America, it would be a skateboarders' paradise.

I then walked down about twenty minutes to India Gate racing across congested roads and dodging cars, bicycles, and auto-rickshaws. As I walked through the streets alone, I began congratulating myself at how well I was dealing with the harshness of Delhi life. For all of its blasting noise, heady traffic, impoverished women and children squatting curbside begging for rupees, and limbless beggars lining the sidewalk, I thought I was steadfastly keeping my emotional composure. And then I saw a little girl, not more than two, completely naked covered in filth standing in the gutter of a busy intersection taking a shit on the street. I realized I was not handling this well at all and that I was foolish for thinking I could knowing full well that part of the reason I came was to know this kind of humanity. How people lived outside of the insular New York life I'd carved for myself. I couldn't shake that little girl. I still can't shake her. I continued toward India Gate stumbling over cracked sidewalks lost beyond thought.

India Gate is a large arch directly in line with the Parliament building built by Edwin Lutyens to memorialize the Indian solders that died during World War II. A political party was having a concert there that included an official brass band and a pop group singing Hindi songs as little children danced excitedly. It's surprising that at almost every place I went I was the only white person. Occasionally, I would pass a couple of tourists standing out as obviously as I no doubt was, but for the most part I was alone among Indians who looked at me curiously sometimes asking to take pictures (here I was THEIR tourist attraction). Walking down Janpath, I passed a black man and white woman couple and realized that was the first black person I'd seen in days.

I met up with Jean after at Spice Route, a thoughtfully designed bar in the Imperial Hotel. As the name implies, the Imperial seems like a holdover from the British Raj. Built in 1931 with a Victornia/Old Colonial and Art Deco style, it is a white refuge from the solicitations of the Dehli market place and traffic that extremely upper-class Indians participate in. We saw beautiful Indian women in saris wearing enormous jewels that seemed worth millions and suddenly we both felt self conscious in our respective hiking boots and tennis shoes, covered with the soot of the city seeing how the other other half lived. Tail between our legs and pride propping up our chins, we sauntered out of the Imperial Hotel and took a taxi back to Lutyen's Bungalow, back to the cool night of the garden and relative calm and quiet.


Unknown said...

I love your observations and adventures! What a great idea to set up this blog! Keep it up! Can you post any pictures? I don't know how much news you're getting. Pakistan is in a mess. Happy New Year!

Unknown said...

Happy New Year! I hope you'll tell what it's been like to ring in 2008 in India -- are you holed up with some beautiful Indian girl in some village? Have you been thrown in jail? Where are you? What are you doing? have you ridden an elephant yet? Obnoxious questions I know, but weirdly I've missed you this holiday - you are halfway around the world! whoa!

-cj- said...

pictures will be added after i get back. New Year's in India was kinda funny (reference upcoming post "If You've Seen One Taj, You've Seen 'Em Mahal"). but i missed you two though. thinking back i realized we'd spent the last two New Years together!