Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Delhi (India)

Delhi was very hot and very dusty. This is because it is one big construction site, as the city prepares for hosting the Commonwealth Games (like the Olympics, but only for countries with the Queen still on their money) in October. For example, picture one of those World War II movies like Saving Private Ryan where they run through the rubble of the town dodging snipers, except change the snipers to touts, and throw in a placid cow chewing rubbish, and you have the road just outside of our hotel and the New Delhi Railway Station. According to a newspaper snippet, we are not alone in thinking it would be a miracle for all the construction to get finished in time for the Games.

Shaking us out of the easy cocoon of Thai travel, India asserts itself immediately whenever one tries to negotiate for an autorickshaw. With the abundant scams and ever present touts, I am counting us lucky if we only get screwed once a day. Our first adventure was getting to the National Museum (filled with artifacts, sculpture, miniature paintings, and other works of art) where we agreed to a price that we later understood to be 2-3x the fare. Our autorickshaw driver talked non-stop the entire way trying to get us to go to other places, finally settling on parking a little away from the museum and pointing at the scaffolding, saying "oh, it is closed on Sunday." We had heard of this possible scam and insisted, and when we walked around the corner we found, of course, the museum was open as scheduled. Let's call this Autorickshaw driver - 1, Rich and Julie - 1.

After our first sour experience, we opted to walk to Connaught Place (a giant 3 circled roundabout with shops all along the way). This time we did not fall for the autorickshaw driver who tried to get us into his vehicle with a new one, "There are protests that way!" It took us forever to find the restaurant in the maze of construction, but we were rewarded with excellent unlimited thalis (trays with a set menu in tiny dishes). The set up was a bit like a Brazilian churrascaria with servers refilling your portions except without the necessary stop/go cards. As a result, you have the same guy asking if you want more parathas about 3 minutes after the last time he asked you. It was delicious though with these thalis having about 5 vegetable dishes, 3 kinds of dal (lentils), 3 kinds of bread, and various sweet things.

We also visited Lal Qila (Red Fort) in Old Delhi, one of the other impressive building ventures of the Mughal emperors. It was refreshing to walk around the different sandstone-edificed buildings without constant pressure from touts. Rich was very happy to have his first proper cup of tea in Asia (i.e. without condensed milk or ice). For lunch, we stopped along Chandri Chowk where Julie had yet another thali (this time, not unlimited) and Rich indulged in some chaat (Indian snacks). The raj kachori (a giant crispy shell filled with yogurt, lentils, and other nice things) and bhel puri (spicy crispy bits, the variation with pomengranate seeds) were awesome. [Special thanks to Muk for introducing us to such things!]

The Delhi Metro - clean, fast, and high tech- was a pleasant surprise. You get an electronic token that scans to let you in, and presumably, will alert the authorities if you try to exit at a place other than your stated destination. The only hiccup was the long lines to exit since there were technical difficulties at the gates, where the agents had to scan each person's token by hand.

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