India Holiday – Day 2

Today, Mamta had curry for breakfast (Parathas) and thoroughly enjoyed it; I tried more traditional fare as I’m not sure I can do 3 curries a day! The Haze is better than Day 1, but I can still taste the burning tires. Visibility is much better too, we can see perhaps 1000m! Nice temperature of 20C in the morning and 25C in the afternoon, it’s hard to believe it’s nearly Christmas. Nevertheless, the locals are wearing sweaters and jackets and are muttering about winter being very cold.  I guess that when it gets up to 45-48C in summer, 15C in the night is cold-ish 🙂

Off to see the sights with our Delhi guide from TransIndus.

Motorbikes are literally everywhere. Helmets are mandatory, but only for men – there was outcry when it became mandatory for women too a few years ago, so now it’s optional for women who prefer neat hair over life. Which seems to be all of them! Or perhaps it’s the men who prefer their wives looking beautiful?

Parliament is a big round building, and the presidential palace was the viceroy’s until independence in 1947 – and he stayed there for 5 years after independence. There is no right of access to this area for the general public, which is a bit weird, but explains the absence of the usual crowds. Old Ambassador cars are still used by VIPs, and the design has been unchanged forever (just motor upgrades every now and then), and it shows. I think they look rubbish.

Went to the oldest part of New Delhi, which is 2-3,000 years old and saw the Qutub Minar  – a huge brick minaret built over a long period of time, started by Hindus and completed by Muslims. Muslims hacked off the faces of all the ornaments when they took over the rule, sadly, marring the beauty of the surrounding structures.

At Humayun’s Tomb, 160 family members from the same generation are interred, very impressive. It’s a big symmetrical structure with gates, fountains, a big lawn cut into 16 “gardens”.  Here we saw at least a million school kids in colourful uniforms. Very cute and happy 🙂  Interestingly, our guide did not want to enter the monument as Hindus apparently do not want to enter a burial site.

Lunch in nice restaurant near India Gate, and the food was ok. Apparently, the Delhi Golf Club is the most expensive in the world. Sounds unbelievable, but then there is a lot of money as well as a lot of poverty here so perhaps it’s true.

Saw the India Gate war memorial, commemorating the 80,000 soldiers India sent to help during WW1 – they all died, not a single one returned. The monument itself did not look terribly interesting and we only stayed for 2 minutes – we were not allowed to linger.

Frankly, our guide is weird; he is annoyingly patronizing and clearly wanted to get rid of us. He seemed unsure of where to take us, and suggested we have two half-days of sightseeing when our programme clearly calls for two whole days.  In the end, we got half a day: from 10am to 2:30pm, including lunch. When Mamta asked if we could spare 2 minutes for Iain to see a snake charmer, he said “no, they are everywhere”. We haven’t seen another one since, but hopefully will…

Returned to the hotel for a nap, then went to Connaught Place for shopping and dinner. It’s a huge, mad place, with designer shops next to… not-designer-holes-in-the-wall.  It seems odd that there is no effort to patch the pavement, wash the walls, and generally clear out the sewage and garbage, even right outside high-prestige shops. It definitely makes for a high-contrast experience.

Had dinner and cocktail at a restaurant until we remembered not to eat ice! It is normally made from unfiltered, potentially dangerous tap water – hopefully there will be no Delhi Belly tomorrow! I had the most awesome Mutton Dosa though, and we then took an autorickshaw back to the hotel. Iain thought that ride was the best part of the day 🙂

When relaxing, Iain is reading Hunger Games, I am reading the gripping Daemon, and Mamta is playing Candy Crush. I like holidays 🙂

 

India Holiday – Day 1: Delhi

What a day! We checked in early to enjoy the full experience of the Virgin Clubhouse in Heathrow – and had a haircut and pork belly for dinner, all included in the Upper Class experience. What a difference to “normal” air travel, and a great start to our holiday 🙂  I am sure Iain will look with disdain at flying any other way now – the experience with free food, huge comfortable lounges and a seat that turns into an actual bed with duvet and pillow is indeed hard to beat!

One in New Delhi, the first thing we noticed is the fog . Haze. Smog. According to the forecast, it is meant to be sunny, but it is just hazy to perhaps 200m visibility. Brown, smelly soup that tastes of burnt tires is how Iain describes it, and it’s spot on.

On the streets, it is much like the India I know: busy, busy, busy, and loads of garbage everywhere you look. But everyone being so nice and friendly too, it’s definitely not a “hostile” kind of busy.

The Metropolitan is a very nice hotel, but not quite as well organized as hoped. They didn’t know that we needed to sleep 3 people and I hope that is not a sign of things to come – but they quickly sorted that out, thankfully.

After a short nap, dinner in the local Indian restaurant was great; our first curry. I had Tikka Masala, and enjoyed it hugely 🙂

Then off to see the relatives in Old Delhi, where Mamta’s dad Mahavir was born and grew up. Subzi Mandi is a part of town that looks and feels quite different from what we saw in New Delhi: narrow streets, throngs of people, market stalls with fresh produce everywhere, and shops specializing in everything from shoelaces to… Well, you name it. A huge, busy mass of humanity describes it well, I think!

The relatives were lovely; we met about 20 of them I think and there were super friendly, really enjoyed meeting them. We risked having some chawel (rice), and hope it will be ok – it certainly was well tasty! Got to speak to Ricky, who spent 8 months in London until May and really wants to go back – works as a programmer for Tata Consulting on the Lloyds TSB web site. Super nice guy 🙂

A long discussion later and then a trip to the streets – for everyone! – to find a data SIM for the iPhone so we can have Internet. It is possible to get this, even at 9pm on a Sunday, but the cards apparently take 5-6 days to get activated! That is a while and I will try to find a Vodafone shop tomorrow and see if I have more luck. Until then, we cut one of Ricky’s SIM cards to fit the iPhone, so now have a local phone number, yay 🙂

We also got presents – a really nice shirt, tie, cufflinks and handkerchief for me, and lots of stuff for Mamta and Aruna. Iain got a big basket of sweets that I’m sure he’ll enjoy. Oh, and money too! Definitely too much! And finally, we all got a red dot on the forehead, Indian style.

I learned a few Hindi words, which I have now forgotten 🙁 and learned about greetings for elders, kids, etc. Bottom line is that a) it is complicated, b) the family helps out with directions, c) it involves touching of legs, feet and hair in particular ways, and d) everyone ends up having a laugh. Clearly the rituals are important, but everyone is understanding of n00bs too 🙂

Now back at the hotel, relaxing. We decided to get a couple of half bottles of whiskey to both try some new ones and to give a little help to the digestive system, and tonight tried the Balvennie whiskey. Yum, I’m sure it will help.

Oh, and there were at least 5 power cuts just today! That is a bit scary, particularly when you are in the lift, but I suppose we’ll get used to it.  The locals don’t seem to notice 🙂

Big day tomorrow, can’t wait to see more of the city t I have to think of as the Big Stink 🙂

First impressions of Kiev

Last week, I visited Kiev – which is the capital of Ukraine – for a couple of days. Before I forget why it was special, I would like to share some of my initial impressions of this fascinating place.

UkraineImmigration at the airport was effective and painless, although the officials were as stern and humourless as those types always seem. The airport is also not very large (at least compared to Heathrow The Monster) and I was outside quickly.

Here, I was met by a driver holding a sign, and as I nodded to him he walked off, leaving me to follow him into the car park. The walk was short and I got in after him, asking him if he had been waiting long.

“No English”, he said and smiled. This turned out to be quite common – most Ukrainians know Ukrainian and Russian, and not much else. Not too far from most English, who know both English and American.

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