Friday, August 27, 2010
Delhi (No Belly)
As soon as we learned we'd be going to India, we wrote to our dear friend Rishi, a former student of ours who hails from outside of Mumbai. He immediately wrote back with wonderfully detailed advice about each of the cities we'd be visiting, and told us some good news: He'd actually be in Delhi at the same time we were there, so we'd get to meet up!
That was the good news. But here was his unvarnished take on the city:
New Delhi - Hot and really really disgusting, in almost every way. I'm actually sad that I'll be seeing you in this truly terrible place. The Commonwealth Games - the Olympics for the "we used to be part of the empire" world, are beginning in October in Delhi. The city is scrambling to make all sorts of deadlines, including construction of a whole lot of crap. The Delhi Metro (which everyone will tell you about) is also under construction, and it means that the shortest driving distance will take hours.
Now, Rishi is a champion complainer. He has the comic's gift for complaining about everything, big and small, but being so entertaining about it that you would never ever say he has a bad attitude.
So we took his condemnation of the city with a grain of salt. And thus, with our expectations properly in check, we arrived in Delhi late one hot and rainy afternoon, and met up with Rishi, who whisked us around the city on a whirlwind tour.
Aside from the day we landed, our duties with the Consulate had us scheduled to within an inch of our life, so we really didn't get a chance to see many of the monuments the city is famous for.
But on that first evening, Rishi ushered us into the Jantar Mantar ten minutes before closing. It's a huge astronomical observatory built in the early 1700s that today feels like it was made for amazing photo ops.
And then we saw the Gate of India, both a memorial to Indians who died fighting for the British in both World War I and Afghanistan, and a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Turns out it's also not a bad place to buy postcards.
We concluded the night with a leisurely meal at Veda, a very hip, newish restaurant from the fashion designer Rohit Bal. It feels like a hangout for sexy Indian vampires, as envisioned by Moghuls who dabble in time travel and have a penchant for perfectly cooked kebabs.
We would have liked to see the Red Fort, but alas, time did not permit. Rishi described it so vividly, I'm going to share his description with you anyhow:
I would really recommend seeing the Red Fort, it was built by the same emperor who built the Taj Mahal, and it is absolutely beautiful. The ceilings in some of the outdoor rooms were once studded with gold, diamonds and rubies - incomparable. Its also deeply depressing as, when the British invaded, they built their barracks in front of the fort, ousting the emperor. The gold and diamonds essentially became their personal piggy bank in the backyard, and they plundered like it was their job (which it was).
We got to see Rishi once more, following our performance. He and Prabh (another Colby alum, though not one of our students) took us out to a private club that Prabh is a fourth-generation member of.
These clubs are a big deal in India. In no small part because alcohol is heavily taxed all over India, except at these private clubs, which the government treats as non-profits. It's quite a loophole. Prabh's parents put him on the waiting list the day he was born. (Ok, maybe the day after.)
Afterwards, Prabh gave us a ride back to our hotel. He was driving his mother's car, and the amusing thing about this car was that it had both a Colby sticker on the back, and a stuffed lobster within, which Prabh say have been there ever since he was accepted into Colby.
So though we didn't get to see too much of India's capital city, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Rishi and Prabh, who gave a very human and personal touch to our time in Delhi.