Day 1 –New Delhi, India
Shot of the Day - Chaos on the Market Streets
For Paula and I, India has been over a year in the planning, and thanks to our wonderful flight on a brand new state of the art Boeing 787 Dreamliner, including a view of the moon rising over the Russian frozen landscape, we arrived on Jan 2 into New Delhi to begin our 27 day adventure. After a challenging sleep, a fabulous breakfast and a short tour of our hotel, we were picked up by Sujata, our guide for the next two days while in Delhi.
The next 8 hours was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced to date and it provided us with our first glimpse into the India we only read and heard about from many previous visitors. WOW! If you are wondering how to prepare for your first trip to India, I’m here to tell you, you can’t – you have to go, jump in and experience it for yourself – it’s truly unimaginable.
My feeling of awakening in a new exotic country is always so exciting, the anticipation is electric – India did not disappoint. Our day included mostly a tour of Old Delhi, a rickshaw ride through the old market, vegetable shopping at our guides favourite market (off the tourist route) and finished with a cooking lesson and dinner at our guide’s private home. While that may sound like a short and sweet first day, it was anything but. The flavours we tasted at breakfast nothing short of exquisite. Indian spices, special Indian coffee and a wide variety of egg, pancake and pastry dishes, all topped off with world class hospitality from the staff at the Leela Palace’s Kube restaurant.
So, what’s it really like in Delhi? Just when you thought that Cairo had the craziest drivers in the world, or the pollution was the worst in Beijing or that the markets were the busiest in Istanbul – you have no idea how chaotic things can get, as only India can deliver – it was truly an assault on all your senses. By the way did I mention the large fruit bats hanging from the trees on the side of the street in broad daylight – hmmm, never knew bats didn’t have to sleep in caves.
Drivers drive at a frenetic pace, cutting each other off every 10 seconds, the sounds of never ending relentless horns blowing – never letting up, motorcyclists darting between impossibly tight traffic at impossibly high speeds, and people just walking across the street, whenever and wherever they want with cell phones in hand, knowing that the drivers burden the responsibility to not run them over. It’s a world where everyone moves at an elevated and hectic pace, while respecting each others space, no matter how limited that space is.
There are unique birds - Indian eagles, Indian doves and pigeons chasing each other, or getting chased in a never ending dance in the sky. And the “wire monkeys” climbing everywhere along the electrical power and telephone lines that make a bowl of spaghetti look like a straight line - one has to see this to believe it. The rickshaws weave their way through the narrow market streets where most of the time everything jambs up so tight, it seems impossible to believe that you’ll ever get out. At one point our lead rickshaw driver had an accidental collision with a merchant on a bike who was precipitously carrying his gigantic container of buttermilk. The bike fell over, the buttermilk spilt everywhere and the war of words began and grew to a crescendo. The locals got involved and a fight almost broke out between the two drivers, but our guide came to rescue and negotiated a financial deal that they both could live with – and before we knew it, we were once again on our hair-raising way through the market streets. Speciality markets for spices, car parts, wedding dresses, food, fabrics, the list goes on.
The traffic on the way to Sujata’s house was filled with the sheer chaos of drivers jockeying for position, people hanging their clothes to dry on the medians, local bus stops moving the Indian people to and from their destinations. Travelling across a city of 22 million people takes time and patience, God bless our driver. We finally arrived near Sujata’s house and then walked through a local (non-tourista) vegetable market where she shops. After walking down a little dark corridor on a side street, voila – there in front of us was the most interesting and hidden away fresh vegetable market I’ve ever seen – straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, including monkeys pretending they’re humans as the run, jump and hunt around looking to find or steal food from unsuspecting merchants.
Sujata, a self trained chef who is passionate about food, invited us into her quaint home where we met her two daughters and her mother in law. Their young dog named “Kiwi” was a real excitable handful, and was only calmed down when the big stick came out. Paula and I prepared the snow peas for cooking, and Sujata then prepared five fabulous traditional Indian curried dishes that were spiced to perfection, including: Chicken, basmati rice, paneer curry, eggplant and chupati. It was absolutely fabulous – thank you our little chef Sujata for your hospitality and opening up your home.
Back at the hotel it was early to bed, and tomorrow, New Delhi sights await.