Amazing New Delhi: The City that Never Sweeps

So, after my visa run in Nepal, I was back in India, much to my despair (if you don’t know why I write this, you haven’t read why I hated travelling in India). That being said, I will only complain for a few short sentences. Collectively, Indians are very aware of the challenges they face. At least the educated ones. While having breakfast, I found two articles in the same paper addressing two of the things I disliked the most about the country.

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1) Terrible driving habits. Said the senior Indian official: “I was travelling from New York to Washington and I was surprised to see that for several kilometres there were no traffic cops at any junction but the traffic was still moving without any interruption. It can happen here too…” Now that’s the spirit!

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2) Lack of public hygiene. “That India has little time when it comes to cleaning up is a no-brainer”, writes the editorialist.

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In the end, it’s really a problem of mindset. This is next to some Army Officer’s Mess. There is plenty of open space around. There are roofs, etc. I mean WTF! Clotheslines dudes! CLOTHESLINES! Who wants a towel that dried on the sidewalk?

Ok, enough. Some touristy stuff now.

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The Tomb of Humayoun. I had never heard of it and I expected nothing. I was very impressed. It’s a beautiful site not to be missed. The dude was an early 16th century Muslim Emperor who ruled at various times of his life parts of what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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He was either a very small man, or they really packed him tight in there.

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Delhi’s Red Fort. It’s big. It’s probably the main attraction, but I think the tomb is better.

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And it’s next to the Old City, which some tourists also like. I don’t understand why.

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Shish Gumbad, the tomb of some 15th century guy (I think his identity is still debated). Nice old buildings but nothing too special. However, the park, Lodhi Park, is very large and surprisingly clean. A rare pleasant place to walk around in Delhi.

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India Gate, the British-built war memorial.

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The Lotus Temple. For some reason we were set on our schedule and we just stopped for a moment without visiting. I regret it. If you are not familiar with this religion, it’s a rather new one founded in 19th century Persia, called Bahá’í. A peaceful religion that believes in unity, acceptance and strange spelling. I saw their world headquarters in Haifa, Israel. A very impressive site.

India has an immensely diversified and rich culinary tradition. Unfortunately, Michelle cannot eat peppers. I don’t mean she is a wimp when it comes to spicy food. I mean she cannot eat anything in the pepper family; from chilli powder to green bell peppers. This makes eating in India, or at least in Northern India, very, very difficult. Even if you order western food which shouldn’t have peppers in it, like pasta with pesto sauce or tomato sauce, the cook often has thrown in a little bit of something peppery. While she was working, I ended up often doing grocery store runs and she ate peanut butter sandwiches and bananas for dinner!

At least in the morning, the hotel had a selection of food she could eat without concerns. While they had eggs and the like, they also had strange “western” selections. This is a very broad generalization, but all over Asia, most people do not have the same feeling as Westerners that morning food has to be restricted only to certain things. Soup is good, so why not have it for breakfast? Accordingly, the hotel had a hot buffet for breakfast with Indian curries and rice dishes. But since it is an international business hotel, they felt they should have “Western food” there also. And so they did, but things very few westerners would ever think to have for breakfast, like roasted chicken! And then, one morning, they completely stunned me.

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Beef tenderloin! I didn’t even know that was legal in India, let alone served in a buffet. Of course I had to have it. My first ever beef tenderloin breakfast. Later, I researched this out of curiosity. The law varies by state, but in the capital, even imported beef is illegal. Anything labeled as “tenderloin” is actually buffalo meat. OK then, my first ever buffalo tenderloin breakfast!

The Taj Palace Hotel was convenient for Michelle’s work, but a 5 star jail for me. Located away from everything between a bunch of embassies and an Army base. Luckily, if I walked about a mile around the base, I would get to a little university neighbourhood. The narrow streets had mostly only motorbike traffic, strangely for India there were women walking around and it had almost everything you would need for a daily stroll. Restaurants and cafes, grocery shops and a laundromat. I dropped a bag of clothes and paid $4.30 for the service. I then took the laundry price list out of the hotel closet and calculated how much it would have cost, just for fun. $99.65! The only thing missing: booze. No bars and no liquor stores. Amazing in a university neighbourhood. As it turns out, along with a few other Indian cities, the drinking age in Delhi is an incredible 25 years old. No other jurisdiction in the world has a minimum drinking age above 21, which already is highly unusual and only restricted to a few Muslim countries and the United States.

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I even sampled some street food there. Deep-fried chicken momos (a kind of dumpling) with “gravy”. Of course, “gravy” means hot pepper sauce. Less than a dollar and I was stuffed. Very nice considering that at the hotel, even though Michelle’s work paid for the room, I had to pay a small out-of-pocket supplement for double occupancy, because breakfast was included. Only $31 a day, which of course, is more than I would normally pay in India for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a hotel night.

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The kid cooking the momos. Not a common sight in urban India. Turns out, he was only replacing a grown up who showed up a few minutes later.

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Khan Market, a place I mentioned before. Rather pleasant, popular with expats, tourists and well-off Indians. Many nice restaurants and shops.

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I tried pulled pork pizza for the first time. Not a success. Luckily for Michelle, we found a restaurant inside a chain of expensive home decoration stores called Good Earth. They served very nice, modern western food that would easily pass the test in a decent mid-range restaurant in, say London. Unsurprisingly, it also costs the same as it would in London.

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“Dainty potato gnocchi tossed in pesto, roasted zucchini and toasted pine nuts.  Absolutely delicious, if a little rich. “I would go back to India just to have it again”… Is what I would say… If I had a very serious brain disorder. But seriously, we went 2 or 3 times and everything was nice.

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I can’t say the same for this “Chizza”. An India-only creation by KFC. “Pizza without the crust”. I don’t think we’ll see this in Canadian KFCs anytime soon. Of course I had to try it. If you think it looks greasy and gross, congratulations, you are very perceptive.

Finally, a few funny signs.

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I actually used this guy’s picture as my personal Facebook profile picture for a week!

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I don’t know if I have ever seen this kind of political correctness in Asia before.

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I have a friend who is quite tall and very fit. He once walked into a store called something like “Big and Tall”. The salesman looked him over and said:

– “I’m sorry Sir. I don’t believe we have anything in your size.”

– “But the store is called “Big and Tall” and I’m tall.”, he replied.

The salesman looked around and said: “Yeah, really it means fat”.

#India

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