Tuesday, February 15, 2011


At the Taj Mahal
Finally... part one of my India recap is below, with more to come. See also nica natasha.

My dear friend Natasha, smartie that she is, was accepted into the Fogarty International Scholars program and scored a sweet gig in New Delhi to do dental research in between her third and fourth year of dental school. She was kind enough to invite trolls to her Delhi digs, and we were delighted to take her up on her offer. So in early February, on the heels of my thirtieth birthday, I joined Christine and Harleen for the trip of a lifetime.

I arrived in the wee morning hours, endured a slightly terrifying cab ride with a driver who ignored most traffic laws and refused to speak English or Hindi, or to look at my map or directions. I finally arrived at Natasha’s house safe and sound and we stayed up all night catching up. We slept in in the morning, and ventured out around lunchtime. Perfect since I couldn’t wait for my first meal! She didn’t let me down, bringing out the big guns right away. A home run dish of saag paneer, delicious naan, perfectly cooked rice and paper dosa with yogurt. After lunch, we took an autorickshaw to Lajpat Nagar Market, which was an experience in and of itself! We weaved in and out of traffic, stopped for no one, but finally made it there alive.
bangles from the bangle walla

Once in the market, we carefully weaved our way through the densely packed crowds to check out the goods of the day. I barely made it three feet in before I made my first purchase, a beautiful tunic with a bold bright print and beautiful floral embroidery. When the vendor told me his price, I tried not to fall over as I reached for my wallet to give him the money. The price was unbelievable! Natasha congratulated me on my first purchase and promptly scolded me for not bargaining. We did much better from there on out. We maneuvered the market successfully purchasing silken scarves and other fun gifts, thanks to Natasha’s excellent tour guide skills and of course, her mother’s recent trip to visit her (thanks JJ!). After we’d had our fill at Lajpat, we went to see the bangle walla. I stocked up on beautiful bangles for my family, and Natasha got to practice her hindi. After seeing her at least try, the shopkeeper told her he wouldn’t make us pay the ‘foreigner’ price since she at least knew a little hindi. We were good with that.

After shopping, we took a break back at the homestead before walking to dinner to meet some friends at TLR Café in Hauz Khas. On the walk over, we passed amazing Muslim tombs on either side of the road and several spectacular temples. Natasha nearly had to drag me along to keep me from photographing everything. Once at the restaurant, we laughed as we were surrounded with Europeans and westerners. Turns out this restaurant catered to the ex-pat crowd. The food was great though, and the band amazing. We had a great night visiting with Natasha’s friends, and on the walk back home I was able to photograph some of the scenery (after nearly falling into a ditch. Which you do not want to do in India. On account of what’s in the ditch if you catch my drift…).
The next morning, we awoke and headed out maps in hand to see the local monuments. Our first stop was of course food. We enjoyed some great chat, including panipuri (yum) and lassi. Next up was Qutub Minar, the world's tallest brick minaret with a height of 237.8 ft. The structure is notable for being one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. It is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins, collectively known as Qutub complex. The grounds were absolutely beautiful, and the monuments extremely impressive. Almost equally impressive was the amount of attention I managed to attract on account of my being white and all ;) Both Natasha and I were confused by the strangers asking to have their pictures made with me. At first I thought maybe they had me confused with a celebrity or something. Natasha just thought it was overall hilarious. At one point, a line actually formed. She couldn’t have been happier ;) Also at this site, we enjoyed seeing the local strays, most especially ‘jacket dog’ as we called him. There are strays everywhere in India, but don’t feel sorry for them. They’re super fat and happy and lay around all day sunning themselves. I loved them all.

Next stop was Jantar Mantar, a famous collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in the early 1700s. He constructed a total of five such facilities at different locations, including the ones we saw in Delhi and Jaipur. The Jaipur observatory is the largest and best preserved of these. Built from local stone and marble, each instrument carries an astronomical scale, generally marked on the marble inner lining. Bronze tablets, all extraordinarily accurate, were also employed. An excursion through Jai Singh's Jantar is a unique experience of walking through solid geometry and encountering a collective astronomical system designed to probe the heavens.

The instruments are in most cases huge structures. The scale to which they have been built has been alleged to increase their accuracy. However, the penumbra of the sun can be as wide as 30 mm, making the 1mm increments of the Samrat Yantra sundial devoid of any practical significance. Additionally, the masons constructing the instruments had insufficient experience with construction of this scale, and subsidence of the foundations has subsequently misaligned them. The samrat yantra, which is a sundial, can be used to tell the time to an accuracy of about two seconds in Jaipur local time. The Giant Sundial, known as the Samrat Yantra (The Supreme Instrument) is the world's largest sundial, standing 27 meters tall. Its shadow moves visibly at 1 mm per second, or roughly a hand's breadth (6 cm) every minute, which for most people is a visibly profound experience. Today the observatory is a popular tourist attraction. However, local astronomers still use it to predict the weather for farmers, although their authority is becoming increasingly questionable.

Harleen and Christine were coming back from a side-trip to Amritsar to visit Harleen’s family and met us at a nearby Korean restaurant for dinner. All four musketeers reunited, we enjoyed a feast fit for a king and caught up on our adventures thus far.
With the gang all intact, we had a couple more monuments to cross off the list - so we headed out bright and early for Red Fort in old Delhi. Natasha and Harleen perfected the art of 'fobbing it up' so they could get the 'locals' price. We had a good laugh over the difference in tourist prices and citizen prices. For instance, the Taj Mahal cost Christine and I each 950 rupees, and for Harleen and Natasha a mere 20 rupees. You're welcome, browns! ;)
The Red Fort is a 17th century complex constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi. It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857, when Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled by the British Indian government. The British used it as a military camp until India became independent in 1947. It is a powerful symbol of India's sovereignty: the Prime Minister of India raises the flag of India on the ramparts of the Lahori Gate of the fort complex every year on Independence Day. 
We had a great time touring the historic site and taking lots of pictures, and managed to get some shopping in inside the fort's market. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of parawthe in chandni chowk, followed by more shopping. After haggling for possibly 30 minutes with various auto drivers, we finally convinced one to take us to Lotus Temple. We arrived just before sunset
The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India, popularly known as the Lotus Temple due to its flowerlike shape, was completed in 1986 and serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent. It has won numerous architectural awards and welcomes four million visitors each year (about 13,000 every day or 9 every minute).  
On Saturday, we had a delicious brunch at Mrs. Kaur’s Crepes in Khan Market with a couple of Natasha’s friends. Our new friend Elizabeth joined us for more shopping at Dilli Haat, where I finally successfully bargained and got some really great deals. But the best deal of the day was the kitty purries that Natasha bought for all of us. Hurrah! We finished off the day with a delightful picnic in the beautiful Lodi Gardens where we enjoyed all our favorite snacks, mixing culinary delights like pros. We even did an impromptu photo shoot for Show Us Your Sky.

Posing with our prized kitty purri
On Sunday, the gang and I enjoyed a quick sip of chai before I shuffled off to the airport. I was a brave non-revver on this trip, by necessity, as we tried our hand at Zedfares (flying on another airline at a discounted rate, still standby but with lower priority). I flew in and out of Dubai on DL flights and connected to Delhi via Zedfare. On the way there, I flew Jet Airways, and on the way back Emirates. Both were lovely, as was the Dubai airport. But I must say, an Emirates flight is a first class experience, even in coach. The food, the beverages, the service and amenities, oh my!

Once back at home, I snuggled down with my two favorite snuggle pals and recounted our adventures, my camera full of photos, my head full of stories and my heart full of memories and laughter from a once-in-a-lifetime trip with three of my favorite girls.

You can share the adventure by viewing photos from our trip here, and a few videos here.

>> More to come… stay tuned! Part Two: Agra and Jaipur coming soon.