( Note, having trouble uploading pictures, as the internet connection is patchy, so for now will just upload the text)
Fri Dec 21
Gurgaon and Delhi
We arrived in Delhi about an hour late, around 4:15 am. We were greeted by a friendly face from WE, named Raj, who got us safely to the hotel around 5:30 am. We checked in, got to our rooms (on three different floors) and then went down for “breakfast”.
The Leela Hotel is absolutely beautiful, with water on platforms through the lobby, a Christmas tree and huge two-storey gingerbread house. Their main floor breakfast buffet restaurant is called Spectra. It was stunning! The food was…to die for. It was 6:30 in the morning, and the choices were dizzying. There was breakfast food (an omelette bar, assorted pastries, waffles, pancakes, breakfast meats, fruit, cereals, and yogurts), but there was also a wide variety of hot Indian Food, Arabic Food, and Japanese food. There were so many choices and so many things we have never seen or eaten before. There were numerous veggie options, and everything was delicious. A typical all-you-can-eat buffet has mostly mediocre food, but this place everything was superb! I figure that if I ever get to heaven, it will look something like the Spectra restaurant.
This area is full of juxtapositions. Gurgaon, more recently also known as Gurugram, is a very urban area with many high-rise apartment buildings, commerce centres, modern metro stations, malls and highways. Amidst the development, in the “cracks” so to speak, there are still dilapidated buildings and poverty. The area just outside Delhi has a population of approximately 900,000 people. On our walk to the metro after a necessary two hour rest, we noted a lot of garbage at the roadside, and the sidewalks are more like a perpetual construction site.
Maxine was still recovering from a virus she had before we left and decided to rest and then explore the immediate area of our hotel. The rest of us decided to take the metro to a ruins site called Qutub Minar. The main attraction of the complex is a 73-metre (239.5 feet) tapering tower of five storeys, with a 14.3 metre (47 feet) base diameter, reducing to 2.7 metres (9 feet) at the top of the peak. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps, although the tower itself has a fence around it. So no stair-climbing or wall-scaling allowed, much to the chagrin of the four boys in our family.The boys watched the informative movie about the entire site and then we made our way around the grounds. The design of the tower is thought to have been based on the Minaret of Jam, in western Afghanistan. The ruins were fascinating and in varying states of repair. They were constructed with red sandstone but also had marble features. The carving was intricate both on the minaret itself and on the buildings in the surrounding compound. Twelve thousand people visit the site every day, mostly Indian nationals. Foreign tourists pay fifteen times the price paid by locals, but we also had a separate ticket line and entrance line, which likely saved us over an hour. Even though there were many people. the site is very spread out and there were many calm places within the park to relax and picnic or run around and parkour.
We did get turned around a few times, but we were able to navigate the area easily with public transit, taxis and auto rickshaws. The metro system in the Delhi area was very impressive – impeccably clean, and easy to navigate. We enjoyed seeing the greenery outside of Delhi, with communities hidden under the trees, the different buildings and even slum neighbourhoods.
After visiting the ruin of Qutub Minar, we went in a completely different direction and visited a trendy complex called “Cyberhub”. It was a complex full of restaurants and shopping. We had dinner on a patio and sampled some interesting Indian and Turkish Fusion cuisine. We were pretty exhausted at this point, so we walked back to the hotel for the night, passing a large collection of auto rickshaws, the teens in one room and parents split up with the younger boys for the night.
Sat Dec 22
Considering that we had left these two days to relax and adjust, we still managed to fit in many activities. We started the day with a leisurely meal at Spectra and then headed out for our excursions. Today, the breakfast offerings were half different and still everything was superb. We let Noam sleep for 14 hours.
Our first stop was the Old Delhi Market. We got off at the Chandni Chowk Metro station and wove our way through the textile area of the Markets until we reached Connaught Centre which is in New Delhi. As soon as we stepped of the Metro in “Old Delhi”, we knew we were not in Gurgaon anymore. The park outside the station was full of souls sleeping on the ground during the sunny warm daytime. The market area was a bit overwhelming at first. There was a labyrinth of tiny aisles jam-packed with all types of stall with things to buy. For the most part, there were distinct districts within the market itself – i.e. the textiles area, the oils and fragrance area, the spice area, the fruits and vegetable area, the household items area etc…It was an interesting mix of smells; some pungent, some savoury, some sweet, some nauseating. There were so many people bustling around, we were always in someone’s way. The main arteries were clogged with auto rickshaws, animals pulling carts, people pulling carts, bicycles, trucks, all in a complete jumble. There were also animals of all types: cows, goats, monkeys, buffalo, to name a few. For the most part, no one bothered us too much. We were the only tourists around, so mostly people were smiling and/or chuckling at us as our group of 8 walked by. One woman actually seemed annoyed that we were there, telling us “There is nothing here for you to buy, it is just our regular market”.
After walking for a long while, the boys were getting hungry, so we decided to flag down an auto rickshaw to hopefully speed up the process. One gentleman offered to take us, named his price, and then we all ended up piling in to one tiny auto rickshaw, yes, all 8 of us. 7 of us in the back where there should be at most 4 people and Erez shared a tiny seat with the driver in the front. It was quite comical – if people were chuckling before, they were laughing out loud as we navigated through the traffic jam. It was an adventure, to say the least. The funniest part was when the driver stopped, ran into a nearby shop to get a wrench, tweaked a bunch of things under the rickshaw and then soldiered on, probably regretting he had ever agreed to take us on. We are still not quite sure why we ended up in one rickshaw instead of two…
We ate lunch in Connaught Place, at a small coffee house. This area was in complete juxtaposition to the market in Old Delhi. While Old Delhi was haphazard and dilapidated, New Delhi’s Connaught place was full of European-style architecture, western chain stores and restaurants…still crowded, but certainly had a different feel.
On the way home we split up. Aubrey, Erez and Zev decided to find a rock climbing gym ( blogpost from Erez forthcoming), and Maxine, Michelle, Koren, Noam and Teva decided to check out a Bollywood-style theatrical performance in Gurgaon.
Kingdom of Dreams:
The KIngdom of Dreams is a theatre complex with three huge theatres, that look like they belong in Las Vegas: beautiful, over the top buildings. The theatre we were in was quite large. The play was in Hindi but there were translator units available if we were willing to leave our credit cards as collateral. We were not willing and took our chances that the spectacle of the show would be enough.
We weren’t disappointed. The production was called Jangeroon: The Gypsy Prince. it was full of beautiful, colourful, flashy costumes, gorgeous dramatic sets and lighting, and of course, many actors flying through the theatre by harness on a trapeze, including one scene where the main character flies down out of the sky being “carried” by a giant eagle to save the day. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The musical numbers were energetic and captivating, and even though the show was in Hindi, we were able to figure out the gist of the plot. Unfortunately, jet lag was setting in and we ended up leaving at the intermission, Teva especially was fading, and frankly, so were some of the adults.