Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Darjeeling Limited... now I get it.

New Delhi, India. When I first watched the film The Royal Tenenbaums, I thought director Wes Anderson (and co-screenplay writer Owen Wilson) did a brilliant job of capturing the quirky and bizarre characters that really do inhabit New York City. This time Anderson went even further, by taking those similarly strange characters and sending them on a spiritual journey to India in the Darjeeling Limited. I always enjoyed this off-beat comedy, but when I watched it again, crashed out in our hotel room in New Delhi (in between bathroom runs), I gained new appreciation for the writers and picked up on many little nuances I would have otherwise missed, like: sweet lime, Jack running barefoot to catch the train, the funky auto rickshaws, 3-persons crammed on a 150cc Honda motorbike, savory snacks, and not to mention the vast array of pharmaceuticals that are readily available without a prescription (which I myself have been been procuring from the local chemist). The charm is in the details, when you're like: "oh yeah, now I understand what that was all about." It reaffirmed everything that I enjoy about traveling.

Even so, the movie missed a few things that I got to experience first hand. When we went out to Hotel Imperial the other night; arguably the swankiest hotel in Delhi-- all I had to wear was grungy backpacker apparel (hardly the attire required for an evening at the Imperial's exclusive Spice Route Restaurant). To remedy the situation, I put together an outfit in record time. I purchased a crisp, blue linen shirt for 300 INR ($6.30 USD) in Main Bazaar, and had a pair of white linen pants tailor-made for me in Paharganj (down the road from our hotel) in about 4 hours for 850 INR ($17.85 USD). For less than $25... you can't get that kind of service in North America.

It's our 4th week in India and Delhi has become our transient home. Locals know us by now as we walk down familiar streets and flag down rickshaw wallahs-- the most efficient form of urban transport in the city. Delhi has some very tasty food, but my stomach is having a hard time adjusting. There's lots of interesting shops to keep us busy though. We've spent some down time doing our fair share of browsing for regional hand-made crafts, paintings by local artists and even picked up a Kashmiri carpet which looks like it sells for at least twice as much in NYC. The other day we went to a local movie theater and watched the new, smash-hit Bollywood crime-comedy called '99'- in Hindi. It's like a Guy Ritchie flick, but filmed mostly in New Delhi. Seeing all the places we've been to in the movie was kind of neat and made us feel like Delhi was our current home.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Food in New Delhi

New Delhi, India. We have been enjoying some really yummy food on this trip. As it turns out, our hotel puts out some really nice North Indian food and we are addicted to their garlic naans. Only the Tandoor (clay oven) doesn't start working until 7 pm. So we have to wait a little longer before ordering.

Some of the food high/low lights include:

The Spice Route, Central Delhi - South India and Thai Fusion - located @ the Imperial Hotel, which is one of the more expensive old school hotels in Delhi. People like Jinnah have stayed here. Supposedly this is where he came up with the idea of creating Pakistan. What an auspicious day that must have been. Anyways, going back to the food - the service was immaculate but that was just glossing over the mediocrity of the food. We had specifically asked for mild seasoning and that is not what we got. The food was good and edible but definitely not worth the price tag which was came out to a whopping $40 a person. In a city where you can get a delicious meal for 40 INR, or $.50 cents, that's a lot of money.  But you get to dress up and play ritzy for a night.

Parikrama - the Rotating Restaurant in New Delhi - Food was excellent. Prices were good and the views just lovely. We really enjoyed good Tandoori food here. Dessert wasn't so great. I recommend it for their Indian food because their Chinese food tasted great but it was definietly made by someone who has never had Chinese food. We ordered Tempura, which I thought was Japanese but was found on their Chinese menu and tasted like a Pakora.

Sagar Ratna - South Indian Restaurant - Probably one of our favorite restaurants in New Delhi. It is always filled with locals which is a good sign. The prices are totally affordabel and we tried Dosas, Vadas and other South Indian food that even I have never had before. It was yummy and we have been back once so far.

Cafe Coffee Day - Local answer to Starbucks - Great iced coffees and regular coffees, espressos and cappuccinos. They also have good sandwiches and lots of locations all over. So this works out as a great option when you don't want to think too much about how clean the place is etc before ordering.

And yes, I admit, we have been to KFC once. It tastes okay. Definitely not as great as I remember it tasting when I was little and my parents would drive us hours to go eat at a KFC in Saudi Arab. It is spicy so they definitely add some pepper to the batter and the best part is that the chicken is skinless so has way lesser calories and fat. Loved their 25 INR Choc Amore which is a yummy browny with a liquid middle.

While I am on confessions, we have also been to McDonalds more than once. The first time we had to try the Indian Burger which is a vegetable patty and tastes Indian so they add a few spices. The next time we had a McChicken and the Chicken Maharaja Mac. McChicken tasted the same but ofcourse there can only be one Chicken Maharaja Mac that they sell only in India :)

Speaking of all this food, I think we better head back to our hotel before the restaurant closes and all the garlic naans are gone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New link to our FindMeSpot Adventure Map

Contemplating a Journey Around the World

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging
New Delhi, India
I picked up a new Vodafone SIM card in India. I purchased it in Delhi at a local mobile phone shop. It costs 300 INR (or $6USD) and then you buy recharge cards in denominations like 10 to 100 INR. Like Kathmandu, it's also cheap and convenient in India. International incoming calls are free for us (I think). We can also send/receive SMS text messages. Give us a ring if you have some time, we'd love to hear from friends and family.

(dial from U.S.): 011-91-965-424-6732


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In and around Jaipur

On our first evening in Jaipur, we were taken out to the Amber Fort for a beautiful sound and light presentation of the history of this very old fort. The very next morning (May 3rd) we returned early to go see the fort from the inside. We also visited the Jai Garh Fort later in the morning which is home of the largest cannon in the world. This followed a visit to the City Palace Museum, that houses some of the furnishings and clothing of the rulers of the Amber fort. We were treated by a lovely traditional Rajasthani Thali lunch.

The next morning, we had planned to go to Agra in a taxi that was arranged for us by our hosts. However, the heat from the day before made us take a rest day instead and push our Agra trip to the next day. I used this opportunity to spend the day shopping instead. We went to lovely shop called Rana Saris in Jaipur and I spent lots of time and money buying some beautiful Rajasthani Saris. Good thing they had a sale going on and I went with a cousin of Meera's who is a frequent shopper at this shop. I felt like I was treated like royalty as the shop keeper pulled out one sari after another for me to inspect and pick out.

On May 5th, we took the 4.5 hour drive to Agra and went to go see the Taj Mahal. First we had lunch at a restaurant called Zorba the Buddha and then we headed to Taj Mahal around 1.30 pm which is the hottest part of the day. The entrance to the Taj was about 750 INR (12 USD) for foreigners and only 20 INR for Indians. So I asked for two tickets for the tourists (Vadim and Lily) and one Indian one. We saved 730 INR and my visit to the Taj was so much more pleasant for it :)

For the most part, people think that I am the tour guide for the foreigners that I am travelling with. I was even offered a 20% commission to bring them into the gift shop at the Taj Mahal.

The drive back from Agra to Jaipur took almost 5.5 hours because of traffic. But thankfully it started to rain on the way back and the weather was much more pleasant. This was our last evening in Jaipur

On an entirely different note, if anyone is ever headed to Jaipur, we would highly recommend the guest house we stayed at:


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Train Ride to Jaipur....

On our Way to Jaipur, Rajasthan...
We arrived in New Delhi without a hitch after having to pay 1140 INR for extra baggage and another 48 USD each to extend our Nepali visa by six days. We had to pay a 30 USD extension fee and then 3 USD a day per person to extend it for six more days. So far, we ended up paying 78 USD each for our 36 day visa to Nepal. Which is really quite expensive considering a 6 month multi entery visa to India is only 40USD.

Our train ride to Jaipur was a breeze once we got on the train. A couple of guys at the train station tried to scam us into giving them money for tickets that were prepaid with assigned seat numbers. The scam goes as follows:

A very friendly guy at the train station tells you the way to your track. Then he tells you that you have to have your tickets stamped by the tourist office upstairs before you board the train. At 5.30 am, the Tourist office is closed but his two friends are standing by without ID or uniform to tell you that the acronym 'WS' means that you have two reserved seats and one "waiting seat" and that they would be happy to help you sort it out once you pay them 20 USD a piece for Governement tax and give them your passport numbers. Turns out that the first class tickets only cost about 15 USD a piece so it seemed ridiculous that the goverment forgot to charge this 20 USD tax at the time of the sale. We got our tickets back from them and headed to the train and found our names as confirmed passengers on the list posted on the first class rail car. The train ride was great otherwise. We were served snacks and tea every half hour to 40 minutes. The scenery was very enjoyable as the terrain starts to become more like a desert the closer we got to Rajasthan. Unfortunately, this also included a glimpse into the daiy life of the shanty town dwellers along the train tracks.

At the trains station in Jaipur we were greeted by our host for the week, Meera Ranawat. Meera is the mother of Vadim's good friend Navdeep Ranawat (Andy), who lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2000. Meera was kind enough to take us to her home and have us stay at her cousin's guesthouse which is part of their residence for the next 4 nights. Here we were treated like royalty with every need of ours being met without having to ask. I felt so very spoiled.