Sunday, March 20, 2016

India – February, 2016 – Delhi to Delhi
Off to India, one of my favorite countries in the world!!!  Left out of orange county which was very convenient and arrived at 2:00 a.m. the next morning in Delhi!!!  Am staying again at the delightful Shanti Home and had a car pick me up as it was sooo late.  Took a hot shower and slept until 9:00 a.m.  Delicious breakfast on the terrace (one of the reasons I love Shanti Home) was all made to order:  hard cooked eggs, crepes filled with sugar and an Indian dish.  Shanti Home is a bit far from the center but there is a metro a 10 minute walk away.  A hotel worker walked me to the metro, got me organized and off I went to the Craft Museum.

I had been to the Craft Museum a few years ago but didn’t really have enough time to see it well.  So, I spent a nice 2 hours enjoying the wall hangings, embroidery, saris, etc.  Had a delicious lunch, i.e. corn pancakes, pureed mustard greens, jaggerty at the museum’s little café and then, refreshed, headed to the Kahn Market.  Found a cute little blouse at the Anokhi shop and wandered around a bit.  Stopped for a quick walk around Connaught square before heading back to the hotel for a rest.

Have been invited to an Indian wedding the following night and this afternoon the bride’s party was having their hands painted in henna.  I chatted a bit with everyone and then they painted one of my hands as well – so beautiful.  Took a taxi to Indian Accents Restaurant and had a fabulous meal, i.e. blue cheese mini naan, burrata with tomato chutney, walnuts and crispy crackers, shredded spicy duck “cone”, shrimp wrapped in bacon w/wasabi cream, sweet and spicy pork ribs, soft shell crab pieces deep fried in coconut flour with tomato pickle sauce, sorbet on a stick, pepper fish on greens with spicy sauce, dal, yogurt/avocado sauce, bacon stuffed naan and carrot crumble and chocolate fudge layered brownie for dessert followed by tiny cardamom cookies and mango candies. 

I returned to the hotel by taxi and the festivities for the next day’s wedding were still going on.  Had a look at the buffet, listened to the band and watched the dancing before turning in…

After another delicious breakfast on the terrace, I took the metro to the Qutb Minar Complex where the first monuments here were erected by the sultans of Mehrauli and subsequent rulers expanded on their work. Hiring the finest craftsmen and artisans to create an explanation mark in stone to record the triumph of muslim rule.  Dominated by the spectacular soaring afghan-style victory tower and minaret, Qutb is studded with ruins and tombs which I enjoyed wandering through.  Tuk tuk to hauz khas village for lunch at Naivedyam, i.e. masala dosa, crisp lentil pancake filled with masala potatoes and vegetables served with spicy green and red sauces, yogurt sauce and dal – sooooo tasty.  Wandered through the shops and back into the complex of old mosques along the water until I got tired. 

Met another couple from the hotel also going to the wedding at 8:00 p.m. and we finally arrived at an enormous hall about 10:00 p.m. as the driver couldn’t find his way.  No problem as the groom had not even arrived yet.  1,000 people dressed in beautiful saris filled the hall which was decorated everywhere with flowers.  Live music and later videos of the couple were playing on an enormous band stand.  Appetizers were passed and also about 20 “stations” were set up serving incredibly delicious vegetarian appetizers, the likes of which I had never seen, let alone tasted. 

Stopped by the fruit table to clear our palates and finally the groom appeared wearing a beautiful turban and, after much money changing to allow him entrance into the hall, he was seated on the stage awaiting his bride.

We went to the other side of the hall where there were about 50 stations serving Indian food from many regions as well as European dishes.  We chose a selection and sat down to enjoy the feast.  The bridge appeared so we watched as she arrived in a chariot filled with flowers.  Afterwards we picked a selection of desserts from the dessert table, some tea from the drinks station and enjoyed everything.  About 1:00 a.m. things were winding down and we were tired so we called our taxi and returned to the hotel.  The whole experience was absolutely amazing!!!

Late breakfast and then took the metro to Akshardham temple, an ostentatious salmon-colored sandstone structure with 20,000 deities
carved into it.  Walked along the water and around the temple, all carved with beautiful hindu images.  Lunch at Bukhara, a tandoori restaurant, i.e. tandoori cauliflower, stuffed potatoes, garlic naan, dal and rice pudding before returning to Shanti Home.  Taxi to Metro Heights where I was to start my trip with G Adventures. 

Group meeting at 6 p.m.  Our local guide Dushysat turned out to be an outstanding guide and I was fortunate to have him on both my trips.  Went to a cafeteria type restaurant for dinner which was a bit disappointing but there are many meals to come!!

Visited the G Adventures-supported New Delhi Streetkids Project which has helped many orphans who used to live on the streets but are now taken care of.  Lunch at Aroma, i.e. tandoori salad and naan bread which was yummy before boarding the train to Amritsar.  Arrived very late so showered and went to bed.  Took a walk after breakfast and then visited Jallianwala Bagh, where the British Indian Army opened fire on a crowd of nonviolent protestors on 13 April 1919, killing well over 1,000 people…

Visited the famous  Amritsar golden temple, floating at the end of a long causeway.  It is a blend of hindu and Islamic architectural styles with an elegant marble level and a shimmering second level, encased in engraved gold panels, topped by a dome gilded with 750 kg of gold.  Visited the enormous kitchens where food for 60,000 people is prepared every day, i.e. dal, vegetables, naan, rice and rice pudding.  We all “helped” roll out some bread and had lunch (which was delicious!) on tin plates. 

Later that evening we drove to the wagah border (Indian/Pakistan border) to watch the parade by the soldiers from both sides and the lowering of the two nations’ flags.  There were soo many people it was really hard to see anything.  Stopped at the Crystal Restaurant for dinner, i.e. kofta with cashew sauce and naan bread on the way back to the hotel.  A few of us wandered around the temple at night which was quite lovely.

In the morning walked to the temple to see the sun rise.  Walked around the complex but there was an enormous line of people so didn’t go inside.  Packed up and had breakfast at a nearby coffee shop.  I ordered a delicious piece of chocolate cake with rich icing.  Don’t remember desserts being this good in India the last time I was here. 

Bus to Dharamasala, stopping for a potato/cauliflower dish and chickpea naan along the way.  Very cold here so requested a few extra blankets.  Walked to a Tibetan restaurant nearby for momas, vegetable stuffed dumplings, which took a LONG time to prepare but were delicious.  Wore all my clothes to bed!!!

Took a nice leisurely walk into town before breakfast and then a stroll around McLeod Banj, the famous seat of the Tibetan government in exile and current home of the Dalai Lama, to the waterfall and on to the Shiva temple for a nice view of the Himalayans.  Drove to the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan culture but since it was a Tibetan holiday it was closed.  Also closed was the Kangra Art Museum in the Kotwali bazaar as well as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts where generally a folk opera is performed…

Visited the Brajeshwari devi temple, a sacred shrine known for its great wealth.  On to the Church of St. John in the Wilderness with its lovely stained glass windows and finally to the Tsuglagkhang complex comprising the official residence of the Dalai Lama.  Sacred to Avalokitesvara, the Tibetan deity of compassion, it enshrines a 3 meter high gilded statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha.  Also visited the Kalachakra temple, a beautiful and colorful Buddhist temple near the market square.  Had some free time to wander around the bazaar and planned to meet at the Tibetan Kitchen; however, it was closed because of the holiday.  Ended up at another nearby restaurant and shared some fried vegetable momas, naan bread and some Tibetan noodles with vegetables with another couple.  Although it was dark, the walk back to the hotel was lovely.

A nice breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast and then our bus headed to Shimla, stopping at the Norbulingka institute which was open!!   Built in the traditional Tibetan architectural style with temples, etc., it housed an interesting “doll” museum with diaramas depicting Tibetan history and life.  We ran into a lot of traffic so the trip to Shimla took all day.  We did stop for a potato/cauliflower dish with naan bread which had to do for dinner as we arrived in Shimla at 11:00 p.m.  Took a hot shower and went to bed.

In the morning it was so cold I didn’t even bother changing clothes.  Took a walk up into town and found it delightful!  Looked for a place for breakfast but didn’t find anything until I was heading back to the hotel and spotted a really nice hotel off to my right.  Interestingly, many of our travelers were already there enjoying breakfast together so I joined them and had a delicious meal, i.e. hot “real” coffee, scrambled eggs on toast and fruit.  Met in the lobby of our hotel at 9:00 a.m. and walked up to the Jakhoo Temple, dedicated to the hindu monkey god Hanuman.  Lots of rhesusmacagues monkeys were loitering about and one even stole someone’s glasses off her face!!!  Luckily, with a little persuasion, they were returned.  There is also an impressive giant 108 foot high idol of hanuman which towers over the town. 

Stopped for Dosas at the Indian Coffee House and then a few of us took a taxi to Viceregal Lodge, built as an official residence in 1888 for the British Viceroys and eventually used as a summer residence.  Walked down to Christ Church built between 1844 and 1857 which contains some lovely stained glass windows and finally down to the Gaiety Theatre, modeled after the Garrick in London with its Burmese teak stage, etc.  Productions are still performed there.

Had dinner at the hotel where we had had breakfast and it was delicious.  I had kofta with spinach and onion stuffed roti.  Also shared some potato stuffed with cheese and vegetables which someone else had ordered – such great food.

Nice walk around town and delicious breakfast again at same hotel as yesterday.  Taxis to the train station and caught the Unesco World Heritage Shimla toy train to Kalka.  The line crosses more than 800 bridges and travels through over 100 tunnels.  Along the way are beautiful views of hills and villages.  Trip took about 6 hours but they really passed quickly.  Got a chance to talk with some of my fellow travelers who are always very interesting.

Later that afternoon we took a train to Delhi which was a nice luxurious train serving dinner, i.e. samosa, soup, curry, dal, rice and Indian bread and even ice cream!!!  Arrived in Delhi about 11 p.m.  In the morning after a nice walk and breakfast I flew to Calcutta to start the second part of my India experience.  Time sure does fly when you are having fun!!!

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