I have just returned this morning from India, and with the impact fresh in my mind, I have to say that this was an extraordinary trip for a whole host of reasons. Nothing can prepare you for the sensory overload. Delhi in particular is loud, smelly, colorful, shiny, crowded, and has incredible luxury hotel properties which sit right next to slums. It's an all out assault on your senses, and even your values.
I met with warm, wonderful people and enjoyed some amazing experiences, but there is no sugar-coating Delhi or India, it's not for everyone. There is no escaping the sight of entire multi-generational families living on the concrete below multi-lane underpasses and in bus shelters, or the mothers begging with their babes in arms. If you want to put your life in context, and maybe give yourself a new perspective, come to India. It's a struggle to reconcile the abject poverty with the unbelievable vibrance, color and zest for life here, but I know I am very glad I personally made this journey.
Top 5 - Deep dive in Delhi
1. Old Delhi Spice Market (above)
This is Asia's largest wholesale spice market selling all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and food products like rice and tea. It's been operating here since the 17th century. When you walk a lap of the place, you will taste, smell and feel the spices in the air. Your eyes will start to stream and your throat will start to burn and I've never encountered such a pungent place on all my market visits worldwide.
2. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
My brother and I visited this Sikh temple complex on the recommendation of an India supplier I had met at Virtuoso Travel Week. Apart from the temple itself, there is a school, hospital, library and perhaps most importantly a rather large kitchen. This "langar" or community kitchen serves FREE meals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anyone who wants to eat, regardless of race or religion. On the Sunday we were there, this was likely to be 60,000 meals in one day.
The cooking pot (above) is at least 5 foot across, and the rotis that are piling up (below) usually add up to 150,000 a day. Photos are not allowed on the complex, but my brothers charm and chef talk enabled us to get an invitation to tour the actual kitchen and we were given permission to use our phones. A privileged and humbling experience.
3. Hindu Family Dinner (above and below)
When you can combine local food with an immersion into local family life, I am there, and it's always a highlight of a trip for me. My 4 hours with a regular middle class Hindu family was set around preparing and eating a home cooked dinner. Komal and her mother were warm hosts, the conversation was flowing and we discussed the slowly changing mindset in India towards womens roles, how arranged Hindu marriages are becoming more flexible, and the universal language of food. I learned to prepare authentic Masala Chai, lentil daal, roti (so easy), perfect basmati rice in a pressure cooker in 4 minutes and a spicy tomato paneer, along with a sweet semolina pudding
4. Leela Palace (above and below)
Delhi and India have some truly spectacular hotels as I mentioned in my intro and I was very grateful for the generosity of Louis Sailer, the GM of this beautiful property who invited me to visit when we met in Las Vegas. From the 14,000 flowers on display daily to the 60ft ceilings on the lobby level, to the sumptuous colonial style suites, the hotel was immaculate. Truly a Palace, and with hotel staff as warm, inviting, and genuine as I have met anywhere.
5. Chandni Chowk (below)
In Old Delhi there is a massive market area that is almost beyond words. Another tip from one of our suppliers, I was told that if I could walk the length of this market and make it out the other side, I would be ready for India. Even more than the spice market, this was 2 hours of complete sensory overload. Our walk was both enjoyed and endured as we contended with overwhelming smells, sometimes fragrant incense, sometimes cow poo, sometimes I don't know what, the constant noise of car and rikshaw horns, and thousands of people. All life is here, we made it out the other side, and I think nothing could have prepared us better for this incredible country.
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