Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day 6 - Delhi

With the wedding over, Paul and I headed to Delhi. Fortunately, the trip from Cochin to Delhi was relatively uneventful by Indian standards. Our flight was only 1 ½ hours late and the taxi driver from the airport only tried to rip us off twice: the first time by claiming that our pre-paid taxi fare receipt didn’t include luggage, the second time by asking for 50 extra rupees to lift our bags from the trunk. If only our first full day in Delhi had been as smooth.

As usual, the hotel was great. We stayed at the 5-star ITC Maurya, a Starwood hotel outside of Delhi. After eating breakfast and buying tickets for a New Year’s Eve party for that evening (more on this later), we went “downtown” to the official Delhi Tourism Center to buy tickets for an afternoon tour. Our guide book told us it was right across the street from a particular temple and next door to a coffee shop. With directions in hand, we guided our taxi (again pre-negotiated rate) to the right place. At the tourism center, we were told there were no tours running that day because on Monday, all the museums and some of the major attractions are closed. We asked for suggestions on where to go, but were essentially ignored as the employee tried to get his TV to work so he could watch cricket.

A little uncertain, we got a map and identified some places ourselves. We were only 2 blocks from Connaught Place, the supposed central hub of Delhi, so we decided to walk over to check it out. Less than 50 meters down the road, we found THE Delhi Tourism Center, next to another coffee shop. Immediately, we realized that the first tourism center was not an official information booth and was simply a well disguised tour operator sales center. That certainly explained the employee’s rudeness. With no tours running, we were not potential customers. It was very convincing; they even had official free maps. The real tourism center gave us similar information – that many of the tourist sites were closed and no tours were running. But they did help us out with some suggestions on where to go.

So, with maps in hand, we continued to walk towards Connaught Place. We weren’t sure we had arrived when we got there. The commercial center of Delhi is a big circle with dry grass in the center, shoe shine people on the sidewalk and 2-3 story tall buildings flanking the roads. Some were stores selling Western brand names like Nike and Addidas; there was even a TGI Fridays. However, most looked run down. One was even using a generator to power a string of fluorescent light bulbs that were lighting the store. However, Paul managed to spot the beacon of freedom that is McDonalds. A little tired of Indian food, we went in to see what we might eat. Half a Chicken Tikka and a McAloo burger later, we left McDonalds not much more satiated than when we entered. Nevertheless, we decided to hit up the tourist spots.

First was Hanuman’s Tomb. Great historical ruins from the 13th century. Don’t remember too much of the history, but check out the pictures here. We also managed to run into the Harvard Business School India Immersion program here. Two buses full of current HBS students. Paul’s initial reaction was, “Are all business school students so tall?”

After the tomb, we went to see the Qusab Minar, a tower built around the 13th century. Mildly impressive, but not worth it’s UNESCO World Heritage stamp. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap before New Year’s Eve.

For New Year’s Eve, we tried to attend the party in our hotel. But apparently, like many clubs/parties in India, it’s very difficult to be a man without a woman by your side. Our concierge politely told us that he could not sell tickets to men attending stag. Luckily, the Taj hotel down the street was more than happy to sell us tickets to their party, which featured a live performance from Jazzy B, a Punjabi singer from the UK. Oblivious to what Punjabi music might be, we bought the tickets figuring a 5-star hotel party would be fun no matter what.

That evening, we found ourselves in a room filled with 900 South Asians (read: Indian), 2 East Asians (me plus a Chinese-looking girl with her Indian husband), and 5 Caucasians (Australians on a group honeymoon), while listening to music sung in Hindi. It was funny and entertaining for the first 30 minutes. Then Paul and I literally began to count down the time to midnight.

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