Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day Two

This morning began around 5am when I decided I couldn't sleep any longer. Normally I'm a sleep camel (when I get a chance to load the hump, I load the hump) but I didn't want to make it completely impossible to fall asleep tonight. I watched the sun come up over Delhi as I blogged about "Day One". I even snapped some photos but the city just looked dusty and cloudy rather than radiant or sunkissed.

Our guide for the day was a guy named Luke - a Valspar guy from Minnesota who is here on the same business trip as Ryan. Luke has visited India 8-9 times and knows exactly what it should cost to take you from our hotel to the mall in a taxi. He met us for breakfast at 9am in the hotel restaurant and went over the rough itinerary for the day. We were up for anything!

Valspar arranged a car and driver for the day, so we started at India Gate. It's a lot like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, only instead of being the center of the city all lit up with pretty lights and cars circling around it, the India Gate is in the center of nothing, surrounded by thousands of guys playing cricket in the dirt or selling fruit from sketchy carts. I took some pictures (it's not like you can go inside or climb it) and then decided to walk over to the cricket park (dodging dog poop and standing water). There were quite possibly 35 games going on at once. I have no idea how they weren't all getting hit and running in to each other, but that's just the way things seem to go in India. Personal space and room to spread out just don't exist.

My favorite quote from the day happened as a tiny dude crouched next to us with a basket and a giant cobra. I said, "Whoah! That guy has a live cobra!" Luke (still walking) said, "Yeah. You don't want to be anywhere near that guy." I looked back as the giant cobra popped out of the basket and bit the guy right on the hand.

The next stop was Swaminarayan Akshardham - a giant temple built out of pink stone and white marble as a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. They didn't allow any cameras, bags, cell phones or personal items of any kind because it was destroyed several years ago (I don't remember who bombed it) and had to completely re-built it. There was quite a security process to get in! The men and women were separated in to two different buildings where we were all patted down and checked for hidden weapons - or perhaps that particular guard just really liked the way my boobs felt in her hands? We went through metal detectors and were scanned with wands even after the pat-down. I was grateful that Luke knew of this "no personal items" rule and advised us to keep our bags and bottles in the car. The line to check bags and cell phones looked very crowded and pushy. Like I might freak out and kick someone.

We walked around the grounds (100 acres of gardens, statues, pillars, colonnades, and a giant temple) and stopped twice to buy more bottles of water. It was so hot, my hands and feet swelled like sausages and I felt my heart beat in my skin. I don't know what heat stroke feels like, but I imagine that's how it begins. Ryan looked over at me and said, "Are you okay? Your face is really red" so we decided to find a shady spot in a breezeway to hang out for a while. It really was amazing and beautiful - so many ornate carvings. We finished up in the gift shop where we bought a book (another recommendation by Luke) and jumped back in our car.

We drove to the Gandhi Smirti - the place where Gandhi lived and eventually died. The grounds were a bit more shaded and there wasn't quite as much to see. Mostly it was a lot of reading. There was a sculptural walk-way to show the path Gandhi took after being shot and a temple built to indicate the spot where he collapsed. A lot of great quotes and a beautiful mural depicting his life. Inside an air-conditioned building was a multi-media art show by some students in India who were inspired by the life and work of Gandhi. They were all eager to show you their projects and encouraged you to interact with the art - it was a lot of "touch this and this light will come on and it will play a movie". It was all very cool and artsy.

We ate lunch around 2:00 (normal in India) at a place that was recommended by our driver. I've learned that I can't judge the location of the restaurant or the looks of the outside because what we found inside was delcious. What we found outside were toothless men sharpening knives on a bicycle and creepy dogs covered in mud. We had intentions of continuing on to the Red Fort, but the minute I sat down and cooled off, I hit a wall. The heat was really getting to me so we asked for a rain check. We headed back to the hotel to take cold showers and brief naps. Bliss.

Around 5:00, Ryan and I woke up and got dressed for dinner. We met Luke in the lobby and took a taxi to the mall. The cab ride was about 15 minutes long and our driver honked his horn the entire way. It's like a turn signal in India "Hey, I'm passing you on the right." (honk-honk) There are no lines on the road and anyone is welcome to join. Bicycles, Motorcycles, Rickshaws, Cabs, cows, old dudes with walking sticks...we even saw a bicycle pulling a huge cage full of chickens. (they didn't look so good)

We showed up at the mall and went through a metal detector/security check point (I was getting used to this by now) and walked around the mall for 2 hours - watching people, window shopping and attempting to find a brown belt for Ryan (who sadly left his in Kansas City). The mall was entirely packed with kids from India trying to look like kids from the States. Superman t-shirts, Abercrombie polos, Levi's jeans...several popped collars and retro 80's mall hair. It was fantastic. We took a seat next to a Cinnabon (every mall smells like Cinnabon!) and listened to Backstreet Boys blare over the mall atrium.

Around 8:00, we made our way to the restaurant for dinner. Malls in India are sort of like hotels. They have fabulous restaurants and fancy night clubs. We were there to have dinner with the men who own the plant in India where Ryan will be working/visiting/over-seeing production for the next 5 days. The restaurant was called Vepa and it reminded me of a club in Vegas. Dim lights, gold peacocks on the walls, mother-of-pearl lotus flowers on the floor, gold fabric-tufted booths that stretched a long a curved wall that led to a private dining room divided by a silk curtain.

Our hosts were fabulous, generous, down-to-earth people who ordered several rounds of tandoori appetizers, amazing flavors of naan bread, and delicious entrees that we passed around the table, family style. There was SO much food! Dinners in India start around 10:00 so we were the early crowd at 8. As we were finishing up, the restaurant was packed and bustling - likely to stay for dessert and coffee well in to the morning.

Ryan was feeling anxious to get back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep - as he had work in the morning. I stayed up and attempted to load my pictures to facebook (which failed). Only the beginning of my computer woes.

Tomorrow, we check out of the Taj Hotel and move to Ghaziabad. We are staying at a Country Inn so I'm anxious to see if they serve the same biscuits and gravy for breakfast as they do in the states!

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