New Year’s in New Delhi

Our visit to Delhi started with the saddest part of the trip — saying good-bye to Julie and Meagan. They were such lovely travel partners, and as we said in our introductory post, it is so nice to have people from our other life in the United States see our lives here in India. We try to describe it, but it was wonderful to have them experience it with us.

Saying good-bye to Julie and Meagan also meant saying good-bye to our wonderful driver Arvind. If you have traveled in India you know, you can get wonderful drivers and you can get frustrating drivers. Arvind was beyond wonderful. It’s such a game of roulette. You hire this person to spend hours and hours and hours with you for several days, and you have no idea what you’re going to get. Arvind didn’t force himself into our conversations, but he participated when appropriate; he never did the blatant “I’m getting a kickback” trick of taking us to somewhere we just didn’t want to go; he rolled with our crazy notions; and he stepped in and let us know when are notions were just not going to work. If you are one of our India friends or if you are traveling to Delhi/Agra/Rajasthan, hit us up. We’ll give you his contact info.

We decided to only spend a couple of days in Delhi in favor of spending a couple of extra days at our end-of-vacation heaven in Hampi. As a result, we had to narrow our priorities. Tom wanted to see Gandhi Smitri, a museum at the site of Gandhi’s assassination. We wanted to not travel a terribly long time to anything. We wanted to find our favorite wine we discovered on our trip to Nasik, York Arros, not yet sold in our home state of Karnataka. Finally, we wanted to limit our time outdoors; the air quality fulfilled Delhi’s stereotype.

Our first full day in Delhi, which happened to be New Years Eve, was spent at a couple of sites Melissa had already visited.  Lodhi Garden is lovely, with three ancient tombs that were part of the evolution toward the Taj Mahal. The park was also filled with several school groups having a good time and what looked like corporate events playing camp games. Then we went to Humayun’s Tomb, an even closer relative of the Taj. It is spectacular. It has been recently restored, so it is in great shape. There is also a huge construction project creating a new garden near by which is going to make the area an unforgettable experience, if it isn’t already.

On our way out of the Humayun’s Tomb, we had two experiences that made us love this attraction even more. First, there was a small museum in the old gatehouse to the tomb. One part of the museum explained the history of Humayun (which is a little crazy, and worth a quick read). The other part of the museum was an explanation of the groups involved in the rehabilitation of the tomb and the construction of the new park nearby and their efforts to reach out to the surrounding communities, many of which are very poor. We had no sooner been discussing the loss of a generation of Indian craftsmen to the large construction projects in the Arabian peninsula, but we read the story of these groups training the people in the local communities in the trades needed to build the parks. As Americans, we took pride in the fact that our State Department is one of those partners. On our way out we had our second experience that moved us so much. There was a small stand selling art created by the community members trained in the crafts that adorn the antiquities. We were moved enough that we bought a couple of pieces, both to support their efforts and because they are beautiful.

Our hotel, the Lalit New Delhi, has several bars and one nightclub. We figured it would be safe to assume that Baluchi, the fancy Indian restaurant upstairs and far away from the noisy spots, would be a nice romantic way to ring in the New Years. It was fun. It was delicious. Intimate and romantic? Not so much. A DJ was set up, playing music loud enough that we had to shout at each other to be heard. We stopped rolling our eyes at the empty dance floor about 10:30 when it started filling up nicely with very satisfied revelers. We, we had to admit, were the weird ones here. We had a lovely dinner and a bottle of our sought-after Arros (of which Tom only had two glasses, which will be important in moments). We left a little before midnight so we could ring in the New Year just the two of us, perhaps watching the fireworks from our window. Modi’s ban on fireworks seemed to work, as there were very few, but we were very glad we went upstairs early. It was nice to have that bit of quiet time. And then about three minutes in to the New Year, Tom’s first, and only (knock on wood), bout of Delhi Belly struck with a vengeance. His 2019 can only get better from there.

Fortunately, our second full day in Delhi was not very heavily planned. Tom had an easy time of the recovery, and we set out to see a couple of sites. The day before we tried to visit the Gandhi Smitri, but it was closed on Sunday. We were worried it would be closed again on New Years Day, but thank goodness it wasn’t. Melissa visited during her trip with her brother Jesse, and the way she described it made Tom want to see it, too. It’s one of those places that simply inspires awe knowing this man who changed the world, who laid the ground work for others to change the world, walked here, met with important people here, inspired countless here. And the reverence with which they established the memorial to his assassination shouldn’t be surprising but is simply breathtaking. They went to great lengths to tell the entire story of Gandhi’s life, both at the site and around India, Britain, and South Africa. They touched on his many and profound flaws, which to us make him all the more human and astounding, but the story as presented does kind of err on the side of deification. Still, it is an inspiring site. It reminds us all that we need to be more like the Mahatma. Maybe not exactly like him, but more.

The teetotalling Gandhi wouldn’t approve, but that just leaves the hunt for wine.  Scattered throughout the two-and-a-half days, we took three different walks through the Connaught Place neighborhood in search of Arros. We had pictured buying a couple of bottles: one to share in Hampi and one to take home to Bangalore. We finally found one wine shop that sold York, but not Arros. We were more and more thankful for that New Years Eve bottle we shared. Again, if you are travelling in Delhi, Rajasthan, or Maharashtra, let us know. We’ll give you some money if you pick some up for us.

Our last night in North India was lovely. We had a drink in the lobby bar at the Lalit. We tried to play a little rummy, but we were promptly told to put them away. Apparently, cards aren’t allowed in bars. In a land of arbitrary rule enforcement, this seemed like a weird place to draw the line. Then we walked to Sorrento, a highly rated Italian restaurant not too far from our hotel. It didn’t disappoint.

We had to wake up early the next morning, because we were off to the last stop of this wonderful winter break . . . Hampi!