Sunday, March 4, 2007

From Humayan to Haldiran's: Happy Holi!

We began the day fairly quietly, with the hotel breakfast (and coffee worthy of any teacher's lounge in the universe) and some time in a conference room getting our ducks in a row. Well, the ducks would've more orderly if we hadn't continually gone on "birdwalks" about a thousand other topics. Either way, Les had been told by our host that today, the last day of Holi, the Indian Spring Festival, would be a good day to take some time in the hotel, as the Hindu population spends the morning throwing paint at each other and drinking. Wise advice.

Around 2, we made our way to the concierge to see if he could arrange a car to take us on a sightseeing tour. He was very reluctant to do so, as he was worried about the paint-throwing thing and more to the point, the drinking and driving thing. We reasoned that a little alcohol wasn't going to make anyone in Delhi a worse driver, so we voted to take our chances. Les thought we should see the capitol and India Gate, so off we went.

Our driver agreed to take us to the sights Les wanted to see, and even parked very close to the India Gate so that we could walk up to this memorial to India's WWI dead. We walked around the park (very much like the Mall in DC)and watched many people enjoying a perfect weather day and one of India's biggest holidays. When we returned to the car, the driver suggested that we should see Humayan's Tomb. It is supposed to be the precursor to the Taj Mahal. It was stunning and we were all very glad we listened to the driver. We were greeted many times by locals wishing us "Happy Holi!" As we were climbing the steps of Humayun's Tomb, a boy of about 7 or 8 leaned over the wall and yelled, "Happy Holi!" When I wished him a happy holi, he said "What country are you from?" I told him we were from the US and that caused quite a stir. We could hear a lot of talking in Hindi and the word "US" several times. The entire family gathered at the top of the stairs to look at us.

Our main activity for the day was to go to the training site and meet with the folks who are putting things together. They wound up being probably a half dozen of the nicest gentlemen you could ever want to meet. Very eager to help in any way, very interested in what we are doing and very funny. I think this is going to be a good two weeks. Once we were ready to leave and have dinner, Les asked if there were any decent Indian restaurants in the area. The site is across the street (not as simple as it sounds)from a large shopping mall. Like any self-respecting mall in America, Indian malls, too, have food courts. TG, our host, gave us a list, suggesting a sit-down place called "Choke." I kid you not. Maybe it doesn't have the same meaning in Hindi. It was in the Metropolitan Mall. He also suggested a place in the Sahara Mall, Haldriman's, which he said was good if you could tolerate "hubbub." The mall is directly across somewhere between 8-12 lanes of traffic. Remember that in India, lane marks are put down to keep the Highway Department in work so the rule is that if you can squeeze your vehicle into the space, it's considered a lane. Traffic lights? They do make nice perches for pigeons, don't they?

Sorry for the birdwalk, back to the story. Our driver for the next 12 days is a very, very nice young man (we'll get his name eventually) who speaks almost no English. Two of our hosts left Les with their cell numbers so that if there is a language problem we can call and they can translate. We figured that we'd be fine for dinner because TG had given the driver the information about where we wanted to go. He dutifully drove us to the Metropolitan Mall because we had decided we wanted sit down more than we wanted hubbub. Mr. Driver drove us to the mall, couldn't find parking and just kept on going. We finally stopped outside some other place and when we finally made it clear that we would go across the street for hubbub rather than try to get back to where we wanted to go, he began backing the car out of the parking lot we were in. I kid you not, the back alarm makes a noise like a remote controlled fart machine for about 5 seconds and then begins playing some Indian music for 15 or so seconds. Fart, sing, repeat. I very nearly lost it.

We made it to Haldiram's. It's difficult to describe. I think it's India's answer to Old Country Buffet, only it's not a buffet. You make your choices, pay for them and take them to one of the serving tables where they spoon what might be the appropriate glop onto a plastic cafeteria tray or plate for you. Les wants us to kill him if he should ever suggest that we take a meal outside of the hotel. Mine wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that great either. But, hey, when in India do as the Indians do, and judging from the hubbub, a lot of Indians do Haldiram's.

And, finally, in a marvelous demonstration of Indian understatement, we give you this sight, which we came upon on the way into Delhi. If you look closely, the sign says "Showroom Shifted." I'd say they got that right.

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