The first time I landed in Delhi, I was 19 and my only experience of India, truthfully, was the Indian restaurant in Bridlington, which – in 1995 – I’d only recently started to frequent with my extremely (relatively) cosmopolitan then-boyfriend Pete, whose family knew what to do with the spinny thing full of chutney and chopped up onion and were well-versed in the difference between a Jalfrezi and a Korma. Bridlington was comparatively cultured, which tells you a hell of a lot about my hometown, Driffield, where there were no people of Indian ethnicity at all and the closest thing to Indian food was the curry sauce option for your chips. For my sins, I thought that India-the-country was going to be, basically, a bit like a massive Indian restaurant. So the bloated corpses and black fuzz of flies on our food as we drove the trunk road north to Ladakh were a bit of a shocker.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have rooftop poolage, staff that actually BOW as you walk past them and the only bloated flesh is in the hotel restaurant. Total Swankville. Plus, I hadn’t realised quite how grand Delhi is. My previous experience told me that Delhi was basically all like Old Delhi, read: headf**k. But actually, great swathes of it are more like Paris. There’s a bit with the India Gate at one end that is the spit of the Esplanade des Invalides. Nevertheless it’s freaking frenetic. We arrived the day before Diwali and the traffic was typical for Christmas Eve, suburban London i.e. nightmarish.
The real joy, though, was plunging back into the bazaar with the kids, via the Jama Masjid mosque (hot, bit dull) the next morning. Cycle rickshaws work on the principle that you are a person with no functioning sense of smell, and no elbows, because either of these otherwise desirable human attributes becomes a real burden when caught in a rickshaw jam in a tight alley right next to an open cesspit. But it’s one of those Must Do experiences. Must Do, followed quickly by Must Shower.
The hit of the day, however, was the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the Sikh temple. They have the biggest religious kitchen in India – nobody in the vicinity ever goes hungry, Sikh or otherwise – and anyone is free to help cook. The kids LOVED it. They set about rolling out the rotis like they were competitors in a play-doh contest at gunpoint, seriously. When I try getting help in my kitchen, it’s like I’d asked them to donate a kidney.
It might’ve been the influence of the delightful Sahej, our guide (below), who’s the world’s best – FACT. He is one of those people that is just better than you or I*: he speaks better English, plus Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, another couple of local dialects, plus German and conversational Spanish; he majored in History and Psychology then sat rock hard ‘Guiding’ exams to get a role as a ‘Zone’ guide (basically his patch of expertise is the whole of North West India) and he knows absolutely EVERYTHING; and if that’s not enough, he also works part-time as a spotter for a street kids charity in Delhi, intercepting runaways as they get off trains into the station, before they’re intercepted by the bad guys. SAHEJ THE LEDGE. I’m (we’re all) in love. 😍
*Well maybe not better than you.