A Different Side of India

The neon signs blazed down from the modern office blocks with global names such as Google, IBM and even my former firm PwC, well dressed people rushed passed clearly very busy. Looking around the smart restaurants and cafes were busy with people chatting or talking on the latest smart phones. There was no rubbish anywhere and certainly no cows. Were we still in India? It seemed more like Dubai or Singapore but yes we were still in India. This was the modern face of India built on the back of the economic boom. Just 20 years ago Gurgaon was a town just outside Delhi. Now it was a modern booming city that had merged with the urban sprawl of Delhi which it was connected to by a busy modern metro that was to come in very handy. Vineet and Pratibha, our good friends from Moscow, had flown in for a week to show us some of Delhi. Being keen food connoisseurs, a part of this was sharing some of the delights of Indian food. Snapping myself out of my trance of being amazed at the setting, our first stop was a wonderful Parsi restaurants where we got to sample a variety of new and different flavours. The previous evening they had invited us to Vineet's parents flat where we spent a delightful evening catching up and hearing more about Indian history and culture. We were also served the most wonderful home cooking and it was a lovely evening meeting Vineet's parents and hearing about their fascinating lives. We were spending the week at the smart Bristol Hotel in Gurgaon. Initially selected due to its large car park it was a delightful comfortable hotel which made a great base for the week and where we were warmly welcomed by the management who took a keen interest in our trip (more on this later). Not all of the week though was spent in the modern side of India. Over the centuries many different invaders have built their new capitals in Delhi. One of these were the Afghan invaders who arrived in the 12th Century who built a beautiful city best know for the towering Qutb Minar. This is in the South of Delhi and was easy to visit from where we were staying and made for a great afternoon visit. It was Gilly's mum's last day with us and was a wonderful complex to wander around. The following day we threw ourselves back into "real" India. Pratibha's cousin, Mohit, had a wedding invitation business in Old Delhi and had offered to show us around the maze of alleys and streets in this hectic part of town. It was wonderful to visit him at his business in the heart of Old Delhi. Weddings are very big business in India and his printing business made beautiful wedding invitations, gift bags and other things.   After showing us his business Mohit took us out into the narrow streets and into the barrage of sound, noise and smells that is India. Each area had shops that specialised in different things; opticians, stationers, hardware, wedding invitations etc. It was a riot of colour but for lunch Vineet had us retreating to a wonderful old merchant's haweli (mansion) that had been turned into a boutique hotel and restaurant serving the most delicious mouthwatering food. Heading to the rooftop after lunch to admire the view we were amazed at how tranquil things were at rooftop level. We could watch people peacefully flying their pigeons well above the melee below. On our last night in Delhi we met Lena, another old friend from Moscow who was now working in Delhi, together with her husband Spencer for another wonderful meal. This time the flavours were from South India and again we left feeling very full and our tastebuds suitable titilated. It is over 10 years since we saw Lena and it was lovely to catch up and see her again and meet Spencer. As I mentioned, the Bristol Hotel were wonderful hosts during our stay and we had enjoyed a delightful chat at the beginning of the week with the general manager and his team over coffee and some delicious Indian snacks. However there was to be more. The General Manager had persuade us to meet an Indian news agency so we spent a morning being filmed and interviewed. It all felt slightly strange and I am sure our acting skills are dreadful but it was nice to see the interest in our trip. We are aware that the video has been shared by a number of news sources in India. If you want to see it, it's in the link below. That was not our only media involvement of the day as straight afterwards we were interviewed for a blog on what's interesting in Gurgaon. It wasn't just a week of having a good time though as we also had things to organise. The good news is we were all issued with our Chinese visas. However, as is often the case, it's one step forward and one step back. To get to China we were going to have to retrace our steps through Myanmar. Unfortunately we were informed that the route to the Chinese border in Myanmar is currently closed to foreigners due to insurgency in Shan State and we may not be given permission to cross in April. This is a real blow as this was effectively our only route out of India. The border between Nepal and China is closed and we don't want to ship out of India but the only other way is to cross Pakistan to China so we have plenty to think about over the next few weeks. On arriving back in Gugaron our first job had been to pick up the truck. When I had left it various parts had been removed at the front to allow for the windscreen to be fitted. As the windscreen was fitted differently to the MAN trucks in India, I had left the garage with the mechanics scratching their heads but assuring me it would not be a problem. Well I needn't have worried as they had done a great job fixing the new windscreen and sun visor. We also took the opportunity of being somewhere with everything available to fully restock the truck. It's amazing how being able to buy the little luxury things like balsamic vinegar, gravy powder and chicken, without watching it been killed in front of you, can give you so much satisfaction. It was a wonderful week and we are so grateful that Vineet and Pratibha took the time to come and visit us. We left Delhi on a high, now we just had to navigate our way through a city of 25 million people in the truck. In the end it wasn't too bad and we arrived just short of the border with Nepal. What we hadn't realised with all the socialising, eating and work was how exhausted we were. As we cross into Nepal things should be quieter and we can relax to build up the energy to go trekking in the mountains.

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