JTTE: Making the Rounds in Delhi II

India-155We spent Saturday afternoon at the Qutub complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an array of ancient tombs, mosques, and the ruins of temples and a history dating back to at least the 800’s AD. The highlight of the ruins is the Qutub Minar, the world’s highest minaret at 240 feet featuring typical Indo-Islamic architecture. Surrounding the minaret are the ruins of a mosque, a Jain temples, and corrosion proof iron-pillar dating back almost 1700 years.

One of the more interesting sights is the one-story foundation of another minaret. Apparently Allaudin Kilji had aspirations of building a minaret taller than the previous one, but construction was abandoned after his death. I guess he was the only one with such high aspirations. Being able to see the raw form of a minaret in construction is fascinating. It looks like a hut of mud and brick, a subtle reminder that even our most impressive creations may be built on rough foundations.

India-163The site was pleasant, and mostly quiet despite the number of tourists. On the grounds there are a number of well maintained gardens, and strolling along the paths among the ruins is a relaxing reprieve from the streets of Old Delhi. We stayed for several hours, and Cary took a number of pictures (which I will selectively post some of later).

The sun was drooping in the sky when we left Qutub Minar and we decided it was time to check into our hotel for the evening; Cary had only arrived the night before, and I was beat from walking around.

Referring to our accommodations as a hotel, however, does not really do them justice. Cary had booked us in Master Guest House for the night, a 4 bedroom inn, something like a bed and breakfast in America. The proprietors, Avnish and Ushi run the guest house themselves along with some hired help, and as we would find out have a number of returning guests visiting all the time. When we arrived, our bags were rushed away by a teenager and we were ushered into a small dining room, where Avnish and Ushi were preparing afternoon tea to celebrate the birthday of a long-time friend from The Netherlands. Avnish welcomed us warmly and we spent the next hour taking a load off with the other guests, sharing travel stories of India, and enjoying tea and a quick snack. It was delightful, which is a word I never use.

234px-Mutappan-as-ShivaOf the more interesting stories, we heard a tale from a British gentleman who obviously knew Avnish and Ushi very well, about his recent experience with a religious practice called Theyyam in Kerala. He found himself there while in transit to Northern India to visit friends, and met up with a few young men who invited him out to their village to see them dance the Theyyam. It was a twenty-four hour affair, culminating in a dance that represented the victory of of a hero over a demon at the threshold of a door just as dawn arrived. To take part in the dance, the participants dress in costume and paint themselves to look like demons, after which they stare into a mirror and become that demon. I’ve heard of the practice before, and many cultures perform a similar ritual the world over. Celebrating the victory of Spring over Winter and life over death, right around the time of the Spring Equinox as the day’s begin to increase in length is prevalent the world over. Don’t even get me started with Easter.

After a while Ushi asked if we’d like to got to our room, and we took her up on the offer. We laid around for an hour or so in our bedroom, which was immaculate. Master Guest House was a a very bright spot in our trip so far, and I regret not being able to spend more time there. Next trip we will most certainly make sure to spend a day or two there, if only to have tea and hear a few tall tales of India. Finally, it was time to grab a bite to eat and get some sleep.

We dined at The Spice Route, a restaurant in the Imperial Hotel that Conde Naste deemed one of the top ten in the world. Avnish told us that Bill Clinton had spent an evening there, and that he and Ushi stop in when they need a break.

A word about restaurants in India. The locals eat at home almost all of the time. As a result there aren’t that many stand-alone restaurants in India, though there are plenty of dhabas and a lot of “street food”. Restaurants tend to pop up where folks who are used to eating in restaurants tend to be, which is in the hotels and offices. In America, at least in my experience, the hotel restaurants aren’t fantastic choices. Safe, sure, but you’re not going to get anything great. In India, don’t be surprised if some of the highest rated restaurants are attached to the lobby of a very expensive hotel.

Spice Route is a concept restaurant. They offer an option that allows you to taste the foods of the old spice route, from the Malabar Coast to Thailand sampling foods from each region on the long trail. For those with smaller stomachs there is a full menu that offers Thai, Indian, and Chinese choices. Cary and I have eaten at a lot of restaurants, and we agree that the food was great, it just wasn’t top ten in the world great. Put another way, if this is one of the top ten in the world, then Atlanta has eight of the other nine.

After dinner our driver took us back to Master Guest house, where a different teenager let us in. Both tired from a full day in Delhi, and anticipating a very early 3:30 AM wake-up call, we crashed moments after arriving. Holi was the next day, the festival or colors, and those who don’t celebrate the holiday warned us that 80% of the population would be drunk, so it would be best to stay off the roads if possible. Our driver suggested the 4:00AM departure time, and with all of the warnings, we agreed. Next stop, Agra and the Taj Mahal.