Travel Tales #9 – India Trip Day 3: Exploring New Delhi – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey's Way
We woke up fairly early and as we were starting to get up, we got a call from Monish’s dad, Maulesh, who told us that they were filming part of a Bollywood movie outside of our hotel in Delhi. This was very exciting for all of us, so we immediately threw on some clothing and rushed down to the hotel lobby. By the time we got there, all of the big, well-known actors were gone, which was a bummer. We did get to witness the camera crew shooting a driving scene, though! That was pretty neat. Monish, having worked in the Bollywood film industry before, went on to tell me that they try to film in popular areas when people are sleeping so as to not disturb the filming.
At this point, it was about 7:00 in the morning and since we were all up and outside, we decided to take a walk as a family. The Central Park of Delhi was located right outside of our hotel and had a circular drive all around the outside of it. As we walked around the paved, circle drive, I took in all of the sights, smells and sounds of the Capitol of India. I find it incredibly beautiful how this country co-exists with nature, and loved getting to see all kinds of colorful plants and free-roaming animals everywhere, even within this massive, metropolitan city!
Once we finished our walk, Moni and I made it back up to our room to officially get dressed for the day. I chose to wear one of my new kurtis (purchased on Day 1 – Exploring Mumbai) as I did not enjoy how many of the men in Delhi were staring at me in my Western clothing the day before. As soon as we were both finished getting showered and dressed, we made our way back down to the hotel lobby to meet up with mom (Hema) and dad (Maulesh). We all hopped into our car and made our way over to the Jhandewalan Hanuman Temple – Delhi’s most iconic Hindu temple. I had told Mom and Dad the day before that I wanted to go to this temple and they made sure that we incorporated it into our short time in Delhi. It was so thoughtful of them!
When we arrived at the temple, the driver dropped off myself, Moni and Dad outside of the front entrance for us to go explore. Mom chose to stay in the car with the driver as she was wearing shoes that weren’t easy to remove. Speaking of shoes, before we could enter the temple, we were required to remove our shoes and place them on a shoe rack that was separated by gender. Once we removed our shoes, we were officially ready to enter the temple and my excitement began to increase significantly!
We made our way up the steps and as we walked through the entrance, which was shaped like the mouth of a rakshasa (a demon in Hindu mythology), my eyes became filled with wonder and grand curiosity. I was in awe that I was finally entering a temple in India, especially one so iconic! As we made our way through the narrow hallways of the temple, we found many different colorful idols as well as art forms which depicted stories from the Hindu epics. Dad briefly explained some of the stories to us, which I plan to learn more about via the Hindu books that I bought days before in Mumbai.
As we walked through the temple, we came upon a doorway to a staircase that lead us downward via a tunnel. At the end of the staircase was a priest who sat among many more idols and Hindu art forms. He was very kind and performed a small pooja for us. At this point, we all noticed that the ground we were standing on was wet. The priest informed us that it was ground water as we were standing in a man-made-cave that was built as part of the architecture for the temple.
On our way out of the temple, we had to walk through a different tunnel which was so small that we all had to bend in half to walk through it! At the end of the tunnel was a staircase that allowed us to exit the temple via the mouth of a different rakshasa. The entire experience was incredible and furthered my curiosity of Hinduism!
Next, the driver began to drive us around the political district. Delhi is comparable to Washington, D.C. as it is the capitol of their nation and this area was filled with all of the consulates, political buildings and also the residences of the prime minister and the president. While we weren’t able to go inside or even close up to most of these buildings, it was still pretty cool to see this area and how the political district is set up within a different country.
As we continued on our drive, we came upon India Gate, although unfortunately it was under construction so we could only see it from a distance. India Gate is a monument that is similar in size/shape to the Arc de Triomphe and was built in 1921 as a commemoration to all of the British and India soldiers who fought in World War I. For those of you who may not know much about India’s history, the British ruled over India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1858 to 1947. You can learn more about the British rule, also called British Crown Rule, by reading this article on Encyclopedia.com. Although we couldn’t walk up to the monument to see it up-close, we did stop for a few photos and for Mom and Dad to explain some of its history to me. I am fascinated by history, so I enjoyed this quite a bit!
From here, we made our way back to the hotel to enjoy one of the most elaborate breakfast buffets that I’ve ever seen! There were all kinds of options available – Indian dishes, fruits, oats, sweets, you name it! They even cooked up a fresh plate of vegetarian eggs Benedict for me via my request. One of the perks of traveling throughout a country whose population is around 30-40% vegetarian is that its very easy to find delicious vegetarian options for just about anything. I ate fresh papaya for the first time and also enjoyed a lovely cup of chai.
After breakfast, Moni and Dad took off to the Visa Application Center for Moni to drop off his documents in order to get his H1B Visa stamped. This important stop was the entire reason we all made our way to Delhi. While they were gone, I sat with Mom in her room and we chatted for awhile. During this time, Tanvi and Jigar (Monish’s sister and brother-in-law) arrived in Delhi via a flight from Mumbai. As soon as they arrived at the hotel, they immediately wanted to leave to go enjoy some nearby street food. I chose to tag along as I love walking around, sight-seeing and people-watching, although I knew not to indulge in any street food. As someone who grew up in the United States, my stomach is unfortunately not equipped to handle street food (nor any water that does not come from a sealed bottle, among other things). Check out this article titled 10 Things to Never Eat and Drink in India to learn more and get a better understanding of why chose to stay away from Indian street food.
Once the entire family made it back to the hotel and was finally all together, we grabbed some sweets from Wengers, stopped for a McSpicy Paneer sandwich from McDonald’s, then began the 4-hour-long car ride to Agra. While I was not excited for the long car ride, I was extremely excited to finally be making our way to Agra, the city that houses The Taj Mahal. The drive was bumpy at times, but I was happy to be out on a highway where the cars were moving so much faster versus sitting in the car in the crowded city traffic. Our driver who picked us up from the airport the day before (check out India Trip Day 2 – Meeting the Parents) was still with us and drove us to and from Agra. Once again, I was fascinated by the luxury services of India.
Halfway to Agra, we stopped at a rest stop to use the restroom. Here, I stumbled upon my first restroom moment where there was no toilet in the stall, but instead a hole in the ground. Most foreigners tend to be freaked out by these types of toilets, but I actually found using these toliets so much easier as I typically don’t sit on public toilet seats anyways (TMI? Sorry not sorry!). Besides an opportunity to use the restroom, the rest stop contained food stalls, shaded areas to sit down and even some cots where you could lie down and take a quick nap.
Two more hours of driving later, we finally reached our 5-star hotel in Agra, the ITC Mughal Hotel. Before entering, we had be waved down with a metal detector wand and allow our bags to go through detectors that were similar to those found in airport security checks. This felt wild to me as we were only trying to enter our hotel! Once we were allowed entrance, we walked down a pathway with beautiful gardens on either side that led us to the lobby entrance. Upon entering the hotel, my eyes became filled with wonder at the beauty and magnificence of the lobby. Everything seemed to be made out of marble while the decor was so elegant and fancy. It all felt so magical!
After checking in, we dropped our bags off in our rooms then immediately made our way to the rooftop terrace. On the terrace, we were able to view The Taj Mahal in the distance as the hotel was very close to it. We found a little seating area to sit and enjoy both the beautiful view and each other’s company. While sitting atop the terrace, it became time for the Muslim call to prayer to begin, and the majestic sound from a nearby mosque filled the air. It was so surreal to be sitting on a rooftop, gazing at The Taj Mahal in the distance when the call to prayer began. It felt as if all of my dreams were now coming true as I would be visiting The Taj the very next day.
The sun was now beginning to set and it was time for everyone to grab some dinner. The family wanted to go eat chaat (a type of street food) from a very famous area in Agra known for having flavorful chaat. Once again, I didn’t want to risk upsetting my stomach, so Moni and I chose to have dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants while the rest of the family went out for chaat. We took advantage of our dinner alone together and labeled it our “date night”, the most extravagant date night he’s ever taken me on. 😉
Moni chose which of the restaurants for us to eat at and once we had been seated, I noticed that the people at the table next to us were wearing maroon/white plaid aprons that had the restaurant’s logo embroidered on it. I also noticed that we had the same aprons folded up in front of us on the table and that there wasn’t any silverware. I let Monish do the ordering as he knows Indian food best and afterwards, the server confirmed with us that we are vegetarian. I thought he was doing so just to be nice, but he then took away our aprons and returned with some green/white plaid aprons for us. When I asked why, he informed us that we are given green aprons to alert the staff that we are vegetarian. This ensures that no one accidentally drops off a dish containing meat at our table. At this point, the server also brought up the fact that they don’t provide silverware and asked if that was something that I was okay with. I chuckled and assured him that I had no issues pertaining to eating with my hands, knowing that this might be a no-go for many foreigners.
Our meal was phenomenal! I was very proud of us for not allowing our “eyes to be bigger than our stomachs” and ordering only the perfect amount of food. Here, I tried rumali rotis for the first time! What’s significant about these types of rotis is that the rumali roti is soft and very thin, like a handkerchief, meaning that they aren’t easy to make. At home, Monish and I mainly eat an additional type of roti, called chapati, so this was a real treat for us!
After dinner, we spent some time walking around the hotel courtyards as I wanted to do some exploring. As we walked up some brick steps towards the garden, I immediately saw a monkey laying face-down on the ground completely stiff and not moving. I thought it was dead, but Monish quickly yelled at me saying, “don’t go near it!” I responded, “Why? It’s dead.“……..This is the moment where I learned that not only was I wrong about the monkey being dead, but also that monkeys do not have night-vision and therefore cannot see in the dark. Once it becomes nighttime, their vision basically disappears. Therefore, when dusk begins to set in, monkeys rush towards the trees they sleep in so that they can safely snooze out of the reach of any predators. This unfortunate little monkey didn’t make its back to his safety spot before darkness crept in so he just laid facedown on the ground and went to sleep, making it appear as if he is dead so as to keep predators away. All of this newfound knowledge absolutely blew my mind.
The day was now coming to an end, but before heading off to bed, we spent a little time with the family in Tanvi & Jigar’s room. All of those who drink were enjoying a beer together, while those of us who don’t drink (Mom and I) were happy to just enjoy the company. It felt so great to spend time with family where everyone gets along and enjoys spending time with each other. It was not like this within the family that I grew up in, so I was happy to feel at home within my new family, mera naya parivaar. Soon, I became too tired to continue socializing and went to bed. The next day had a big adventure awaiting – finally getting to explore The Taj Mahal!
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Check out the next day of this trip below – Day 4: The Taj Mahal! Also, be sure to check out India Trip: Day 1 (Parts 1 & 2) and India Trip Day 2 if you haven’t already. You can also check out more of my travel experiences and live vicariously through me via the articles below. Enjoy, friend!