India Travelogue, Day 3: Delhi
Sunday, March 25th, was my second full day in India, and I spent much of the day absorbing the previous day’s experiences as well as waiting for additional members of our group to arrive. We started out the day with half of the six members of our group—Swati Mylavarapu had arrived very early that morning—but by the time we went to bed that night, our group was complete. David Robinson arrived around 11:00 am, and although he was severely jetlagged, he joined us as we headed off to see the city. Swati led the way: as her family originally comes from India, she was the only member of our group who had visited India before (and she speaks a bit of Hindi as well).
We started off with lunch at the Spice Route, a southeastern Asian restaurant in the Imperial Hotel. Although I wasn’t expecting to eat many expensive meals in India, the food was great, the atmosphere nice, the decorations elaborate, and for about 9 GBP per person, it was definitely worth eating in a restaurant chosen as one of the top ten in the world by Conde Nast Traveler (although I’m not sure if it was that good).
After lunch we headed to the nearby Janpath market, which we were disappointed to find mostly closed since it was Sunday. Instead, we headed across the street to the government-run Central Cottage Industries Emporium, which is an enormous multi-story store with items ranging from clothing to handicrafts to rugs and home furnishings from all over India. I didn’t buy anything during this visit (buying something involves visiting a total of three different counters: one to take the items of interest and give you an invoice, another to take payment, and a final counter to give you your paid merchandise. A few things caught my eye, though, including some of the wooden and papier-mâché boxes, and I returned to the emporium a couple of weeks later to buy some of these on my way out of the country.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and continuing our exploration of the area around our hotel. Later on in the evening, Allison left to meet our final arrivals at the airport. David, Swati, and I had dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant while we waited for the rest of the group. When the others arrived around midnight, we went back up to the restaurant so they could eat. The arrivals of Cyrus Habib and Alex Halderman marked the completion of our group and the official beginning of our trip, so we celebrated with a bottle of somewhat suspicious-looking Indian whiskey. Allison, Cyrus, David, Swati, and I already knew each other because we all currently study at Oxford University (although we’re all American). Alex, on the other hand, is a graduate student at Princeton University, and he knew David from their undergraduate days there.
After dinner, we engaged in a lively discussion about religion in India and the Middle East, coming to the conclusion that contrary to the common portrayal of these areas in the West, neither area is so much more religious than other places. Most of the characteristics that contribute to their over-spiritualized image are probably better described as cultural phenomena. After our discussion, I went downstairs for some fresh air, and I was shocked back to reality by observing about five people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.