India: Déjà View

Before I tell you about my latest trip to India, I’m going to take a slight detour to tell you about one of my New Favorite Movies: About Time.

I watched it alone on the flight home, then insisted that Mike watch it with me the very next day. (He loved it too!)  

It’s everything I always want in a movie – funny, sweet, thoughtful… and with an important message – in this movie’s case, a reminder to savor every moment of your life.

Yes, the movie is about Time Travel, which may have some of you rolling your eyes –  but what this movie does so brilliantly is use the magic of time-travel in the most realistic, believable way.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the main character tries out his father’s secret formula for happiness:

“Part one of the two part plan was that I should just get on with ordinary life, living it day by day, like anyone else…

…But then came part two of Dad’s plan. He told me to live every day again almost exactly the same. The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing.” 

That scene made me reflect on my trip to India – my second trip in 6 months.  On this trip, I relived so many of the same experiences and revisited so many of the same sights (so that a different coworker could see them for the first time)… but it never felt stale.  Instead, I was more relaxed and more familiar, allowing me to see many of the same things in a different way.

Let’s begin!

Last time, a few of our coworkers tried to meet us at the airport, but it was so crowded we never found them.  This time we did! And they had roses & my favorite spicy Magic Masala chips to welcome us.

When we arrived at the office after a good night’s sleep, we were greeted by a Rangoli (sand-art) made by one of our team members (upper right-hand corner), and she also touched a red dot and a grain of rice on each of our foreheads for good-luck.  

Later in the week, we saw another Rangoli in the office – this time made of fresh flower petals.  It smelled so good!

Since Rangolis are created on the floor, unfortunately they both had a few accidental foot-marks on them by the time I got these photos.

We made the long trek (a 4-hour drive each way!) to the Taj Mahal again, this time in much better weather (it was 85 degrees, unlike the 95 degrees I experienced last September).  This time, I was treated to the presence of dozens of white birds on the lawn (above), and the beautiful silhouette of the Taj in the distance (below, right).

We also made another visit to Qutb Minar, a 13th century tower in New Dehli.  Since it wasn’t as hot this time, I was able to linger and explore more.

I especially love this view which shows the surrounding ruins.

Last time, due to an official ceremony taking place, I was only able to see India Gate from a distance.

This time, we were able to walk right up to this major Capitol District monument, and also were able to take in the surrounding Picnic grounds.  Just look at those stray dogs below, politely asking for a taste.

And just down the street, we peeked at the President’s house again.

This time, there was a different dog guarding the gate.

Left: September 2013 /// Right: March 2014

 

Some sights, I think, will surprise me no matter how many times I see them – the amount of discomfort or even danger that people go through each day to get where they need to be, and the hard lives of animals in the city.

Now, onto a lighter note – zoom into the picture below and tell me – how many Monkeys can you find?

(I think there’s about 17.)

Like the sights, many of the foods I took in this time were very much the same – like the room-service breakfasts below including Dosas (giant crispy pancakes), Idlis (steamed rice & lentil patties), and Aloo Paratha (Potato-Stuffed Bread).

I did do a few things differently this time around – I started giving into my cravings for fresh fruit, since my confidence in my stomach had grown.

And since we stayed at a different hotel, I was able to try a few different menu items – one of my favorites being the Masala Uttapam.  I had plain Uttapam (savory pancakes) on my last trip, but I loved that this menu had an option for the addition of extra veggies, herbs, and spices.  I also had some of the most flavorful Aloo Gobi (curried Cauliflower & Potatoes) and Red Lentil Dal that I’ve ever tasted, though both were a little too heavy on the oil.

On the last trip, one of my highlights was our visit to the restaurant Bikanervala for Street Food-type fare.  Of course, we had to go again to enjoy some of my favorite dishes – Chole Batura, Pani Puri, and Pav Bhaji.

This time, we also were able to try a special dessert – Gujiaa treat that the store was making especially for the Holi holiday.  These samosa-shaped sweets were one of the best things I ate on this past trip.  Thick, buttery pastry, stuffed with dried fruits and nuts then covered in sugar syrup reminded me of an even richer version of Baklava.

New to me, on this trip we also ate at Haldiram’s.  Like Bikanervala, Haldiram’s is a 100% Vegetarian restaurant specializing in popular Street Foods, though this chain seemed to be even more popular with my coworkers.  On a trip to the mall, I tried their surprisingly flavorful dish of Rajma Masala (Kidney Bean Curry).

One thing I did a few times on this trip that I didn’t get to do at all last time was eat in the Office Cafeteria.  I loved doing this since the meals were a lot simpler and lighter than the hotel & restaurant food, plus it was fun to eat how many of my coworkers eat every day (and for $0.50 – $1.00 per plate!).

My favorite Cafeteria find was the Chole Kulche (below, top left) – Well seasoned chickpeas, served with a light, airy bread for dipping.  The top right dish was another cafeteria vendor’s version of Chole Kulche – in this version, the chickpeas were mashed and made tart with lots of lime juice, and served with a soft tortilla-like bread.  And the bottom two dishes were various curries and dals with rice and roti bread.

One day, we had a business meeting over lunch at Naivedyam, a 100% Vegetarian South Indian restaurant (though I was actually in North India).  I was a little embarrassed to take a picture of my food during an important lunch, but nobody seemed to mind.

We had a Thali plates for our entrees, which had a little bit of everything.  Then, our colleague ordered a special dessert for us to try – a flat cake made out of jaggery (unrefined sugar) and coconut that I think was called Holiga. It was served with a Rice-Noodle Pudding for dipping.

My favorite part of the whole lunch, though, was the little dish of Lemon Rice on the Thali plate (pictured at 3 o’clock above).  Mentioning this on Instagram inspired my buddy @Leslieconn to make a batch of her own.  She suggests googling to find Lemon Rice recipes, and especially recommends the site ManjulasKitchen.com for Indian recipes, including many vegan options.

While the Holiga sweet was delicious, I later learned that my favorite way to enjoy Jaggery is to eat it plain and straight, when at one restaurant, it was placed on the table after dinner for nibbling.  It tastes like Molasses!

Another day, we relived a coworker’s College Days by having Fruit Beer (a carbonated fruit punch) and Momos (steamed or fried dumplings) at Dilli Haat.  A famous Nepalese dish, Momos are also native to the Sikkim State in Northern India.

Dilli Haat is a peaceful, outdoor market that is an official government sponsored tourist attraction with booths selling food and goods from each of India’s States.  We did quite a bit of shopping after we ate, picking up several souvenirs along with some outfits for the upcoming Holi celebration.  And no, we weren’t getting fancy clothes for Holi – we were getting clothes that we wouldn’t mind getting dirty!

Holi was one part of the trip that was anything but Déjà Vu.  One of India’s largest annual holidays, we were very excited to be visiting during Holi, the festival of colors.  This year, Holi fell on Monday, March 17th.  Since most employees had Holi off, we celebrated at the office the Friday before (they call it “Playing Holi”).

We used Herbal powders made of ground up flowers, smearing the colors on each other’s faces while wishing “Happy Holi!”.  

Friday’s mini-celebration was so much fun that I was really looking forward to Monday.  While most people enjoy family parties for Holi, we arranged to celebrate with a few colleagues at one of their houses.  Everyone had planned for a relaxing day with more of the herbal colors that wipe off very easily.  

It didn’t at all go as planned though, thanks to one colleague that brought water-balloons, eggs, and intense paints & dyes to the party.  In between having paint smeared on our hair and faces, we occasionally got sprayed with hoses or hit with water balloons, so our faces changed colors throughout the day – I started out blue, but left covered in pink.  The only thing missing from our party was perhaps some Super Soakers, which I had seen all around town.

This way of celebrating Holi wasn’t as peaceful and beautiful as I imagined this colorful holiday to be, but it sure was fun and a real chance for adults to behave like kids again.

Miraculously, the dyes washed off of my skin fairly easily, though my new top (as planned) wasn’t salvageable.

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you seen the movie About Time?

When was the last time you played like a kid?