Let the Visits Begin!
On Friday night I welcomed my first visitor, my friend Nakita, to my current home turf in New Delhi. Nakita is from Trinidad and Tobago, we studied together at St. Ben’s, and now she is doing her Masters in Environmental Management in Australia. She decided to spend her three months summer break exploring southeast Asia sans Lonely Planet and India is her first stop! We hadn’t seen each other since summer 2010 so it was a very happy and surreal reunion at the airport. I was so happy to see her bright smile after more than a year and was amazed by the fact that we were meeting on the other side of the globe.
We slept in on Saturday, had a simple breakfast, and then headed out around noon to roam the giant pavilions of the International Trade Fair that was going on at the Delhi Exhibition Hall – it is an annual two week event in which most of the states of India set up a huge pavilion full of handicrafts, food, and cultural demonstrations. We took an auto to the metro and found a spot in the ladies-only car (in case I haven’t mentioned this, there are separate security lines for men and women when entering the metro and the first car of every train is ladies only, a luxury I greatly appreciate especially on a packed metro). Our train became increasingly crowded as we neared the station closest to the exhibition grounds. A wave of passengers exited the train at our destination and we joined the throng of excited Delhiites heading toward the trade fair. Nakita is one of the most laid back and easygoing people I know but I was still amazed by her ability to laugh and stay cool as we were pushed out of the metro station in a sea of people like a herd sheep. We quickly assessed that it could take an hour or more to enter the actual fair grounds so we opted out and instead walked around the perimeter of the grounds, people watching, and commenting on the sights, sounds, and smells of the street.
Once we had our fill of the crowds we headed to Khan Market for lunch at Turtle Cafe. We walked around the market and Nakita got a great looking kurta at Fabindia. We decided to continue shopping so we took an auto to explore INA market, a large neighborhood market which sells beautiful fabrics and just about everything else, and Dili Haat, a government run market with crafts and products from all over India. Dili Haat was a smaller and less chaotic version of the trade fair, so we thought it would be a great alternative.
We arrived in the evening and headed to dinner at the students’ restaurant near the East Gate of JNU. This restaurant, called Secular House by some, and Mezban by others, is one of those places that doesn’t look like anything from the outside, lacks atmosphere on the inside, but serves some of the best (and cheapest) Indian food I have had in all my time here. I invited a large group of friends and we ended up with a table of fifteen people representing ten different countries. I invited friends from JNU, Rotary, and a very random movie audition. There were varying degrees of separation between us and I was Kevin Bacon. Emrys described it as “Anna is the wheel and we are the spokes”.
We ordered family style and had a great time passing the delicious dishes, roti, naan, and chilly potatoes around the table, eating until we were stuffed, sharing conversation, and enjoying coffee and tea. I felt so happy and warm to be surrounded by many of the great friends I have made during my time here so far. Nakita was smiling and telling me she was not surprised that I had already acquired such an international group of friends. It was really great to introduce someone from my life “before India” to the friends and places I have gotten to know so well here. It was a strong affirmation that I am in the right place and growing.
On Sunday morning Nakita and I visited the Baha’i House of Worship, better known as the Lotus Temple. It is a beautiful structure, reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, and the environment inside the temple is serene and peaceful. It is meant to be a space where people of all faiths can come to pray or meditate. Our visit to the information center was an enlightening experience for both of us as we learned about the Baha’i faith. Established in 1844, the main tenet of Baha’i is the unity of the human family. I was deeply touched by each of the quotes we read as we walked around the exhibit. I bought a book, an introduction to Baha’i faith, so I will no doubt take up this subject for further discussion in a future post. I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Delhi to make sure you visit the Lotus Temple and learn more about this unique and beautiful community.
We headed to Little Tibet for a delicious lunch of thanthuk soup, beef momos, chow mein, garlic chicken, veggies, and apple beer at Tee Dee Restaurant. Emrys joined us and helped with our overly ambitious food order. Nakita and I walked off our food coma by exploring the peaceful alleyways of Little Tibet. Our walk led us to this beautiful grove of trees which was completely covered in prayer flags.
We walked further and found ourselves at the edge of a village in the middle of the city at the edge of the river (Yamuna, I believe), complete with reed huts and verdant vegetable patches. Delhi is full of unexpected treasures like this.
Nakita will spend the next 15 days exploring the colorful state of Rajasthan on a group tour before we meet up again in Bangalore for a few days there and four days in the southernmost state of Kerala. I dropped her off to the tour on Sunday evening and joined the group for dinner. It seems like she has a fun group. I told them that Rajasthan is where I fell in love with India. I’ll look forward to pictures and stories from her tour. In the meantime I will finish my semester in Delhi and then jet set to the northeast to explore Darjeeling and Sikkim with Emrys to speak at a few Rotary clubs and drink plenty of tea!
In addition to spending much overdue time with Nakita, the entire weekend was a fun opportunity for me to experience Delhi all over again through new eyes. I was amazed to realize how much I have gotten used to, things I never thought I’d adjust to such as the horns and noise of traffic or the universal disregard for driving in the lanes. This adventure has been such a gift so far. I look forward to unwrapping whatever is in store for me next.