Sunday, November 4, 2007

Delhi and back

Let me preface this post with the following: I like Chennai. I like Chennai more now after spending a little time in Delhi.

On to the weekend, finally.

The kids stayed with friends, we went to Delhi. It's the first time we've hopped a plane without them, ever, and I'll admint it was relaxing and pleasant. The kids stayed with a family with 3 kids: a 2nd grader, 6th grader and 9th grader. On Saturday they all went out for Pizza Hut and spent the evening at school for the AISC Diwali party. The amount of stuff I sent with them was appalling including sleeping bags, Diwali clothes, books, games... but all bases were covered. Unfortunately we left Rebecca on Friday night feeling feverish. It's never comfortable leaving a sick child behind, thankfully she was pretty much OK by Saturday aside from a continued mild case of laryngitis.
Enough on them, what did we do? We flew off into the sunrise Saturday morning on Kingfisher airlines. Great airline, highly recommended. It left on time, provided a hot breakfast, arrived on time, and gifted bags of goodies. They even have web check-in. The seats are comfortable and actually provide a little leg room. Not the same on Deccan Air for our return trip. Kingfisher just acquired Deccan, but there's much to do yet to bring Deccan up to par. The seats were old faux leather and there was absolutely no leg room. Both of our knees were pressed into the seat in front. Ian was even more miserable once the seat in front of him reclined. Our seats did not recline... we were in front of the emergency exit row. There is a pay a la carte menu, even the coffee is Rs20 worth of instant Cafe' Coffee Day packaged brew. And they were out of the instant noodles. The plane was old and loud, and totally not worth the slightly cheaper fare. We'll avoid taking Deccan again, though we chose it for the timing. The return Kingfisher flight wasn't until the evening and we wanted to come back in the afternoon at a good time to retrieve the kids.
The flight is only 2 1/2 hours. We can handle anything for 2 1/2 hours.
Delhi airport was familiar. We met up with our neighbors who had taken the Deccan flight up and they offered to share their car with us to get us to our hotel.
Actually, it wasn't our hotel yet. We never got a confirmation prior to our arrival that the last blocked room had been reassigned to us. Ian was in regular contact with a Marine at post who assured us time and again that everything would be in place. We arrived at the hotel, said thanks to our friends, and got ready to hike next door to the ITC Hotel in case we were homeless. We weren't homeless. The room was ours and we were upgraded to the Club floor with the standard free bottle of wine and view of a far off Humayun's Tomb. Like last year at this time, the weather in Delhi is categorized as "Smoke" and folks readily complain about the polluted haze hanging over the city as more and more people burn dung fires for heat and cooking. We found the air fresh and cool, which goes to show the relative heat and stink of Chennai. I think some had to do with the area we were in too. The Diplomatic Enclave is an area of town filled with broad tree lined streets, little traffic and spacious compounds. One edge of the enclave is protected forest even. To say it was a pleasure to walk around outside is an understatement.
Our room wasn't ready immediately, a common issue arriving at 9:30 in the morning. We had a leisurely brunch until the tables were cleared for the lunch crowd, checked our room, then took a walk towards the Gandhi salt statue. We never actually made it to the statue, instead we were sidetracked by the American School, American Embassy and American Compound. All in a 3 block radius - one block each. Thirty percent of the Embassy personnel live on the compound, the rest live up to 20 minutes away in apartments. For those who live on the compound (mostly families), I see this: Get up, walk to school. Get up, cross the street to work. Pick up groceries from the commissary. You can buy anything in the real size store that you don't already buy in your consumables. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer. Meet up with friends in the ice cream shop. Get in some laps at the pool. Watch a Tball game. Go bowling. Have a date at the one of the on-compound full-service restaurants. Play with the other kids in the neighborhood. Ride bikes. Have a picnic on one of the tended lawns. And if you want to step outside the American bubble, attend a function at one of the Embassies down the street. Have dinner at the Chinese or Japanese restaurant a couple blocks away. Get cash from the ATM. Or don't, because the commissary takes any either Rs or $, cash or check. Some trips out of town include the pink city of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
They get 20% differential. Some even want 25%. They don't like the pollution (I'm sure it gets bad on days), they don't like the traffic (it's INDIA), and they have no local grocery stores (never mind the commissary, apparently).
It makes me happy we're in Chennai where we earn our 20%.
Enough on that.
We returned to the hotel to shower and nap. Getting up at 4 a.m. and knowing we'd be up late that night, we snoozed while we could. The room was quiet. Unfortunately we snoozed right through snack time and our neighbors arrived to get dolled up for the Ball.
We should have snacked. While the appetizers were tasty, after I dropped a mushroom puff I was a little wary of eating while standing and holding a glass. Holding a glass, the talent of all Officers and kin. It doesn't have to have anything in it even, but having that glass at all times is the final touch to every formal gathering. I'll stick with that and pass on the tasty tidbits. The ceremony started a mere 5 minutes late, but the birthday message, the colors, and the National Anthem, the cake cutting, and the two honored guest speeches pushed the time back to nearly 10 p.m. The cake cutting is always a wonderful ceremony, honoring the youngest and oldest Marines present. The oldest was a retired visitor, but the youngest was one of the current Embassy guards, a young man turning 21 next month. The cake was pretty good too, not at all like the fruit cake thing in Togo.
Dinner was a wonderful buffet and we stuffed ourselves silly. We were seated at a table with our Chennai neighbors and three Delhians (Delhiites?) but there wasn't that much time to chat before the music started blaring at 11 p.m. The DJ needed a bit of help with music choice and the process of letting a song finish before cutting to the next, but we had plenty of fun with the songs we did know. Showing our age, we bailed at 12:30 with our blisters and crashed upstairs.
Sunday morning was beautiful. The temperature outside just gorgeous and again we had a long leisurely brunch. The night had the emergency rule instituted in Pakistan, so the newspapers were all atwitter and little else was on the tube. Delhi is hardly close to Pakistan, but it's a whole lot closer than Chennai. We went home. Once the bag was gently packed with our bottle of wine and 6 souvenir glasses from the Ball, the hotel provided a car to the airport and I already mentioned our flight home, so the return trip was uneventful. OK, I knew the bottle of wine couldn't come in carry-on luggage but we didn't have any checked bags. And it served a purpose as it distracted security from the bottles of shampoo I bought at the commissary and all the little gel things from the hotel room. No loss leaving the free bottle of wine at security.
The kids were exhausted from their busy weekend and happy to see us again. I think they were happier to see the hotel chocolates and very little gifts we brought back. What 11yo doesn't like door signs that say "Please collect laundry" and "Please make room." Hee.
Don't tell the Taj.

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