I was born in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, India. It wasn’t long before my parents decided to close shop and move to yet another metropolitan city – Toronto, Canada. Now, back in the early 2000’s Toronto wasn’t nearly as hip and happening as Mumbai; and if you ask me, it still isn’t and parts of me secretly believe that it probably never will be. Also, I think it’s a bit premature of me to label Mumbai as hip and happening considering that I only lived there until the age of 7. However, the annual trips back during summer break allowed me to slowly witness and experience the hustle and bustle of Mumbai.
You’re probably turning your eyes back towards the title of this blog right about now, wondering as to why I’m ranting on about Mumbai and Toronto when the title clearly suggests I’m to do so about New Delhi. Here’s why – Even though I no longer live in Mumbai and only traveled back every summer, I somehow managed to catch drift of the ‘Mumbai vs. New Delhi’ current. Boy oh boy was this current constantly flowing; at times the tides reached extremes highs. Not only was this topic highly dynamic and debatable, it was one that was and I believe till this day is a sensitive one to touch. Prick the wrong nerve and it can cause one heck of a verbal tsunami.
I never found myself engaging in debates or discussions surrounding this topic, but I always listened attentively, wondering if there in fact was a right answer. Today, after having travelled a fair bit, I can say without a shred of doubt that not only is it impossible, but inappropriate to decide which between the two is “better”. Both these cities are filled with immense history, architecture, culture and other factors that make them all that they are today. To me, both are incomparable and incredible in their own way.
Let me fast forward a little; about 3 years ago, I married Akshay (@akgrapher) and the two of decided to start doing the one thing we both loved (and still love) but, weren’t able to do enough of – travel! Our desire to go gallivanting around the globe is so intense that we can spend hours talking about it. For those of who aren’t already aware, both Akshay and I have our roots from India. Having said that, neither one of us had had the opportunity to discover the one city we seem to constantly cross paths with – New Delhi. Unfortunately, due to our tight schedules we had a short 12 hours to soak up all of New Delhi we could.
After clearing customs at the New Delhi airport and resisting ourselves from buying an unimaginable amount of chocolate from the duty free, we managed to grab a cab to our hotel. A short ride after, we found ourselves being greeted by the wonderfully humble staff at the Taj Diplomatic Palace. This remarkable hotel is nested in the diplomatic neighbourhood of New Delhi. After an easy check-in, we headed towards our room, only to find ourselves a lovely surprise awaiting us – a delicious chocolate cake, perfectly sized for two. And believe you me, that cake disappeared faster than the blink of an eye (metaphorically speaking). It was what I like to call it, ‘True Chocolate Decadence’.
Neither one of us was sleepy; our body clocks were set to Toronto time and jetlag had kicked in! So, the two of us snuggled in our luxurious hotel bed and watched a bit of television. About an hour later, we decided to shower and get dressed just in time for breakfast. Before we knew it, we found ourselves waiting outside the breakfast area waiting for it to open. We were guilty of being that annoying jetlagged couple impatiently waiting to pounce over the scrumptious breakfast array that the hotel served. Breakfast time meant it was actually dinnertime for us, and boy, were we ready to eat.
That breakfast spread prepared by the extremely talented chefs at the Taj, set the right tone for our day. With our tummies filled and our eyes eagerly waiting to take in the incredible sights of New Delhi, we drove off in a local cab heading towards the Qutub Minar. I had been waiting to lay my eyes on this historical monument and slowly I found the tires of our cab screeching to an end. “Aa gaya hai”, said the cabbie. Meaning, “You’ve arrived”. As excited as I was to step out and hear the stories this monument was about to share with me, I dreaded stepping out in the scorching New Delhi heat at 41 degrees celcius. I was certain that I would be baked from within.
It wasn’t the way I’d imagined it to be. Somehow, I envisioned a massively tall pillar the colour that of a cinnamon stick surrounded with a crowd of people. Little did I know, that this this pillar rested in a ground so big surrounded by other walls and gateways partially destructed. I found my neck tilt up so high simply to find the tip of the Qutub Minar. I was blown away. Breath taken. The architecture was so stunning and the carvings so intricate. I was speechless; unaware of how I’d translate the beauty of this monument in words enough to do it’s beauty justice. If you ask me now, I don’t think I can ever find the right words to entirely justify its beauty.
All I can say this – if you live in or around New Delhi, you must visit the Qutub Minar to understand why I’m at a loss of words. If however, you live miles and continents away from the Qutub Minar, place it (and New Delhi) on your bucket list and make sure to pay it a visit. I promise you, it will be worth your while!
P.S. If you want to skip the crowds and tour the grounds as if it were your personal palace, be sure to arrive right when it opens. Empty grounds also make for the perfect Instagram photos! Local tourists in India I find, are delightfully laid back and don’t really start touring until around 11:00.
After a quick outfit change at a local coffee shop, we headed straight to the Red Fort. The taxi driver dropped us off in front of one of the many entrances of the Red Fort. Confused as to which direction we were to walk in, we soon learned that we had to take an short rickshaw ride to actually arrive at the entrance. Upon arrival, I found myself drawing attention; I guess I kind of asked for it wearing the outfit I was. No, I wasn’t flashing anyone, nor was I dressed in an offensive manner, but yes, the outfit wasn’t covering every inch of my body.
20 minutes later, we had successfully purchased our tickets to enter and a short walk later, we had finally arrived on the inner grounds of the Red Fort. There was a massive crowd! I began panicking – partly due to the heat and partly due to the lack of empty space to start shooting. Eventually, Akshay and I made it happen; it took a great deal of time and patience, as well as being FAST, to make the most of every low-crowd moment we found.
We arrived back at the hotel drenched in our sweat, waiting to shower AGAIN! It’s funny how a couple of hours basking under the hot sun can drain all your energy. I of course was the first to hit the shower. While I showered, I thought to myself “I can’t make this yet another hotel stay not taking advantage of the ginormous pool”. So, I quickly rinsed the soap of my body and ran out to find my bathing suit. Almost certain that my husband was too tired to hit the pool with me; I decided to extend the invite to him anyway. He looked at me like I was a crazy nut. Crazy enough to take a dip in the pool at the worse hour of the day. When the sun was blazing and a time where I would almost certainly burn my skin. Adamant as I was, I decided to do it anyway.
As soon as I stepped out in the pool area, I started to think that maybe it was a bad idea. Regardless of what my brain was telling me, I decided to listen to my heart and swim just like I had planned on. To my surprise, the sun didn’t bother me one bit and in fact I felt a breeze whilst in the pool that I didn’t feel before. A breeze that kept me cool and helped me fully enjoy my swim. I was so happy to finally find myself in a hotel pool; something I was somehow unable to do during my past vacations.
After my entirely satisfactory swim, I headed back to my hotel room to take yet another shower, this time to rid the smell of chlorine. This last shower felt so relaxing that all I could think about was taking a nap. I found myself fighting off the urge to sleep because I had so much more to see. The fatigue and jetlag however, was telling me to hop into bed and snuggle myself to sleep beside my husband. And that is what I did.
Akshay and I woke up from our nap and decided to call room service for our evening tea. The desk agent informed us that we also had the option to head downstairs for a lovely ‘Tea for Two’ if we liked. Of course, after our recent trip to London, UK, both Akshay and I had become ‘tea hoarders’ and there was no way we’ve turn down that offer. I slipped into a semi-casual dress and Akshay in a pair of chinos and a shirt; we were headed for tea and thought it would be nice to dress up a little. Holding Akshay’s hand, I carefully strutted in my heels not to be loud. We were greeted so sweetly by the lounge staff who navigated us through the menu. Right of the bat, I knew I’d be ordering myself a smooth yet bold cup of English Breakfast and of course knew that Akshay would go for something along the lines of an Assam or Darjeeling Tea and that’s precisely what he chose. Also, we had the option to choose between a traditional tea, which included Indian snacks such as Samosas and Kachoris and a continental tea, which included non-Indian snacks such as Butter Tarts and Date Squares. The best way to enjoy the best of both worlds was to indulge ourselves and order one of each and that’s what we did.
Soon our teas arrived with two towers of sweet and savoury treats ready to be devoured. A combination of finger sandwiches, mini samosas, mini kachoris, butter tarts, mii gateaux, ladoos and so much more! Before we knew it, it was time to grab our bags and catch a flight to Chandigarh, Punjab.
Seatbelts on and ready to take off! Looking out the window, slowly pulling up and away from New Delhi, I began to think of how I had to come back here someday. Someday with more than just 12 hours. Someday with maybe 12 days, to see more of what New Delhi has to offer. To discover other historical monuments this city is home to. To taste more than just hotel food and take more than just one dip in the hotel pool.
Dear New Delhi,
Thank you for all that you offered in the short 12 hours that I spent with you. I can’t wait to come back and spend more time to get to know you better.
I bid you a fond farewell (just for now).
The Real Juhi Sharma