These were the instructions I received from work in advance of my visit (and my response to them):
1) Stay up-to-date on routine vaccinations (umm… these take 6 months, so given that I only had 2 months warning, no can do)
2) Drink bottled water that is sealed. Do not drink tap or well water. (Question: How should I brush my teeth?)
3) Eat food that is cooked and served hot, washed fruits and vegetables and pasteurized dairy products. Do not eat food served at room temperate, food from street vendors, raw or uncooked meat or eggs. (This was reiterated by EVERYONE I spoke to. With additional warning not to eat ANYTHING raw.)
4) Prepare for activities by wearing the right clothes and packing protective items, such as bug spray, sunscreen, and a basic first aid kit to prevent bug bites. (Did I read Malaria was a real issue here? Yes. Yes I did.)
- In case you plan to shop, select a safe transportation: – Avoid overcrowded places and choose official taxis only.
- Use sidewalks and marked crosswalks when travelling on foot. In India, people on foot do not always have the right of way. (What?!?!)
5) Reduce your exposure to germs: Wash your hands often, especially before eating. (Purell… Check)
6) Talk to your doctor about which items are most important for you. (I would totally do that… if I had a doctor)
So with this as an introduction, you can guess that I was a wee bit nervous about my visit to the literal opposite side of the planet.
After two days on a plane (I left Friday PM and arrived Sunday AM), I finally arrived in Delhi, India. The Delhi airport is actually modern and clean. My travel buddy from LA and I were picked up by the Hotel in a Mercedes. TIP: Prearrange transport with the Hotel.
Upon arrival at our hotel (The stunning Oberoi Gurgaon), my travel buddy and I decided to take a tour of Delhi. We had a driver from the Hotel shuttle us around, in the Hotel’s BMW 7 series. We had now been in the two nicest cars I had seen all day. Our driver explained to us that although there are rules for driving, no one follows them. He assured us, however, HE would follow the rules in THIS car, because it belonged to the hotel. TIP: Get a driver from the hotel wherever you decide to go.
Our driver weaved in an out of traffic (lines on the road are really purposeless), around scooters, Tuk Tuks, and other taxis. There is a curious communication which occurs with the honking. I was able to decipher that two quick beep beep’s mean “I’m passing you” but there were a series of other honks and beeps that were completely lost in translation. TIP: Don’t talk to your driver. They will turn around and have a conversation with you while looking backwards, and yet driving forwards. Despite the chaos, lack of rules, and disregard for safety, no one seems to get into accidents. I have no clue how this happens.
During the tour, we visited an old mosque and passed by numerous historical, religious and government sites. We got out and walked through an old mosque. It was crowded, hot and humid. Nothing was in English. TIP: Google the history of the locations you will visit in advance. There are no brochures. The Red Fort is the most visited location in Dehli, but it was surrounded by a huge Sunday market, and we are told there were numerous pick pockets. With this in mind, we decided to stay in the car for the remainder of the tour. TIP: Ask your driver what is safe to visit.
There is no where you can look and NOT see people. This is a crowded place. While I did see lots of poverty, it was not as bad as I had expected. The women dress colorfully in beautiful saris and I was surprised by how happy everyone was. There were several people that smiled and waved at us.
Next on the agenda was Retail Therapy. We did a bit of shopping, where we purchased some pashminas, silk scarves, spices and jewelry. None of it was cheap, but it was all very beautiful. TIP: Don’t go to India expecting a bargain. I spent way more money than planned. I bought a ring which needed to be sized, so they offered to deliver it to my hotel. So, here was the dilemma. Do I stay for an hour and wait for the (slightly expensive) ring in person, or do I trust that it will arrive at my hotel. I went with TRUST (surprised?) and headed back to the hotel without the ring. Although it was now dinner time, I was scared to eat and frankly too exhausted, so I headed up to the hotel room to nap and wait for my ring. As promised, right before 8pm, my phone rang and the ring was waiting for me in the lobby. I collected my ring, bushed my teeth with bottled water, and then promptly fell asleep. Trust wins.
The following day was the Taj, and I had to be up very, very, early. TIP: When traveling on the other side of the planet. Follow the natural circadian rhythm. Sleep when it is nighttime. This is not really a place you visit for rest or relaxation, so get your sleep when you can.
Homemade Indian Naan
Naan is an Indian flat bread that was served at every meal. If you want to spice it up a bit, add some of your favorite spices to the top just before you place it in the pan to cook. Nothing beats homemade naan. It’s soft and tender and delicious.
- 5 c flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
- 1 c milk
- 1 c water
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp ghee or melted butter, plus more for cooking
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a stand mixer, combine the sugar and yogurt, then add the milk and water and beat with the whisk. Slowly add in two cups of the flour mix. Once combined (it will look like pancake batter), add the egg and melted butter/ghee. Mix in the egg and butter. Continue to add the remaining flour slowly until combined. The mixture will be VERY VERY sticky. On a heavily floured surface, pour out the dough and knead with oil coated hands. It will stick to your hands. Divide the dough into 8 pieces, and form the pieces into balls by sprinkling liberally with flour, and rolling until a ball forms. Place on baking sheet dusted with flour and push the dough into a small round. Repeat with all eight pieces. Set aside for 30 minutes to rest, covered with plastic wrap, or refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the naan, heat up a cast iron skillet over high heat and turn on the broiler. Prepare a cookie sheet to go into the broiler. Place a dough round on a heavily floured surface, put ghee or butter on your fingers, and press the dough into a circle about 6 inches wide. Gently pick up the naan (it will stretch and stick a bit) and quickly place the oiled side down on the cast iron. Drizzle the top with more ghee. Cook the bottom for about 2 minutes, then transfer to the cookie sheet and place under the broiler for another 2 minutes. Repeat until all are cooked. Set naan aside under a towel. If not using immediately, you can store in foil and reheat the foil pack in the oven before serving.