New Delhi was our disembarkation point and the first destination of 5 over a fabulous, two-week trip across north-central India. This was a trip we had planned for over a year. This is was the first time either of us had arrived in India via New Delhi (we usually land in Mumbai). We heard horror stories about the smog, traffic, and people, however, we remained carefully optimistic, and the city was a pleasant surprise.
As with most flights to the motherland, we arrived in the wee hours of the morning and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn New Delhi Saket. At night, between the plumes from smoldering roadside campfires, dilapidated buildings, and interesting smells, it was what I imagine it feels like landing in a war zone (with which I have no experience). When we arrived, the hotel welcomed us with a nice chocolate cake, a great way to sweeten the deal (this trip will be the longest Priyanka’s been away from our daughters, and I let the hotel know while she was sulking at one of our layover airports missing the girls).
We planned to give ourselves a full day of rest. This is crucial when traveling to Asia, due to the half-day time difference to the U.S. We were impressed that the Saket mall had a variety of high-end fashion stores. I got my “morning” Starbucks Coffee (at 1pm). That night, we had a meeting with the assistant for a member of the Indian Parliament, who was going to arrange for a tour of Sansad Bhavan (India’s equivalent of Capitol Hill) and Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential mansion, like the White House). We also brought an American flag that was flown over the White House as a gift for the MP. We had tea with his assistant, then went back to the hotel for dinner.
As we drove to and from the hotel that night, we stopped at India Gate. It’s a beautiful monument that lies in perfect alignment with the front gate of Rashtrapati Bhavan via a large vista called Rajpath, resembling a dusty Champs-Élysées.
Sansad Bhavan & Rashtrapati Bhavan
The following day we took a tour of Parliament and the president’s house. The tours were a profound look into the workshop of the largest democracy in the world. You can tell the entire area is British-designed and -build, but there are subtle reminders of where you are. For example, the narrow stairways in Sansad Bhavan that connect each floor are lined with bright red stains that result from people chewing and spitting a preparation of areca nut and spices laced with tobacco, a really common sight throughout India (and anywhere in the world we decide to gather in large numbers).
Then we toured Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s home. Also constructed by the British, the friezes were all lined with Arabic calligraphy of Islamic scripture and Persian poems — I assume a nod to the last leaders of the British Raj period and its influence on the Delhi region.