Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Dhola Ri Dhani

Upon morning arrival from Bombay, I began my last week in Hyderabad. Tuesday evening our team had reservations for a Rajasthani-themed restaurant on the outskirts of town called Dhola ri Dhani. The restaurant featured not only camel rides, a Rajasthani puppet show, a magic show, and innumerable other attractions, but also choki-styled seating and traditional dinner. As expected, our team of six exhibited remarkable enthusiasm for the location. With child-like energy we bounded from one activity to the next, accompanied by a man in a dancing horse costume. The Rajasthani puppet show featured puppets juggling fire, and the magician promised to retrieve someone's ring from my nose. He gave me orders in only Hindi, so somehow the ring ended up in the middle of a tomato instead.

The choki-styled dinner is one in which you dine seated at a small table. Dinner requires not only that you manage spices well, but also that your knees can withstand a couple hours of awkward pillow repose aside a stunted table. For me the former was not a problem, but the latter left me limping to the sink to wash up. After rounds and rounds of food, raita and dal, sweets, kulchas and gobi and aloo (all veg), rice and curd, I managed to convince the waiter that 'Nai, nai' was not embarrassed courtesy masking hunger, but was bona fide, 'Do not give me any more food or I will wipe my curd-encrusted fingers all over your turban.'

We finished up the night with Gujarati hits (out of theme, of course) and a little post-meal dancing. After an impressive demonstration by one of the girls on our team, (a former Indian Idol finalist!), we packed up the cars and left Rajasthan.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Whirlwind Weekend

With the arrival of Anna on the sub-continent, we set off on a whirlwind India tour. Starting with dinner at Bukhara, the acclaimed 'Best restaurant in Asia,' and '50 Best Restaurants in the World,' our first day in Delhi was one for the books. Beginning with a 5AM airport arrival, we toured Delhi until 10PM. From the Qutb Minar to the Red Fort, National Museum, Rajpath, Old Delhi, we ravaged Delhi's tourist attractions in a successful effort to keep Anna awake. While we did make the mistake of walking the Rajpath from the Gate of India to the Secretariat in 45 degree C heat, this was imperative preparation for our upcoming stint in Udaipur, Rajasthan. When we had reached the Secretariat, having engaged in a nervous and jocular banter with two guards carrying machine guns, my mouth was parched and shirt soaked. An oppressive blanket of heat stifled every pore in my body, and I could feel the pulsing blood in the back of my neck. As even short distances began to present themselves as insurmountable obstacles, we decided to text Permeshwar, our Bihari driver, for more AC touring.

On Anna's second day we drove from Gurgaon to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and then we flew to Udaipur for the forts and palaces for which Rajasthan is famous. A Jet Airways flight full of Italians, and an hour later, we arrived in Udaipur. Upon arrival we were reminded by our taxi driver that Bond's 'Octopussy' was filmed at the Lake Palace, now a Taj Group hotel. Although we tried for drinks there, popularity means that prix fixe is now the only sky-high reservation option. We spent the day meandering through the serpentine streets, playing Lewis Hamilton with the cows and rickshaws that kept us alert.

Low season in Udaipur means high temperatures, but little traffic. We had a private tour of the Monsoon Palace, another gorgeous vista over the arid Aravalli Mountains. As we looked Westward, little obstructed our view toward Pakistan. We had lunch at the nearly deserted Devi Garh, a five-star palace hotel featured in my Bollywood favorite, Eklavya. While it was the preferred location for Liz Hurley's wedding, its intimate size precluded it from being a finalist. With JW Blue Label on rocks in hand, we took a tour of its offerings.

After two days in Rajasthan we set off for Bombay, and our last stop before I had to return to Hyderabad for my final week of work. Mumbai offered stark contrast, and as we flew down Marine Drive at sunset, looking at the glowing orb set over the Arabian Sea, illuminating the skyline of Malabar Point, nostalgia began to set in. We settled into our Churchgate hang-out, and walked Colaba for a night out with two Nariman friends in Indiana Jones-style, Leopold Cafe. After street-side paan, and snaps of betelnut faces, we headed for 'Not Just Jazz by the Bay,' a trendy establishment in Churchgate that, at 1am, offered pretty faces and unlocked doors.

At 5AM I jumped a taxi for a 7AM flight to Hyderabad. In a rattling suicide mission to the airport, my taxista got me from Churchgate to Bombay International in 15 minutes flat. It was the type of drive for which the flicker of headlights and horn suffice as warning for our intersection crossing. Brakes are not used. While I could have buckled-up in the back-seat, what good is it at 'Mach 2 with your hair on fire.'