I knew I would be in for new surprises visiting our office in India as my female colleague from the UK, Alex, is also coming. She knows India just like any local does, but with just the right balance of caution and adventure.
Last night she brought me, Kenny Whitelaw-Jones and Steve Janes to what is called South Delhi for dinner and we used the metro (a first for Kenny and Steve) to get there. We were supposed to just walk from the Hauz Khas station to get to South Delhi but there was a major road construction going on and it was already late at night so our only option was to hire a tuk-tuk. After Alex haggled with the driver to get us there from INR 400 for just INR 100, we went into the vehicle one by one.
By the time our two 6-foot male companions were inside, it was clear there was space for just one person left and so Alex volunteered to let me sit on her lap (I was the smallest in the group). The ride went on for like 8 minutes and all I could think of was to hold on tight and to lift my bum up so I can keep my head from bumping the metal roof or knocking my knees on the wall when we’d go over a hump or a hole on the road. Alex also held on tightly to the rail beside us to make sure I don’t fall off the tuktuk when the driver swerves (which was often)! What a crazy ride! The three of them were squeezed like sardines at the back. I can’t remember everything but I heard “slow down”, “watch your head” and “this is better than the rides you get at Universal Studios”.
Anyway, we got to South Delhi and the place really reminded me of Vigan in Ilocos Norte but less regulated. Here, you will see restaurants that offer different cuisines – from Italian to Tibetan and even TexMex. There were boutiques too and there’s an area that is right next to the tombs (obviously one of the tourist attractions here). I saw a store selling old books and antique stuff. It was already closed for the night but it would be really interesting to see what’s inside and maybe I’ll find an old book or something for Nico.
The first restaurant choice was Yeti (a few floors from the old books shop) which offers Tibetan cuisine but the place was full and we would not get a seat until after 30 minutes so we looked somewhere else. It was a nice walk, with Kenny taking photos of interesting signs along the way, and the guys wanting to attempt to break into the chained gates to see the tombs. The Delhi elections will be taking place in a few days too, and restaurants and shops are banned from selling alcohol (they call it “Dry Day”).
We’ve reached the end of the main road and did not find anything so we headed back. I noticed a small alley on the left that had a restaurant so I asked Alex if we could try exploring there. I was expecting we’d turn around as soon as we saw that all shops were closed the rest of the way but Alex went on ahead and would take turns here and there. It was like following Harry Potter in Diagon Alley.
I thought the turns would lead us back to the main road but we came up to a dead end (Kenny took a photo of another interesting sign he saw there of an internet cafe). There was a vacant lot on the left and on the right was an old apartment. Alex went inside and up the stairs and told us she used to come to the higher floor where they served Southern Indian food. I wondered if she is sure this is the place! She seemed to know so, so I imagined it would look like one of those houses in the UP “Area” who open their dining rooms to UP students.
We stopped at the third floor, I think, Alex came to a big door and through the glass window I could see there is definitely a restaurant inside. When I went to Taj Mahal two years ago with Alex, I was convinced I can backpack with this lady wherever in the world because she was so sensible. Its just been affirmed when she brought us to this place.
It was a beautiful restaurant with huge mirrors framed in what looks like antique bronze (?) that had simple patterns on them. There was an Indian music softly playing in the background and the guests were Indians but they conversed in English (and at an academic level at that). I later found out that the place is called Golconda Bowl.
Alex and I agreed to share just one order of the chicken biryani (the bestseller) and mutton stew but the men had a go at it probably because we were all very hungry already. Steve had this chicken in spinach sauce and Kenny ordered a non-veg dish that had red sauce plus two types of bread and a vegetable biryani.
All that took less than 5 minutes for the waiter to note. But the lime drink was the most difficult one. Alex made it clear it is fresh lime with soda water. “With sugar or salt?” the waiter asks. “No sugar, no salt. Just fresh lime and soda water.” The waiter repeats the question twice, I think, and then finally nods/shakes his head the Indian way and respectfully leaves. Alex says he would probably serve it with sugar or salt just to be sure. When our drinks arrived, I was the first to give it a taste and declared that mine definitely needs sugar! Apparently they served lime juice with water. We decided to wait until all the food arrived before we asked the waiter to replace our drinks, explaining that Alex clearly said soda water earlier. And we finally had the lime juice just the way Alex wanted it.
The food took a while but it was really delicious – everything was served hot and just the right of saltiness and spiciness in all of them. The breads were also really delicious (I could eat the roti on its own). We ended up with a lot of leftovers and then I realized, after having had Indian meals the past two days I can really just take 4 tablespoons of spiced rice, 2 pieces of their round bread, and 1 piece of meat. In the Philippines I can easily eat two cups of rice but the food is soooooo rich here I will have indigestion if I did that here.
When we stepped out of the restaurant it was much colder, it felt like 9C. Steve helped haggle with the tuktuk driver this time (it was late and might charge up to INR 500) and even used the “walking away” strategy so we successfully got the ride for just INR100.
The driver on our way back to Hauz Khas was worst! He was driving so so fast (felt like 80 km/h to me) and swerving left and right. There were two instances when I felt like we were really going to tip over. Alex, adventurous as she is, found it dangerous, too so she was calling out to him from the back “slow down!” in Indian and the driver said “Theek Hai” (which means okay). But he just went on driving in that fashion! Kenny was red in the face laughing. Steve was laughing too but he was saying “Stop laughing, it will encourage him!”. My god, I thought we were going to crash into something at some point in that ride.
Well, we did not, but while we came to a stop (we had to counter-flow to get to the other side of the road – this was the scariest part of the ride because we were looking at vehicles going the opposite the direction at 60-80km/h, against the tuktuk we were in!), the compact Honda car in front of us suddenly backed up without looking at his side mirror and hit our tuktuk. We were not harmed, the car was scratched a bit but the right front side of the tuktuk was bashed. Drivers talked to each other and after 10 minutes the private motorist handed our driver what looked like INR200 and that was it.
The ticket booths in the metro station were already empty when we got there (it was almost 11pm). The guys went ahead to the platform while Alex and I went through the inspection area meant for women. Our bags were “thoroughly inspected” and I was expecting that Alex would be right behind me after I went through the flap gates. But they stopped working for some reason and she had to try all the flap gates and get assistance from the guard nearby. The train was already coming in and Alex and I were still upstairs so as soon as she went through we were running down the stairs, the two men in sight just waiting right outside the train doors for us. I remember seeing Steve holding the door, similar to what we do when we try to keep the elevator doors open. We made it inside just a few seconds before the doors closed.