Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A photo of our apartment

Here's a street-view photo of our apartment (ours is the one above the large balcony):

How's this for scafolding ??

The picture says it all: it was taken at the Red Fort:

A Trip through Old Delhi

This most recent weekend was spent visiting parts of Old Delhi, specifically the Red Fort & the shopping district.

The Red Fort is a 17th century fort complex constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857. The British used it as a military camp until India became independent in 1947. It was then used by the Indian military until 2003.

You come into the complex walking through a series of covered shops selling all sorts of nik-naks (including fridge magnets). You the enter through the Naqqar Khana into the royal pavilions.

There are a number of buildings in this part of the complex: Diwan-i-Aam The large pavilion used for public imperial audiences. It has an ornate throne-balcony for use by the emperor & prime minister. The columns were painted in gold and there was a gold and silver railing separating the throne from the public.

This was also the place where the Peacock throne was to be found. The following is taken from Wikipedia:

The name comes from the shape of a throne, having the figures of two peacocks standing behind it, their tails being expanded and the whole so inlaid with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones of appropriate colors as to represent life, created for the Mughal Badshah Shah Jahan of India in the 17th century. Shah Jahan had the famous Koh-i-noor diamond placed in this throne. The French jeweler Tavernier, who saw Delhi in 1665, described the throne as of the shape of a bed (a "takhteh" or platform), 6 ft. by 4 ft., supported by four golden feet, 20 to 25 in. high, from the bars above which rose twelve columns to support the canopy; the bars were decorated with crosses of rubies and emeralds, and also with diamonds and pearls. In all there were 108 large rubies on the throne, and 116 emeralds, but many of the latter had flaws. The twelve columns supporting the canopy were decorated with rows of splendid pearls, and Tavernier considered these to be the most valuable part of the throne. Estimates of its value varied between Rs. 40 million (Bernier) and Rs. 100 million (Tavernier).

The throne disappeared in 1739 when the Persians invaded.

Behind the Diwan-i-Aam, you come into another courtyard area containing the following buildings from left to right: The Diwan-i-Khas is a pavilion clad completely in marble. The pillars are decorated with floral carvings and inlay work with many semi-precious stones (long since looted). The floral carvings are pretty amazing though.

The Mumtaz Mahal (now a museum – that didn’t seem to be open)

The Rang Mahal – the Harem quarters. This area had an amazing collection of water channels that (unfortunately) didn’t have any water running through them. That was a bit a shame really because this complex is all about highlighting the mix of Persian & Mughal styles & water was a big part of that.

Beside the Diwan-i-Khas is the Moti Masjid, otherwise known as the Pearl Mosque. It was the private mosque for Aurangzeb.

Lunch at Moti Mahal

We got a rickshaw to take us to this quite famous Indian restaurant. Can I just say that Tania & I could barely fit into the rickshaw.

Moti Mahal restaurant is supposedly where butter chicken was created & it featured in a recent Channel 4 television series with Gordon Ramsey.

We just had to try the butter chicken: it was great with a tangy sweet taste we think was mango. With our bellies full, it was then time to head into the heart of old Delhi: the narrow, crowded streets. As an aside, we asked the folks at Moti Mahal about Gordon Ramsey. Without really saying anything, the implication was that he couldn’t make a descent Butter Chicken. We all had a good laugh.

The Spice Markets of old Delhi

Our friendly rickshaw riders delivered us into the heart of the spice markets. We found ourselves being led down narrow & crowded streets of shop after shop selling spices. He then led us into this back alleyway which was a bustling hive of activity.

The place was full of sacks of spices (mainly chillies). The air was so thick with the scent of chillies & garman marsala that you were struggling to breathe at times. The fact that all the guys there were coughing up their lungs didn’t instil you with confidence.

As we were being led up a darkened staircase, we all joked about visions of being led into a trap where we’d be knocked unconscious & either sold into the slave trade or our organs harvested. As it turns out, we were just a tad paranoid: it became very apparent that our rickshaw driver was simply taking yet another group of tourists on his little “guided tour” of the district.

So...did we actually buy any spices ?? You bet !! Chris wanted some saffron so we popped into this one particular place (randomly chosen). Well......thirty minutes & about $AUD200.00 later, both groups walk out with enough packages spices to last a lifetime. We bought . The guy was a very slick salesman who knew how to put on the charms.

The Jewellery sector of old Delhi

Our next (& final stop) was to the jewellery quarter. We suddenly found ourselves off the main road & cycling up these even narrower alleys (they weren’t roads) where you had the mass of humanity, motorbikes, vespers & other rickshaws all struggling to make their way to wherever it was they were going.

The sight of this chaos was mind-boggling, yet it seemed to flow fairly relatively smoothly (for the most part).

We were in search of this one particular shop which turned out to be in this side street called the “nine houses” because there are nine houses/shops in this oasis of tranquillity from the madness of the alleys. We’d come to get Tania’s engagement ring fixed (the stone had popped out). We saw some beautiful things there & I bought Tania a lovely “Star of India” brooch & necklace.

With this done, it was time to call it a day & make our way home. We’d been out most of the day; it had been a hot day; we were tired & sore; we were covered in dust so we decided to head to the “Imperial” hotel (via a tuk-tuk) for a refreshing (& as it turns out....expensive) drink in the air-conditioned comfort of one of the grandest hotels in New Delhi. It was a very civilised way to end a chaotic & mad day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The concept of "free parking" at Kahn Markets

I'm sure this applies for other markets in New Delhi & quite possibly, the rest of India.

Kahn Markets have signs up all over the place that say "Free Parking" & "Do not pay the parking attendants". Even the parking attendants wear shirts that say "Free Parking".

The reality is like this:

Parking is a bit of a free-for-all there & the Indians will try to cram as many cars as they can into every available space. If you're leaving your car, you leave it unlocked & the hand brake disengaged..that way when it's time for someone to leave, they can simply push your car (& others) out of the way, thus creating a space for the car to leave.

Now..on the subject of leaving, if you actually want to get out, this seems to be where you pay "a fee" (normally IR10 - about 20cents) for them to move cars about, creating room for you to move your car.

Only in India.

You know there's a World Cup on....

You know there's a Cricket World Cup going on when you see Tony Greig (the English cricketer) wandering around the Kahn Markets in New Delhi.

He's taller than I expected but the accent's a give away.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Holi festivities

It's the religious festival of Holi today (20th March).

That's where you run the risk of being 'paint-bombed" by the locals.

Tania & I will be holed up in our apartment the whole day.

Our security guard has already been paint-bombed in pink.

My first day at work

Well...Thursday was the first day in the new job.

An interresting day it was too. It all started going pear-shaped just before lunch when a question relating to my job resulted in the realisation that a certain "procedure" had not been followed correctly.

The result was that I was banished into an outer office until this mess could be sorted.

What a first day !!

Other sagas this week

We were waiting on our dryer to turn up & it finally did on Monday afternoon. The delivery guys kindly arrived while I was away & thoughtfully dumped it at the bottom of the stairs.

I got back from lunch & had to get our security guard to help me get it into the lift & into the apartment. There, I dragged it onto the back balcony (which is now our laundry) & out of its box.

While looking at the instruction manual (yes....I do actually read the manual !!), I noticed the three most feared words in the English language: "some assembly required".

Luckily I had my trusty swiss army knife (complete with screw driver & multiple/interchangeable heads) because I would have been screwed (no pun intended) otherwise !!

With a bit of brute force & lots of swearing in the meantime, I managed to assemble the legs & get the dryer in a stable position. We now have a washer/dryer combo. Yay !!

The bed saga

Well..you'll be happy to know that the saga of the bed is now over. The guys came back on Tuesday with a new base, conveniently in two pieces, that was easily transportable up the stairs.
We are now sleeping VERY soundly on our nice & comfortable bed.

Pity the king-sized sheets don't quite fit !! Well...they do. It's not really that bad but I think we need some slighty bigger sheets for them to fit properly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some more photos from the Changing of the Guard

Hiya folks,

Here are some more photos from the Changing of the Guards ceremony.

These were taken with my film camera....it was so nice to be using film again !!

I think our time in India will be my film camera's last hurrah so expect more photos here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dinner at Bukhara

It was Tania’s birthday yesterday (the 14th) so we went to this very famous Indian restaurant called “Bukhara”. It’s the sort of place that US presidents (ie: Clinton & Obama) have eaten at & is constantly judged one of the best Indian restaurants (certainly in India).

Its specialty is North-West Indian & it was an amazing (& quite expensive) meal.

We went for one of the presidential (Clinton) meals: you start off with a serve of pappadums with onions, mint chutney & yoghurt with peppers & onion. Go easy on the pappadums because wait until you see the main meal.

You're presented with a plate of meat, all cooked in the tandoor. There's lamb & there's chicken (what more do you need). The lamb just melted in your mouth & the chicken was to die for.

Add to that a bowl of the Bukhara dahl, potato skins stuffed with mashed potato (then deep fried), some naan bread & you were in heaven.

You weren’t given forks so it was a case of just digging in with the hands.

We had the meal with a NZ white & finished it off with some almond & cardamom ice-cream & a dumpling in a sugar syrup sauce with some cold noodles. Yum !!

There was so much food (I know it doesn’t look like much but looks can be deceiving) that we couldn’t finish it all. The staff kindly packaged it up in a doggy bag (actually...we weren't the only ones who couldn't finish our meals) so I’ve got dinner all set for tonight (Tania has a function she’s going to).

I can highly recommend dinner there: they have a signature Bukhara naan that is simply huge & perfect for large groups.

For you vegetarians, you're well & truly catered for as well: there are many excellent vegetarian dishes to choose from.

Fine dining group: you know who you are !! We are definitely coming here for a dinner.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Some news on the job front

Well...it looks like my days as the international man of leisure are about to come to a close.

For those of you that may not know: I applied for a locally engaged position at the Australian High Commission. The position is in the Defence Attache’s office & it’s the office manager position.

I applied within a week of arriving in-country (actually...I was handed the selection criteria at the airport when we arrived) & was interviewed. Yesterday....I found out I’d won the position.

I’m an office manager now !! Yay !!

So....starting Thursday.....I’m back at work.

I’m going to miss sleeping in until 9-10am but I’m not going to miss waiting around for workmen.

Andrew Spotting

The High Commission has a flock of peacocks on the grounds. You'll see them wandering around during the day. They're all called "Andrew" apparently.

This is the first time I've seen the male.

Changing of the guards

On Saturday, a group of us went to see the Ceremonial Changing of the Guards at the forecourt of the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan (the official residence of the President). I hope you like the photos:

The things you see

So....it’s Friday evening & I’m hopping into a taxi to go to the Australian High Commission to meet Tania for drinks when this herd of “sacred” cows decides they want to go for a wander up our street.

It was quite funny to see all the tuk-tuks, cars, taxis, motorcycles & cyclists doing their best to weave their way around these cows.

The next day, I’m in another taxi heading out with friends when I see an elephant going for a walk up our street.

The things you see indeed.

A group of us were discussing elephants the other day (as you do) & it seems that kid's birthday parties here have elephant rides.

This is India after all!!

That was the week that was

Well....we’re now into the second week in our new apartment.

Things are starting to settle down after the madness of last week.

Being a new apartment, there are “teething” problems to be expected. Well...my week was spent looking after workmen sent to fix said “teething” problems. Some were minor, others weren’t but here’s a highlights package of what went on...

The electrician

We had the electrician in to remove “spare” switches that do nothing (in the end, they were left as spares, for future use) & to fix some power points that weren’t working.

Our electrician friend had an OMG way of checking if the power point was working: he’d simply plug two live wires into the point & if they lit up the light bulb he had somehow connected to said wires (best not to think about it folks), he was happy. Personally...I thought my way of checking things (plug in a power board with a surge switch – if power was getting to the board, it was okay) made much more sense.

But...then again...this is India!!

The washing machine

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post.....we have a washing machine that does its best kangaroo impersonation on the back balcony. It took a week of getting the plumber back every time, showing him videos of the machine doing its best kangaroo impersonation, running wash cycles with & without clothes before they finally figured out what the problem was: they’d forgotten to remove the stabilisers !!

The washing machine is quiet as now & doesn’t move anywhere near as much as it used to.

The bed

This has to be the best story & an example of the “normality” that is India.

We are allocated a bed for the main bedroom (along with others for the other rooms). We were told that we’d been given a “queen” size bed.

Now...let me digress a bit......the Indians have different sizes for beds...yet when you’re shopping for sheets...everything is “double” size. Even the king size is called a “double”...you have to look at the size listed in small print. Tania spent a frustrating time on Sunday trying to get an answer to the question: why is everything listed as double??

Okay.....now that I’ve ranted & digressed......the “queen” sized bed we got is really more like a double (& a smaller double than what I had in the house in Red Hill) which is quite “cosy” for the two of us (not that there’s anything wrong with that...but we also like our space).

Tania requested a bigger bed & so we were due to receive a “king” sized bed. The guys turned up on Wednesday & delivered the mattress with no dramas but then they disappeared.

Thinking that they’d done a runner (like the plumbers earlier that day) I went out onto the balcony & noticed their truck was still there. I could then hear them in the stairwell corridor. I figured they were having some problems with getting the rigid base up the stairs & that’s exactly what the problem was.

So.....the solution was going to be that seven guys would turn up on the Thursday with ropes & would lift the base from the driveway, up onto the side guest room balcony (it’s quite small) & into the apartment that way.

queue images of the base lying in a crumpled & smashed heap at the bottom of the driveway

In the end....they decided that wasn’t such a good idea (& here I was, all set to video the whole thing so I could share the adventure with you all!!). The next solution they came up with is that they get a base that could be broken apart.

queue images of some poor Indian, with a hack saw, cutting up the bed base in the driveway

But no...I’m being far too cynical here!! They will actually make a new bed (I’m assuming just the base but then again, this is India so who knows what’s going to happen) where the base can be split (& I assume, put back together).

So....now I’m sitting at home waiting on our new bed!!

Oh...before I forget....when the king mattress was delivered, the guys tried to then take away our existing double bed. They didn’t seem to understand the concept that we weren’t giving up the double bed until our new king bed was completely ready.

But...then again...this is India!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

K-Mart gone feral

On the weekend, Tania & I went to another one of the shopping malls (to get stuff for the house). This was just across the New Delhi border & in the next provence (Gurgaon). After wandering around & picking up some bargains for clothes & having a lovely meal in one of the restaurants (yes...the shopping malls here have restaurants), we ended up in a place called “Big Bazaar”. We needed household things like clothes airers, mops & other stuff.

Seriously...the place is like K-Mart gone feral. I imagine this is what “Walmart” would be like except here....they’re way better dressed !!

An observation on bike safety in New Delhi

I don’t know if anyone knows the meaning of that phrase !!

I have seen an entire family on a motor cycle: Dad driving (& the only one wearing a helmet), mum holding baby in the back (riding side-saddle) & older child in the front helping dad to steer.

I have seen a bike loaded up at the back with a child sitting on the load, clinging to daddy (who is, of course, wearing a helmet).

I have seen guys on push bikes with three big gas cylinders in the back (two by the side & one over the back): didn’t want to think about whether they were full or not.

The "T&S Taj" is now open for business

The T&S Taj (conveniently located in Vasant Vihar) is now open for guests. Yes..we finally have moved in. Yay !!

The furnishings are somewhat bare at the moment: our furniture is ordered but won’t be arriving for at least a month. We’re making do with a temporary kit.

The kitchen is somewhat bare at the moment as well: our stuff from OZ (all our kitchen goodies & cookbooks) won’t be here until the end of the month (we hope).

The place has had a few niggling problems (electrical & plumbing)...as to be expected with a new place. The funniest is our washing machine on the back balcony. It’s a brand new washing machine that advertises itself as being less noisy & having less vibration. Well..this “less noisy & less vibration” machine is certainly trying to do its best kangaroo impersonation. Tania took a video of me trying to explain why I was sitting on the washing machine: it’s so noisy that you can barely hear what I’m saying & the thing is really throwing me around: it’s like being in the rodeo !!

But that aside...we have guest beds & lots of bathrooms. So..if you’re thinking of heading over to the Indian sub-continent, just let me know & I’ll put it in the calendar.