‘The tripping overs, the regaining feet, and still enjoying’
What a juxtaposed experience my recent visit to India was!
A couple of days at the base, i.e. Delhi/ Gurgaon and we were back in the air to Goa. Here are some of the highlights of this exotic land within the same country. The best part of Goa, the North :
Goa started with Le Meridien hotel in the North of Goa, which catered to all the needs of the guests from breakfast to dinner, from bar to swimming pool, from comfortable room to clean bathroom, etc. But isn’t it a standard for all 5 stars? Absolutely. However, it lived up to our expectations.
Now for the streets outside the hotel: Congested with mixed traffic, with no pavements to walk. So, one needs eyes at the back of the head, literally. But the bars and restaurants are worth a nudge and a push. There are many and equally good ones, so not mentioning any specific names here. Calangute beach is one of the best in Goa since Bagha beach can seem overwhelmingly busy, especially on a weekend, and with the influx of people, the cleanliness on the beach is compromised too. Stay away from Bagha beach on weekends or holidays. But North is where fun is, overall.
The highlight of South Goa: ☺The jewel in the South of Goa has to be the ‘Go Daddy’ casino on the boat. t With the rooftop lavish buffet, bar and late-night live performances is a ‘must to experience’ the essence of south Goa.
Apart from this, much of the South is dull and boring. There are a number of five stars hotels in the south, but post Covid, the standard seems to have gone gravitationally towards the south too- pun intended.
The lowest point of South Goa: 😒I have to quote a shocking health episode of dysentery, the worst I’ve ever experienced in my not-so-young life. I don’t exaggerate. Hold on, the shock is still not revealed- the issue occurred after eating in Taj Forte Agueda. It seems that Covid has taken its toll on this hotel. The floor had dried spillage marks, and in hindsight, we should have taken the hint from this, but the name TAJ was a pretty thick blindfold. The staff had a ‘not bothered’ attitude. The serving staff member, called Sheekha, was rather rude; more interested in chit-chatting with bar and kitchen colleagues than paying attention to the guests. Most items on the menu were not available, since it was afternoon time and the staff being busy with the evening preparations for valentines! At least, according to Sheekha. Never heard of such a pathetic excuse in a five-star hotel before. Since we had travelled long from the north to the south and felt tired and hungry, we had no choice but to accept whatever was on offer. The food was 2 stars at the best- even though, not much cooking was involved in a chicken sandwich and mixed veg sandwich. The attitude of the staff was 1 star, and I am being generous. By nighttime, we discovered how much the third-class food had actually cost us. It ruined five following days of our holidays due to an upset tummy, or so we thought. The fact is, my GP has referred a few more tests for bacterial infection, for me and my hubby since we still haven’t quite recovered from the episode.
However, we continued on our trip, with just sips of water on days and a bit of a bite on another. We returned to Delhi for a few days before taking off in the air to the north of the country.
Udaipur, the city of lakes in Rajasthan: Thanks to a nice doctor in Gurgaon, we managed the rest of the trip. After a few days here we gallivanted to Udaipur. What can I say, we had heard a lot about this city of lakes: beautiful scenery, and romantic ambiance. All boxes ticked since we planned our 30th anniversary in the Lake Pichola hotel, which is situated on the lake, literally. The best thing about this hotel is its rooftop restaurant by the lake, which looks absolutely stunning, especially at night time. Food is very spicy unless you remember to instruct the staff to keep it mild while ordering. The staff is very polite and wants to please. The room was very spacious, decorated with retro furniture, but the television won’t work unless you create a fuss and then the manager would help. The bathroom has a strange setup- Behind the clear glass door, the toilet seat is well exposed since the shower curtain is only big enough to cover the small shower cubicle. But the manager was honest enough to tell that there are many pending repairs that need attention this year, which were delayed due to business losses in the Covid times. At least they didn’t cover up.
Be prepared: TV is a must in the evenings after dinner, since there’s not much going on in the hotel or around after dark. It’s a very quiet and early-sleeping city. It might suit some, but not everyone.
Beware of narrow lanes and by-lanes when travelling or walking in restrictive streets, even during day time. Cars, scooters, cycles, people, and you name it, can cause serious congestion. We went for four days, which was too long. A couple of days in this quiet and slow-lane city/village are more than enough.
Gurgaon/Delhi: Finally, we returned to the base, Gurgaon, for the final phase of our tour. We explored Cyber hub, World Mark in Aerocity, DLF Mall and Select City mall in Saket New Delhi, Connaught Place, Jan path, Qutab Minar, Greater Kailash M block, and all that we had visited last time in 2019. Since my last visit, there has been an addition of newer restaurants and the ones I would recommend are, Daryaganj, Dhaba, Mala Akbari, and Delhi Darbar for main meals, Tim Hortons café, and light snacks at Bikaner and Haldiram. The one I wouldn’t recommend is the Yeti Tibetan restaurant in the Cyber Hub of Gurgaon, which is a mishmash of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tibetan – completely unpalatable. Also, there is such hype about 32 Avenue in Gurgaon, which is just a rip-off for drinks, but one restaurant with the best chicken tikka is worth mentioning here- ‘Bhavan’ restaurant. The food is good and the service is excellent. Mostly the whole concept of this avenue is catered around a girlfriend-boyfriend theme, and when cupid has blinded everyone with love, who cares what they are drinking or eating. That seems to be a general impression, but Bhavan is a nice choice for decent food.
Overall eating experience in Delhi: There are many other restaurants in the overpopulated city of Delhi, but, eat at your own peril since the hygiene didn’t quite tick the box for me in many of these outlets, and I kept well away. That, and once bitten twice shy after my experience in Goa.
As a result, one might feel that you are limited to the same few restaurants since others cater more for the locals with very spicy taste buds. India overall has turned the heat on spices by ‘a lot since I was there five years ago. Reason? My guess is that fewer and fewer Non-Resident Indians (NRI) and foreigners are actually going to India post-Covid.
Dangerous roads and drivers: One big deterrent not to rush back to India is the mad traffic on the roads and the driving stunts. No one follows lane discipline or speed limits; in fact, there are no driving rules. Everyone wants to cut in front of everyone else, from left, right, and behind. Undertaking is normal; well, in abnormal driving conditions where one drives ‘on’ the lane markings rather than between them. No gap is left between two vehicles, and braking almost guarantees collision. That’s exactly what happened to us. It was on a National highway and sharp braking caused a multiple-vehicle collision, but we are alive to tell the tale because the speed was slow, by chance. It shook us badly. In moments, not just our lives flashed in front of our own eyes but the thought that our children were in London, and if parents were wiped out on Indian road, they wouldn’t even know for a long time, with all the red tape. I get a shudder even thinking about it now.
In the mix of all this chaos, Uber drivers are addicted to mobile phones while driving. One such driver was scheming to get the dad of a friend’s girlfriend drunk so he would agree to his daughter marrying her boyfriend! He suggested to the potential groom that if the father still didn’t agree then the only way would be to push him into a village pond since this is exactly what the hero did in a Bollywood movie called, ‘Dabang’! The forty-minute drive could be entertaining in normal driving conditions, but not when the driver is trying to be a Bollywood mafia while almost driving into every other vehicle. It felt like we were in a drunk taxi. While now I can laugh at such ridiculous plotting, it was also very dangerous as we had to warn him about the approaching bus from the left. Had we not shouted he would definitely scrap past the big vehicle, or worse. Last day while travelling to the airport, the driver had two phones- one in his lap for texting and the other for satnav. At one stage, he was cruising with both hands off the steering wheel, and once again, my husband had to tell him off. On the bright side, I was praying with undivided focus as never before, all the way through and my prayers were answered when we reached the airport, without any incident. Miracles do happen.
Honesty at its best seen in Delhi :
Not all was doom and gloom. I was saving the best for the last- ‘Honesty thy name is Starbucks’. It so happened that I misplaced my mobile phone in Starbucks, and went back to ask if anyone had found it. But the first time I was told that no one has handed it over. So thought that it had been stolen. Went to the Connaught Place police station to report. We had heard a lot of stories about Delhi police, so I was quite apprehensive about the attitude, but they were all very helpful and very polite. It was a sigh of relief too. I still didn’t give up and continued to call Starbucks from my husband’s mobile, just to satisfy my suspicion, and guess what? Finally, someone picked up the phone and I heard the miraculous words- ‘Starbucks confirmed that the phone was with them!’ Thanks to the staff, Ajay and Mohan. Mohan used his initiative to remove the sim from my mobile and use it through his phone since my phone was on airplane mode, and called back my husband’s number. He confirmed that the phone was handed over by someone the same day. We immediately went there which took a couple of hours, and they had my phone ready for handover. I was so grateful for their help and as my appreciation offered some monetary reward, but they turned it down saying, ‘This is our job. We can’t accept a financial reward for it .’ I was well-chaffed. I shall be writing separately to Starbucks to recognise the initiative, service recovery, and honesty of the two staff members involved.
With all the ups and down during the Indian trip, I still would say that overall we enjoyed the holiday. I have to give credit to my own resilience too. Actually, it’s a must item to pack if you’re planning an adventure to India.
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