Mountain Climbing


Visions of Shimla were the most mesmerizing images I had of India before actually coming here to live. I’d watched a bloody awful film that was British-produced and blasted boring about a bloke retracing Mark Twain’s train travels. I recall that the toy train was traveling so slowly that people would get off, walk alongside it for a while, buy a samosa and a chai from a train-side stall and hop back on the train to munch. I was fascinated by the train, not the movie.

I was very motivated to take the toy train, but very unmotivated to take the real train that would get me from Delhi to Kalka to meet the Kalka to Shimla toy train. I’ve heard lots of yucky things about Indian trains. I’ve read the Namesake. And being trapped in a moving vehicle with no sanitary bathroom is not how I like to begin my vacations. Suffice it to say that watching this is the closest I came to actually taking the toy train. I went by car.

In my head Shimla was a mountain oasis, peaceful, quiet = very un-Delhi like. I’d associated peace and quiet with a sense of simplicity. I expected Shimla to have less. Less people, less cars, less traffic, less telephone poles, less stray dogs, less – all around. I was shocked to find that in this case less was actually more. At some point when we were able to drive at night and the roads were visible and passable, it clicked. The British were here!

It was in Shimla that the British spent summers away from the heat of the capital. Relocating the capital meant that whatever functions were possible in Delhi had to be possible in Shimla. And Shimla certainly appears to reflect all those possibilities. The technology seems on par, the access to stuff and things appears similar. But, I can only speak for the tourist experience. (I’ve heard from people who live in Himachal Pradesh that living in those mountains doesn’t offer much by way of upward mobility for the average citizen.)

Life thrives around Mall Road and the tourist experience lived there. There’s a lift (elevator) that takes you up and down the mountain for 10 rupees each way. Tickets can not be purchased in advance (I’m not sure why). It is possible to walk the stairs, but not many choose that route for obvious reasons.  Mall Road’s pedestrian walkways were a welcomed break from Delhi’s daredevil traffic. I forgot how much I like to walk. Aside from the products at the Honey Hut and local fruit wines, I wouldn’t say that there’s much on Mall Road that can’t be bought in any other north Indian city. But it was certainly pleasant to give a gander. The food isn’t much to write home about, but it is cheaper than I expected for a tourist haunt.  After all though, no one heads north for cheap eats or less traffic. They go because the people are nice, and certainly less aggressive than what I’ve become accustomed to. The views are amazing and the greenery is simply gorgeous.

I may have been just another of the over 2 million tourists who travel to Shimla each year, but the three day trip was two years in the making and well worth the nine hour drive. While I didn’t actually get my arse on the bloody train, I am really happy that I finally did make it to the city of Shimla. It is there that I was able to celebrate how far I’d come since those initial days in Washington when I found out that I was destined for Delhi living. To mark the occasion, I downed three bottles of fruit wine while doing this:


I woke up the next morning to this:


…and immediately thought, “bloody hell!” Do I really have to go back to Delhi?!

Jai Ethiopia!

ehtiopia 6We simply can’t win ’em all. We try and we try hard. But sometimes we look in the mirror and we realize we’ve been beat. This is the story with me and Addis Ababa. I tried. I tried hard to get there. I outshone them all. I was qualified. I was enamored. I had the skills. I had the ambition. And in the end, fate had other plans for me. So, Ethiopia is not in my immediate future… or so I thought.

Here in Delhi, I’ve been running a foodie group that tours new restaurants on a monthly basis. This is an expat delight. Why? Because most Indians see dhabas as delicatessens and the foreign palette is completely different. We are used to Chinese food that is authentic, not fusion. Or Thai food that isn’t confused with Japanese and Parsi menu items. The foreign community here in Delhi is quite worldly. Otherwise we’d all be eating croissants comfortably in Paris and not eating chappatis and channa in cramped casas in Delhi. Ya dig? We’re not dumb. We’re not underexposed. We have made a choice to do things the hard way and we’re united here under the umbrella of ‘oh, fuck, what did I just do to myself?’

Anyways, it is June. And June’s Delhi Deli locale was the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. Why? Was I trying to undo the karmic forces that forced me out of Addis? Was I trying to woo my way back into Amharic‘s outstretched arms? Not really. New restaurants in Delhi are few and far between, because they don’t last long. The food quickly goes to shit. The chefs move on too quickly or are spread too thin, too early. Nobody bothers with Parisian prices for Punjabi food. It doesn’t make sense and restaurants disappear or reinvent themselves or dissolve into nothing. But, I arranged a group of 30+ foreigners and city newbies to visit this restaurant to see for ourselves what all the hype was about, see the house that hullabaloo built.

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What we found was one of the very best restaurants in town. I, who spent two years living in Washington, D.C. (the Ethiopian exodus capital of the world) was surprised that the injera was not a scam. There was a lovely Ethiopian female chef in the kitchen who greeted us with a smile and no pretense. No bullshit. She spoke no English and clearly no Hindi, but she took a break from her injera press long enough to greet me and my friends with a smile and warmth, as if we had walked into her home – the same kitchen where she fed her babies. What came did not disappoint.

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The servers were a little absent-minded, but significantly more careful with customer service than the vast majority of Delhi establishments. They paid us the attention we needed, as bill paying customers, and took heed whenever someone demanded, ‘Where are my tibs?!’ When we all needed individual bills – a huge mathematical feat of galactic proportions here in Delhi – they agreed with no hesitation. And they made good on it. Actually, one couple never got a bill and they walked out without paying for four dishes! Not one, but fourrrrrrr! Well, okay!

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We will be back. I certainly recommend that anyone interested in food made with love and hospitality give the Ethiopian Cultural Centre a gander. I don’t promise that it’s as good as on 9th and U Street, or in the heart of Seattle, but on this side of the Indian Ocean, I doubt you’ll find a better destination to spend a lovely evening with those you care about.

No doubts about it!