My day in the District…

Some would say that I have a tendency to D.C. bash.  Some might be right. But, today I’m going to try to offer a fair and balanced view of our nation’s capitol. Here’s a day in the life, as told by my iphone3 photographs. #vintagetelecom

First, I tried to catch the train. D.C. has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the metro. They’ll threaten your life if you drink your morning latte on your morning metro commute AND they always have those handy, dandy signs that tell you just when the next train is coming. Imagine my surprise when I reached the platform and found this: 
IMG_0703

I waited for a few minutes with the mob of people on the platform. Turns out that they were doing construction on the Virginia bound platform and trains in both directions were sharing the same track. Luckily, within just a few minutes the train came and the board changed. Mass confusion ensued:

IMG_0708

En route to Dupont Circle, which is on the infamous red line, I had the pleasure of taking a shuttle bus to try to get around Metro Center. Why around? Because, wmata decided to close its busiest station all weekend…IMG_0725

I eventually got off at Dupont Circle and had the pleasure of knowing that if I wanted to buy a pack of Newports at this gas station, I could actually take out $9 whole dollars to make the purchase. Who needs even numbers anyway? IMG_0711

I ate – guacamole – and drank – Diet Coke – at Lauriol Plaza. And honestly, I wish my iphone3 took better pics in the dark, because there were some fashionable folks coming in the door. And everyone knows that I don’t dole out fashion kudos easily. Alas, on the walk back to the train, I stumbled past an institution that I’d heard about in books and on cnn. Who knew that the German Marshall Fund was just blocks away from Dupont Circle? This is one of the perks of living in the epicenter of political power. You learn something new every day!IMG_0709

Since today was quite nice, I figured I’d roam around the city some more and soak in the sun. D.C.’s weather has been having serious mood swings lately. Just think, the temperature today was in the low 50s. Just Monday we had a snow day!
And the streets looked like this:
IMG_0701

Anyways, the snow is behind us, so there’s no better D.C. haunt on a Sunday than the flea market at Eastern Market! Today, I discovered that a Huffington Post Poll named this flea market the 2nd best in the world. I still can’t find the poll to determine which is first or first best or best – however you’d say that. This sign vaguely reminded me of that time that I was in the IGIA Airport and they had a sign that named the airport the 2nd best airline in blah blah blah… you should re-read the post to recollect. (This isn’t the HuffPo poll that this market is mentioned in as 2nd, but here is a recent HuffPo review of world flea markets, in case anybody is interested: http://huff.to/1fiDyXb) IMG_0713

I loved to see that vendors I love still have booths and are still doing well. I dropped by the BAMI booth and it was nice to see a friendly face. Though I didn’t buy any new soaps today, I’m now kinda regretting that decision. I also saw a few home decor must haves at Olde Good Things, but I’m often shocked by their sticker prices – especially at the Manhattan store – so I didn’t dare browse too seriously. Anyway, I did nab a whole gaggle of scented diffusers from CandlesbyGeeda.com! I was the lucky buyer-beneficiary of a scented oil that smells like man. Yes, people, man! I’m so excited I could do a dance. IMG_0715

I found two new booths that will become my new regulars. Well, maybe they’re just new to me, which isn’t saying much. But, I loooveeeddddd the goodies I bought from Was Paper. I’m going to tell you what I got, but please hold your horses. Don’t be copy cats and try to have a safari fridge theme in your house too. Get horses or elephant’s butts (yes, she has those too!) or anything else other than my beloved rhino. Consider this a warning…

IMG_0729

was paper

And just as I mustered the will power to walk past this sign and not give in…

IMG_0722

… i found Mirasa! The lovely woman at the booth was already packing up, but she didn’t seem in the least bit perturbed when I started digging through the bib box. I noticed her accent and was so enamored when she said she was from Bombay (only Bombay people call Mumbai Bombay. That’s an insider tip!). I LOVE Bombay! Turns out she came to the U.S. to study at F.I.T. and found her husband. I can relate, since I went to India to work and found my fiance. I told her that I got engaged in front of the Gateway of India in her hometown of Mumbai AND I went to college in NYC too! #smallworld

Honestly, after weeks of feeling disconnected and misunderstood in D.C., this conversation was a light in my lonely heart. It was lovely to find someone who also understood the craziness of the Delhi I left behind – its positives and its negatives. It was really cool to connect with a perfect stranger and to feel so familiar with her personality and her designs.

Bombay has a booming design scene for fashion, housewares, art and more. In fact, since I haven’t been to Helsinki yet, I’d argue that it’s one of the best places to find innovative contemporary design. Alas, underneath a string of baby bibs and onesies, I found that Delhi wasn’t so far away and D.C. might not be so bad after all.

IMG_0724

I pressed on and tried to avoid the rest of the tempting vendors…

IMG_0720

I navigated my way back to the metro…

IMG_0721

I made it back on to the train and decided to stop at Chinatown for a peak around…

IMG_0727

…but it was reaching the doggie’s walking time, so I headed back to the far, far, away land that is Northern Virginia. I left D.C. behind somewhere in the wmata space after Foggy Bottom, before Rosslyn and underneath the Potomac river.

THE END.

D.C. got 99 problems…

1932237_10100627586708015_1634286194_nEvery once in a while I like to live the glamorous life. I emerge from behind the screen, out of the shadows of my EMUs, and over the bridge into D.C. proper. Often, this inclination is met with ill-fated results, but I’ve got a mean case of revolving door, selective memory.

Nevertheless, Delhi left me with lots of fine jewelry and the stamina for a demanding social life. With Delhi behind me, though, I have no good place to use these gifts. So, last week my desperation led me to search “fashion” in D.C. on eventbrite. The event I selected was D.C. Fashion Week’s International Couture Collections show and, let’s just say, it turned out to be such a hot mess that I decided to rush back home, cozy up on my couch with a tall glass of Voga Pinot Grigio, and get these fingers tickling my keyboard.

D.C. is not Delhi and I mean that in the most insulting way to the District. Delhi has its flaws, but fashion is not one of them.  Only the top hotels are venues for showings and only the top designers get to show. Apparently, in D.C. there was an open call for whoever just happened to wear clothes on a daily basis. First, the show opened with the models just walking down the runway in black clothes. They didn’t announce their names or tell us why we were subjected to a runway walk without a purpose. Were these black clothes those of any particular designer? No, sir. They appeared to be the models’ own. First problem identified. “A fashion show with no fashions!” I didn’t sign up for this!

DSCF3032What I did sign up for was the show of the featured designer Menouba. She hails from Algeria and her clothing is an Arab-French fusion of well embroidered jackets and aladina pants. And while it’s not the very best I’ve ever seen, I was definitely impressed with the intricacy and the tailored fit of her jackets. The Menouba show was followed by a Pakistani-American designer and a lady from D.C. Sequins and polyester heavy, none of their clothes were altered to fit the models. I could go on and on, but just watching them made me feel itchy. In sum, their shows were so disappointing I didn’t bother to take photos. Second problem identified.

Before an intermission – yes, chile an intermission at a fashion show – the host decided to do interviews with the designers. (Q: Where they do that at? A: D.C., baby) So, he calls out the designer for Menouba from the back to ask about her inspiration and her design process. At the I-N-T-E-R-N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L show you’d think they would have realized that she does not speak English! No, no – the host just decided to speak slower. Whhhaaat iissss yoouurrrrrr iiiinnssspppiiirraaaattttttiiioooonnnn? #shamefaced A very sweet young lady went on the stage to serve as a French interpreter and that just saved the whole travesty.

DSCF3045Post intermission, there was yet again another real foreign designer followed by two other eye sores. I don’t personally like to wear alpaca wool, but I could see why the Peruvian Varignia Garcia featured it in her fall/winter collection.  So, before I even get into the clothes, let’s just discuss how the lovely folks at D.C. Fashion week spelled the poor girl’s name wrong all up and through the show.

IMG_0674

IMG_0676

DSCF3047

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garcia’s designs were bohemian and warm. I could have done without the matching purses, but she produced a line with an identity and I can roll with the Peruvian punches. You know that I love a good warm scarf and I could imagine curling up with one and a tall glass of pisco! She was dishing the goods in the outerwear department. I don’t remember the sequence exactly, but I believe she was followed by a Nigerian designer and Rikaoto. I dont know… why waste time or energy on things that don’t matter?

IMG_0678I could talk about the two sisters who sang an Adele medley duet, but just quit in the middle with no coordination. One of the girls was on the Voice last season, she said. In fact, they were both pretty girls with nice voices and cute shapes, but limited lung capacity to actually carry any Adele song. They will be brilliant models or rocket scientists one day – or whatever they aspire to be – after they stop singing at fashion shows in D.C.

My last and final critique rests with the fact that the host transformed into a designer and released his line, Corjor International – apparently an odd acronym combining the first letters of his three sons’ names. (There was nothing international here, by the way.) All I know is that I saw a lot of men walking around in their underwear. This girl hasn’t seen her man in almost six months, so part of me was happy – very, very happy. The other part was confused – very, very confused. Since when are sheer pants on a man a wearable piece? Third problem identified. Oh, there clearly were no buyers present.

IMG_0680 IMG_0683IMG_0687

IMG_0686

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dude used his paternity to create an underwear line called “Magnum.” Sigh. The rest of the men’s wear was clearly a mix of original pieces with others made by established designers. It remains unclear what was designed and what was store bought. Yet, another design faux pas brought to the fore. But, the women’s line showed some potential with interestingly light fabrics on non-traditional sized models.

DSCF3058

All in all, my companion and I decided that the next time we’re heading to a fashion week event in America it’s New York City or bust! I really wish the Fashion Queens had a chance to see D.C.’s efforts and rule it ratchet. But, in their absence, I take it upon myself to declare that this was one of the most hilarious nights out I’ve had in a long time. I’m sad to say it was at a lot of other people’s expense, but such is life. If it doesn’t involve Capitol File, the Corcoran, the Lisner, the Smithsonian, or some element of the U.S. government…. you won’t catch me at anybody’s fashion event in D.C. ever again. Problems solved.

International designers I love:

Tufi Duek – Brazil

House of Masaba – India (and West Indian)

Gauri & Nainika – India

Aschobi – Sierra Leone/ Paris (See if you can spot me in the 2012 audience!)

54 Books beyond Bombay

Stack-Of-Books-BigThe year before last, I could only manage to read 48 books. Not even one book a week! #epicfailforanerd But this year, I was determined that I would finally read 52 books and Nikki would not beat me this time. Once again, I set her in my sights and she – clearly – didn’t even know it. Surely, I’d blow her book goals right out of the water. Right?

Wrong! Once again, Nikki is not even thinking about me! While I went above and beyond, tallying 54 books this year, she’s off dressing up her daughter as a lion and going on African safaris. Sometimes, she and her husband even stage a safari in their backyard and pose their costumed daughter as the lion cub that they’re spotting in the wild. I mean, it’s pretty darn cute. And creative.  Damn you Nikki! I can’t win with you…

Alas, in 2013 I spent most of my time researching Indian culture and folklore, so a lot of last year’s books were academic in nature and/or Indian in authorship. Not all, but most. So, without further ado or more Nikki acclaim, here are my top 5 books of 2013:

304072197_943f9c74d9

Maximum City Bombay Lost and Found is my favorite book of last year. And the irony here is that it was the very first book I read. So, it was downhill from there. But, talk about dissecting a city from its inside out! This book is a literary feat. It is a page turner that’s true to the city it preaches to know. There’s drama and sex and love and violence – all representative of a city that’s meant so much to me. I can’t recommend this book enough for those of us who have been to and enjoyed today’s Mumbai.

shantaramShantaram is Maximum City’s whorish twin sister, in book terms of course. It’s the tale of an escaped convict from Australia making his way in the Mumbai underworld. It speaks of the Nigerians and Afghanis. Drug dealers in plain sight at Cafe Mondegar. And foreigners with fake passports and friends in rat infested slums. The author claims the story is all fiction, but it’s rumored to be a memoir. I can’t imagine how anyone could make up 963 pages of this stuff without some serious life experience for inspiration.

 

b3ceb9f2-3efa-4cc9-94f2-651e00d30eb9

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the unsung story of Black motherhood – its efforts and short comings. The stories touched me on a personal level, as I felt familiar with the post-Great Migration characters and the inner city family drama. I don’t say that lightly though, because in my opinion contemporary Black protagonists often come off as overdramatized caricatures or underwhelmingly kitsch. Let’s be honest, we’re living in Tyler Perry’s wake. These historically accurate representations through Ayana Mathis’ words are long overdue, however.

 

Unknown

The Lonely Londoners is a short and easy read, but rich with texture and spirited characters. I came across it when researching the Indian Diaspora in literature. I read it not really expecting what I found. The author explores the recent immigrant experience in London, but not only from the Indian perspective. In fact, it’s primary characters are Caribbean immigrants. Like Mathis’ depiction, Sam Selvon gives short snippets of just how hard life can be for people who are trying really hard to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Its characters are in a silent struggle, not in vocal rebellion. This read left me with a softer heart.

facesinthewater

Faces in the Water is where magical realism meets the unfortunate reality of female infanticide in contemporary India. The premise is that a little boy spends a summer at his family’s ancestral farm and discovers the water well that supplies the home. In it, he sees faces – female faces. More than one. You’d have to read the book to figure out who these girls are and how he resolves knowing how they got there. I loved this book not just because it tackles an issue that most people won’t even acknowledge, but it highlights that it’s not a practice that only occurs among the poor. And, more importantly, it empowers a male character – a young boy – to take action against injustice, to be a women’s rights activist, to be a better man than his own father.

2013 dud reads:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Where to begin? Maybe I’m just sad that this book is a book. It’s about a bunch of rich New Yorkers making asses of themselves and each other. It’s a New York reality – unfortunately – but the story doesn’t scream book worthy to me. And, I just found out that the author is a fellow alum of my high school, so I’m even more disappointed. The writing was convoluted and full of misplaced modifiers. If there’s one thing a Mustang can’t stand, it’s a misplaced modifier.

Arranged Love by Parul Mittal: Woe, the days of my life that I can’t get back! Maybe I need to have grown up on the Indian subcontinent to understand why this is supposed to be a love story, but this book is weird and lame. There are much better stories of arranged-come-love marriages. Read the Namesake and don’t waste your money or life minutes on this book!

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor: Some memoirs are just journal entries that people should later burn. This book is one. Buddhism isn’t a religion, so…. what’s this atheism schtick?  Hence, there are fundamental problems with this book and it’s premise. Sigh…

Missing Shopping List

IMG-20131026-00003Everybody asks what I’m going to miss most about India. My reply? “I need to leave India to find out. Check back in in about six months!” I’m pretty sure that I’ll see my friends again, so I’m reluctant to say that I’ll miss them. I’m also fairly confident that I’ll satisfy my food fixes by going to far flung holes in the wall in Forest Hills Queens, Juba City California, Edison New Jersey or Houston Texas. (I have to admit, though, I’d never tried South Indian food ’til I came here and I suspect that I will miss masala dosas terribly.) My best guess on the saudades front is that I will miss the shopping.

I’d hate to sound like a predatory buyer, but now I understand why merchants were sailing across the seas, battling ocean monsters and scurvy, to get here. Rock bottom prices baby! Not that there aren’t draw backs. The finishing isn’t usually all that great on the lower priced items and the higher priced items are priced too high for the value of clean edges. Yet and still, it all works out about right in the end. And I should know – I’m at the end.

I never reveal my shopping secrets, but since I’m leaving Delhi soon I’m feeling philanthropic. Find here a list of vendors and stores I recommend. I think their prices are fair for what they’re offering – not so low that you wonder if slaves are doing the work and not so high that you wonder if everything is made of gold leaf. No matter if you live in Delhi or if you plan to tour, I think you’ll be satisfied with your purchases and your pockets.

IMG-20131026-00004

Naveen and his guys came over after work on a weekday to show me books and books and upholstery fabric. I have to admit that I didn’t love  most of the patterns, but also said that I was welcome to get my own fabric and his staff would handle to labor of re-upholstering. Did Ms. Instant Gratification go fabric hunting? Of course not! I went with one of his crushed velvet black fabric and had my victorian chairs restored to their fabtastic glory for just about $50 – including the fabric.  It was well worth the spend and I think anyone using his services will find professionalism and customer satisfaction to be on high!

IMG-20131026-00016

Here’s the ole Delhi bait & switch! The shop is both a cell phone repair shop AND a framing shop. Since I don’t have a personal cell phone I haven’t needed to use their “Cell Net” services, but I have gotten the vast majority of my certificates and art work framed there. Since this isn’t their primary business, don’t expect to find the most innovative of framing options.  But if you want a simple, solid colored frame – no matter the size of glass – I think you’ll find their prices and turn around time to be really good. And while there are other framers I’ve tried in Sarojini Nagar market, for example, that are competitively priced – Hauz Khas market is a much nicer market. There’s not as much hustle and haggle, so I prefer Guptas. As a secondary option, I’d suggest the framer in Vasant Vihar’s C Block market. I’ve gotten really great work from them too and the man who runs that shop also gives deep discounts for repeat customers.

f1 10Yes lord, I love my jewels. It’s hard to come to Delhi and walk away without bling. I was a humble costume jewelry connoiseur before Delhi did me in. My loyalties have always been to Mr. Mogha in Le Meridien hotel. Every expat knows Mr. Mogha and his sons. And while I have cheated on Mr. Mogha while traveling to other cities, in Delhi I believe his designs, variety, and prices are the best – by far. Almost every piece of gold jewelry I’ve bought in India has come from them and I have yet to complain! Not to mention, these guys are not the hard sell types. They won’t talk you into anything and they won’t pressure you to buy. They know their stuff and they can actually explain to you what you’re getting and why it’s priced as such. Oh and they always give coffee or chai with every visit. I’m going to miss these guys a lot!

ametrine

Raj is to Mumbai what Mr. Mogha is to Delhi. He was recommended to me when I went to stay with colleagues in Mumbai for two weeks. I wasn’t disappointed. Frankly, I find Mumbai’s styles to be much more modern and innovative than Delhi’s. Delhi tends to be more Mughal style and diamond heavy. Mumbai designers play with gems and textures much more. That’s what I loved about Raj’s collection. Last time I went in we scored a gold plated corral encrusted 2 inch thick bangle and my diamond engagement ring!  I’ve got my mind’s eye on a silver and uncut sapphire necklace that’s been haunting my dreams – maybe I should have got it while I was in town. But, he ships! Phew, that could have been bad.

f1 11

Shobha ben is actually on her way to my house right now. I’m not kidding! I met her and her son at the famous crafts market – Dilli Haat – and I frequented their stall so much that she asked if I’d let her bring things to my house to show friends. Of course, that made perfect sense since it would save me the taxi rides to and fro. She’s got tapestries and table runners made of old saris, but my favorites are the hand stitched blankets. I plan to buy a million – or maybe just four – before I leave. And since she’s willing to come to me, there’s no reason to let her leave without lightening her load.

IMG-20131026-00012

If there’s one thing Delhi’s got a lot of it’s tea shops. So, far be it for me to try to convince you to switch loyalties. But, if you haven’t yet found a tea home for yourself, I would suggest the Asia Tea House in Sunder Nagar market. I’ve really enjoyed their varieties and their packaging! They’ll pack any tea in a decorative box – hand painted or Rani covered – within just minutes. The teas range from black to white and everything in between. They even have organically grown varieties! Oh and they’ve also got cute accessories, like an elephant topped tea spoon. Yup, I’ve been in that place one too many times. Can you tell?

Now that I’ve dished all my dirt, I’m going to get ready to make my last round at these places. Shopping (and eating) is an age old Indian pastime. I will surely miss all the adventures I’ve had in discovering my faves and picking up some goodies along the way.
You never know, maybe the allure will bring me back for more.

You never know.

Maidan Garhi Diwali

Gallery

This gallery contains 30 photos.

Here in Delhi, taxi drivers are academics; economists, cartographers and historians, to be exact. They are the ones who tell you where a neighborhood is, how it has evolved, and the economic reasons why its demographic is the way it … Continue reading

Finding Philanthropy

khirkee ext 1Delhi is a city of extremes and contradictions. For me, the issue of giving to the poor, perhaps, is a combination of the two. I have found the begging children, elderly, and disabled to have generated – in me – emotions that are in extreme contradiction to my nature. I admit that I am repulsed, not by the poor, but by the business of being poor. It’s one thing to see “Slumdog Millionaire” and to sigh at how sad those people over there are living. It’s an altogether different thing to see those people every day. Every single day, with their hands outstretched in the same conditions – after you gave them food, after you have seen others give them money. Every single day, those people are on the same street corner, sometimes holding different drugged and drowsy babies each day.

It’s a pathetic scene. It’s sad to hear that most of these people are part of a racket. A racket that pays them a minimal salary of chapati and a few rupees so that they won’t dare starve, but survive to beg another day. The money those of us passersbys fork over goes, instead, to gangs who collude with police to ‘own’ street corners like drug dealers in inner city America. It’s hard to see the value of giving, when there’s such a senseless market of taking.

I can say that I have been deeply affected by this situation. For all the community service I’ve done in my life time, the food banks I’ve donated to, the Salvation Armies I’ve frequented, I have been very reluctant to engage India’s poor. For, while this poverty seems so abject, it also seems so self-induced. While it seems so self-induced, it also seems so inexplicably, dramatically exaggerated in the direction of downtrodden. It is not poverty that causes children to beg in the streets for a pittance, when government schools are free. It is not poverty that causes women to re-open gash marks on their bodies to produce more gore with which to guilt givers. The poverty itself is not pretend, but these theatrical advances are all too frequent and all too irresponsible on the part of the actor. The whole scene has turned me off.

Delhi has left me with a bitter and miserly taste. I find myself despising street children, because I know it’s just a matter of time before they come begging and whining incessantly for something I will never give – money. They’ll touch you. They’ll poke you. They’ll touch your feet as a sign of respect and also as a nuisance – hoping that you’ll be so annoyed that you’ll give them money to go away. And, I must admit, I do want them to go away. Not because I don’t want their poverty in my face, but simply because I know there’s nothing I can do to help them. Their extremes can’t be helped by money, and this sick theatre won’t be abolished by my guilt. Yet, as I am gearing up to leave a city that has – despite all my complaints – allowed me to make significant progress personally and professionally, I have decided that I will learn to trust.

Finding a charity that one can trust in Delhi is like differentiating melted chocolate from fresh cow dung – not using your sense of smell. It’s a dirty and involved business. It requires research and personal investment. Or else the consequences are grave. Word has it that there are over 3 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India, hundreds of thousands of which are New Delhi based. Corruption is commonplace and an ever-present crime of opportunity. Yet, in my quest to accomplish #24 of my 30 before 30, I found 3 charities that I’m willing to support.

While at a work organized volunteer day I finally got a chance to engage with the children of Salaam Balaak Trust. I’d heard for years that these street children gave city tours (dare I say, slum tours), but I never could actually find time in my schedule to go on one. Over an art project with children of all ages, I came to find out that the organization takes in children who are found in and around Delhi’s train station. Many are runaways who left abuse, prostitution, and/or child labor in their local villages and towns. Also, they work to serve children who are not orphaned, but whose parents are otherwise slum residents or homeless. So, this art project outing rekindled my interest in the organization and has compelled me to again revisit the sore subject of street children.

While browsing the web for some academic research I was working on, I came across Deepalaya – a non-religious, NGO focused on eradicating urban and rural poverty. With options to sponsor a child or support specific projects of health, sheltering, or girls’ education, it seems this almost thirty year old organization is doing good work. My contact with this organization is new and, for lack of time, mainly financial. Yet, I suspect it will be sustained. As the communication between the organization and sponsors is really detailed and steady – understand that this is not usually the case with other organizations I’ve been in touch with – I can believe that I will continue to build confidence in the organization and a relationship with the child I sponsor.

Kamalini Village Walk, 2013Kamalini came to me in the mail. I received an ad about a women’s vocational school that was not only accepting volunteers, but also in-kind donations of any kind. I had long grown tired of donating my old clothes to the same organization and wanted to build a relationship with a new organization. I found the organizers at Kamalini to be a dedicated and concentrated group of both foreign and Indian women working together to provide vocational skills to women in urban villages in and around Delhi. While some chose to use these educational opportunities to get better at their professions, others were just starting out and seeking the financial independence needed for traditional Indian women to make tough personal choices. Kamalini has teamed up with a local tour guide to give a guided tour of the Shahpur Jat Village neighborhood and then a tour of the Kamalini facility. See below photos of my tour, which has effectively changed my relationship with this city and my feelings about philanthropy.

Mountain Climbing

P1040884

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:

P1040870

I woke up the next morning to this:

P1040879

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