Daily Archives: September 17, 2018

Shri Ram Hotel: BREAK FAST * LUNCH * DINNER

For Pat & Susan

Break. Fast. Yet mostly lunch. (But I had dinner there three years ago it turns out.)

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Monday. Jaipur.

After an intoxicating morning at the Amber Fort with it’s mind boggling designs, raison d’etre and sheer scale we are wilted. Then there was the amazing Hinglish, witty, knowledge rich, rapid-fire delivery from our guide (who made us all cry). Need I mention it was also melty-hot. Without a bye nor leave Gilly stepped in and stepped it up a gear by deftly navigating the handicrafts emporium and easing our driver away from the regular tourist orbit. We make for a more local eatery.

How on earth we are in need of sustenance after our decadent breakfast and this climate is a minor mystery. After much persuasion we are deposited outside the Shri Ram Hotel. Persuasion? Don’t think that you get to choose destinations when you have a driver in India. Nope. They know what you want, what’s best and – side order of cynicism, table two – where they get a little kick back from. Us paying customers calling the shots is gently against the playbook here. Also, unlike anything in Europe, the kitchen at this august establishment is outside, up front, on show. You have to walk through it to sit inside. And what an inside!

Hygiene certificate? Health and safety? Try another universe.

Neat-niks? Clean freaks? Look away NOW.

With some amusement we are ushered to white upright dining chairs with their clear protective plastic on. I say white, I say clear, I mean the very definition of grubby. (Who knows when the day to remove the covers will be?! What an occasion.) The menus, the plastic tablecloths all look like they’ve spent 30 years being handled by clumsy old skool car mechanics. The whole place has the kind of patina that wouldn’t shame the underside of a motorway flyover. Only with dining furniture. At least the haphazard electrics – seemingly installed by a cack-handed surrealist – manage not to self-combust as the fan whirls overhead.

In essence? Loving it. It’s bloody brilliant.

Outside, er, in the kitchen… Is this what hipsters call street food? The gas-fuelled, charcoal topped burner is like an angry scale model volcano, the tandoor gently rumbling like a jet awaiting take off and radiating a mirage of heat. We’ve ordered various veggie curries, fried rice and a selection of tandoori breads. I shoot the (hot) breeze with the cheery kitchen staff and oggle at their cookery as traffic noisily passes.

The ingredients seem CGI enhanced. Their freshness evident, their colours vibrant. The fellas – they are all fellas – swing into action. (We were denied several choices on the extensive menu and I twig that’s because they simply don’t have the fresh supplies. I wish more UK restaurants operated thus.) Even writing here I have started salivating again. As the pans heat, the ghee splashes in and the veggies join them. I wish you could’ve smelt it. Bugger. Am hungry AGAIN.

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Ask a traveller what’s grand about Indian food you might well get a seemingly odd answer.

“Bread.”

Bread?” [you ask.]

“Bread.”

Without knocking the UK food and curry industry, there is something extra special about an almost too hot to eat butter naan straight out of the tandoor on an Indian roadside. I note with a smile we are all eating ravenously, appreciatively, unselfconsciously. The restaurateur is highly concerned about the mains: “it’ll be too spicy!” he exclaims with a head bobble. It isn’t. It’s flavoursome. He’s a lovely, warm chap with an easy smile and appears to be wearing clothes that haven’t been washed, well, ever. His industrious team seem to be having the time of their lives too. We eat a little more. He arrives again with more fresh, hot bread.

He hands it to me. No, no, not the plate. He hands me the bread.

‘Scuse fingers I think with a chuckle.

(Medic! A germaphobe has fainted at table three! Bring the jumbo vat of extra-strong hand sanitiser.)

We pay. It’s 1426IRP. For four. Fifteen quid with a tip.

I then realise that three or so years ago I randomly walked in here with my Mum and sister. We stayed in a hotel nearby, went for a stroll and – via an Indian wedding – ended up here by following our noses. By the power of Gilly we are somehow delivered here again at random. Jaipur is massive by the way. What are the chances?

Although these small world things keep happening to us… again and again… oh, and again.

So, Shri Ram Hotel. Highly recommended for a good value lunch if you’re passing.

 

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Old Delhi 2018 – (still) every kind of nuts.

These days when you fly into New Delhi, it’s likely on a spanking 21st century airliner and you are ushered into a modern terminal on arrival. With only mild disorientation you get your eVisa okayed and it’s identikit duty-free all the way to the baggage carousel. All very international and none the better for it.

You have the option of the metro – 21st century airport express – but we opted for a complimentary airport pickup because a) duh, complimentary and b) I’m too lazy to walk the last 400m from the Metro station to our digs.

Annnnd let the games begin. Gently at first.

When we eventually RV with our chap – of course there are 2 meetings points with the same id number about 200m apart – he ushers us to a careworn (aka beaten-to-shit) Maruti-Suzuki micro-van. We fill it, crank up the A/C and head towards town. It’s my 4th visit and I note that, if anything, the traffic has got worse. A growing (westernising?) economy and booming middle class = more cars. So very many. Luckily everyone ignores all road markings and traffic rules, not to mention laws of physics. We ooze into non existent spaces, swerve onrushing trucks/cars/buses/tuk-tuks/motorcycles/yak-carts, cheerfully straddle white lines, give way to no one and all the while beep the horn like a frustrated morse’ radio operator.
I have written about this at length some years ago, still feels current: click here.

On this trip we have a twist: 2 India virgins. So naturally we ditch the bags at the hotel, grab two auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and head for Old Delhi proper. The simple act of crossing the bridge from DB Gupta Rd over the New Delhi Rail Station tracks into Chawri Bazaar is like pressing the crazy button on a time machine.

Away team, adjust phaser craziness settings to “batshit”.

It’s so difficult to make the fully paid-up bonkers appear in words don’t you think? Photos aren’t terribly helpful either, because the circus-like, festival intensity requires all senses to be engaged. (I am also a mediocre photographer at best.) Intellectually, y’know that there are 1.2 billion souls in India today. But somehow y’don’t expect them to all be on the same street as you. On a Tuesday lunchtime.

After some time – “jack knifed cow, mahousive snarl up on Chandi Chwok guvnah” – we de-tuk, er, tuk-tuk, tuk at the Jama Masjid. The biggest mosque in India is impressive and offers a great vantage point. We head up the steps to take it in, take a break and reset. At which point our blonder travelling companions are transformed: instant rock star status. Every dude with a smartphone – IE: that’ll be pretty much every bloke then – wants a selfie. Some ask, some just do, many gawp.

Personal space? India? Ha! Forget it. (But not in a bad way.)

It’s just gone noon, it’s post monsoon and it’s a humid thir-tee-five. Here come the bloke only half afl… (Oops, sorry, but it is Madness here.) The stone floor of the mosque courtyard area is difficult to walk on barefoot. Had we a frying pan it’d fry an egg on it. September now and each massive block has spent months soaking up the summer heat. The European brain is easily addled in these conditions. (Jet-lag is no help.) We need to get a perspective and opt to climb the Minaret. Rapidly, our newbies are noticing the (expected) lack of safety measures. It is always surprising even though you know it to be the case. The appropriate response is to simultaneously laugh manically and pay careful attention to every step as you attempt not to fall to your death.

The reward for such great bravery (!) and sweaty climbing is a clinging to the flimsy railing panorama of the jumbled, disordered, architectural dogs-dinner that is Old Delhi. With a stiff, warm wind blowing visibility is pretty good (for here) and the notorious haze is lifted. The Red Fort main gate has a proud Indian flag filled with the breeze. (In winter the fug is thick and you can hardly make out the imposing ramparts a scant few hundred metres away.)

From up here you soak it all in spying comically haphazard electricity cables, gridlocked traffic, crumbling rooftops, soaring Black Kites, litter strewn alleyways, bazaars with countless shops, stalls and – of course – people. Add to that the soundtrack: the cacaphony of engines and horns is like a toothache that never quite goes away in this town.

It can’t possibly all function can it? Yep, here it is happening all day every day. I return – now, 3 years later – and the buzz is still turned up to 11 on the dial. I find myself imagining if it’s real at all: it’s akin to a hyper-realistic immersive theme park ride. Surely nowhere on earth is this intense?

Old Delhi just is.

As if to prove this to ourselves we then get stuck in a bicycle rickshaw traffic jam. We edge along and – yes – it would’ve been quicker to walk. But the raised seat of these torturous, inefficient contraptions is a perfect vantage point to take it all in. These jalopies are not used purely by tourists. It’s part of the regular transport… System is not the right word. Let’s say ecosystem, okay? (As I only partly understand how they work too.)

Presently we reach the spice market and it takes our breath away. IE: involuntary spluttering and coughing as the aroma a thousand of chilli catch your throat. Piled displays of nuts, masala, ground spices, sack upon sacks of chillis. We climb up and around the building, boggling at its dilapidation and shocking condition. The locals flow around us making spicy business, porters trolleys stacked high with colourful and spicy ingredients, others with sacks on their heads barrelling down slippery dark stairwells in flip-flops.

Suitably bamboozled we throw in the towel and head for the metro for a supposed easier ride back to base.

Delhi Metro 2018 : Cheap, fast, air-conditioned and – it turns out – with highly efficient pickpockets.

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With the kids in 2012

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