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a truly imperial city

sunny 22 °C

I am writing this while on a bus traveling from Agra (Taj Mahal) to Samode (where we’re celebrating New Years Eve) so if there are typos it’s not my fault – it’s a bumpy ride.

Amazingly – and luckily for all of us on this trip – I have a friend who lives in Delhi.

Ellen is a family friend – our parents met when I was an infant and they lived in the same apartment building. In fact, her parents were newlyweds – she wasn’t even born yet (look how honest I am, admitting I’m older than she is). They remained friends all these years and out of the 2 couples Ellen’s mom Sylvia is the only one still living (she’ll soon be celebrating her 90th birthday in India with her daughter and son-in-law.)

Sam, Ellen’s husband, works with Unicef and they’ve had a fascinating life – living in exotic locales like Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Sudan and currently in Delhi.

So we got to spend our first day and both evenings in Delhi with Ellen and Sam – and what a wonderful and memorable time we all had – a highlight being going to the tiny synagogue Ellen belongs to for the last day of Chanukah ceremony – in India if you can believe!!

Knowing me, would you be surprised to hear we went shopping first?

Long ago I decided that I wanted to dress in native clothes for New Years Eve. We will be celebrating at a beautiful heritage hotel – formerly a palace – and I thought it would be fun. I also love the clothes – the colours, the fabrics and the fact that they make you look and feel so feminine.

When I told Rashmi she said I should get a salwar kameez (tunic, pants, scarf) instead of a sari because it would be easier to dance – so be warned – we will be partying.

I mentioned this to Ellen and, being the sweetheart she is, she immediately set out to find a place where I could get a salwar kameez made in a day. So our first stop was a boutique where I bought not 1 but 2 beautiful salwar kameez – yes I will post photos of me wearing them). Haidee bought 2 blouses and Cynthia also bought a beautiful top. And believe it or not they assured us that they would have it all completed the next day – and they’d deliver everything to Ellen and Sam’s, where we were going for dinner.

That done we set out for some sightseeing with Ellen – who wanted us to see some places she knew we wouldn’t be seeing on our “official” touring with Rashmi:

Our first photo op was Rashatrapati Bhawan, the Viceroy’s Palace.

I think every architecture student needs to come to India. These ancient buildings are so beautiful they just take your breath away. And when you see the intricate detail, the inlay, the grill work, the imposing size, it is impossible to imagine that this was all hand crafted; and the grounds – magnificent! P1000364.jpg

For our first stop Ellen suggested that we visit a part of the city she likened to Greenwich Village in New York. Trendy boutiques, art galleries, design studios and interesting restaurants. It was fabulous! We went into an antique furniture store where we all decided we could have bought everything in sight. We saw an impromptu “gallery” where local artists had painted “anti terrorism” paintings as a protest to the recent violence in Mumbai – which was incredibly moving.

It was tons of fun to just wander around and, before we left for our next stop we had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant where we shared a variety of dishes – excellent! India is a vegetarian’s haven I’ll tell you.

Then we went to Haus Khas Village, a 13th century mosque surrounded by a man-made lake after which we went to a market (not terribly unlike Kensington Market) and a terrific crafts fair where one could buy pashminas of every colour imaginable, dhotis, purses, art, even furniture. We were tempted, but there was so much it was overwhelming and we left empty-handed. But Ellen assured us that we would have lots of opportunities during our travels.

By then we were all getting a bit weary so we dropped Ellen off at home and went to our hotel to change for the evening. It had been a marvelous day and we all so enjoyed seeing sites that are off the beaten tourist trap.

I sure never expected to be lighting a Menorah in India …

When Ellen mentioned that we could join her and Sam at her synagogue we jumped at the chance and I know it will be one of the highlights of this trip for all of us. It’s tiny – probably the size of my living room. The congregation consists of 10 families. P1000434.jpg

Imagine. So small they don’t even have an “official” rabbi.

The “acting” rabbi is a lawyer by trade, but he assumed the duties – along with being the caretaker and the chief cook and bottle washer – because he so desperately wants this synagogue “to be.” And he is so proud of his synagogue he insisted we could take pictures – even of the Torah – and throughout the ceremony.

To thank them for their generosity and hospitality, Rashmi invited Ellen and Sam to join us for dinner at our hotel and she made it very special, choosing Spice Route, the Thai restaurant that is rated one of the top in the world.

We had a spectacular time and course after course of tantalizing dishes were served. The surroundings were spectacular, the service impeccable and the company fascinating. Listening to Ellen and Sam’s stories of the life they’ve lived abroad was amazing and everyone just fell in love with both of them. We went to bed replete with good food and great company.

It was a wonderful beginning to a journey that we will all no doubt remember for the rest of our lives …

Posted by a_broad 17:44 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel

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