Ye Olde English!

As a child, I used to read a lot of  Enid Blytons and CS Lewis books. And I feel this is what got me fascinated with travel in the first place. I’d read books where the kids would go “have a picnic in the woods” (Dubai doesn’t have woods! ) with babbling brooks and streams with cold water that leave you gasping for breath and all, and I used to imagine what it’d be like to go for a picnic like that. Somewhere where the trees are so thick that the sunlight has to filter through the leaves, where the grass is soft and there are squirrels running around foraging for acorns and stuff.

Agatha Christie too, left me with a highly romantic impression of old British life, with their afternoon teas with scones and crumpets and seed cake! Mmm!  One of my favourite books is 84 Charing Cross, and that is non-fiction and even it painted me some lovely pictures of the UK in my head.

So, when I finally made my trip to the UK, there were a lot of ideas I’d already had in my mind about the place,  and though I tried to not expect all that, I couldn’t very well not think about it.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed! It was everything I’d imagined it to be, and more! And though I was expecting at least one racist remark, having heard how bad things were over there, I didn’t have even one bad encounter! The people were friendly and chatty. I’d stopped at this one cafe for breakfast, and the  proprietor was so welcoming, talking to me about the weather first (but of course!) and then Dubai, travel etc.  Quite nice!

I had ordered the full English breakfast there and I can tell you now, it is way too much food for a human being to have at one sitting! I have a healthy appetite, but could not even put a dent on what was put on my plate – thick slices of bacon, effing huge sausages, eggs (scrambled), one juicy tomato grilled to perfection, velvety button mushrooms with fried onions, thick crusty slices of bread with butter and different types of jams.  Oh, and coffee.*groaaaan*

I went there in December, and though it was bitterly cold, I had an amazing time! I didn’t have “sensible shoes” in the beginning, but one cold wet night in Oxford Street, I walked into a store with toes that were on the verge of falling off from frostbite, ditched my soggy sneakers and bought a pair of boots made of soft leather that were comfortable, stylish, practical for walking and unfortunately, too expensive! But at least I still have my toes! :o)

The thing about the UK is, everywhere you go, though you find modern life around you with shopping malls and cars etc, you also find that the shops and buildings are centuries old and are renovated to fit into modern life, because of which it manages to retain an old-world charm.

I used my Lonely Planet as a guide, but also just went about places randomly, getting into libraries and thumbing through books, then walking to the nearest cafe for a quick cup of coffee before  wandering off again. I tried everything English in the week I was there, from Cornish pasties to Cottage pies, hot-dogs from the street vendors  to toad-in-the-hole from pubs and of course, the famous fish n chips (which was horrible at the place we went to in London, but I had some really good ones at Cambridge later on).  I had the Sunday roast on Sunday (:P) and tea and crumpets for, well, tea! Except I cheated and had coffee instead (What?! I’m a coffee-person!).  While in Cambridge, I checked out the “second smallest city” in the country – Ely.  I was amused by the title, and when I asked which was the smallest, my cousin looked at me like with an oh!?  expression and could offer no details.

Greenwich was quaint and romantic, with pubs with names like The King’s Arms  and streets and houses that looked so much like the Britain in my head that it made cars looked completely incongruous in the setting! I’d not have been surprised to find stagecoaches and inns with stables for horses to rest in between journeys!

It’s exhilarating to see so much of what you’d imagined  and have it all come alive before you!Cambridge, London, Wales… I took in as much of it all as I could in the short time I was there.

If you’re like me, the UK will make you feel like you’re revisiting an old memory. You’ll look around for the familiar, and though you’ve only read about them in books, you’ll find it there, unchanged and perpetual, just like a fairy-tale!

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Of Forgotten Moments Revisited

I’ve been a bit under the weather, and have a slight fever running even now. I guess it must be the weather, Dubai being  it’s sand-stormy best, whirling all the sand in the desert into small typhoons and finally settling it all around my house, which of course gets my allergies going! So I’m a red-nosed, sore-throated, cranky person who wants nothing but hot soup and sleep to numb my senses!

During my 2 year stay in Delhi, whenever I fell ill, there was this little north-eastern place that I used to go that was just down the road from my house, and have their soup.  It was a tiny little place, big enough for two tables, no more. But the food was delicious and cheap, and this soup in particular, worked wonders on an ailing soul!

It was unlike any other soup I’ve had before or since! It was thick with dollops of chicken and fat hakka noodles, along with a myriad of roughly chopped veggies – carrots, onions, garlic, mushrooms and velvety bamboo-shoot, floating merrily in the thick broth. It was spicy and loaded with flavour and was perfect for cold winter evenings and of course, for when you were sick! It’d warm you up from your toes to the tip of your nose and make you feel cosy and rested. All that was left for you to do was sleep and you’d wake up feeling rested and refreshed!

Living in Delhi was one of the best decisions I ever made and it’s one of my favourite places in the world! You can come up with all the reasons for why one should dislike the place, and I’ll agree with you as well, but I will still love the place for the memories I have of it and the experiences I had there!

I remember towards the end, I was walking down the road with my friend, commenting on how soon 2 years had just flown by and how I’ve so much left to do and see.  ” I haven’t even seen the Taj Mahal for heaven’s sake! And it’s just a train-ride away!” My friend turned to me and said “let’s go then!”  I stopped for a beat, we both looked at each other while sizing up each other’s crazy-eyes, nodded and took off!

I rushed home, brimming with excitement, packed a toothbrush and a change of clothes into an overnight bag and ran down, ready in 10 mins! It was too late to catch a train, so we took the bus.  I remember the bus stopped mid-way for lunch at a dhaba. We had the kadai chicken and tandoori roti and drank sweet lassi! We bought a couple of bottles of water for the remainder of our journey as we were told the water in Agra is worse than in Delhi.

My memory of this little sojourn is sketchy, it was in 2005! But what little I remember is wonderful!  We got to the Taj Mahal around sunset and the place was just magical. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen of the place or how jaded you are by the miniatures of Taj Mahal you see everywhere, the real one will just take your breath away!

It was quiet, though the place still had large groups of tourists being taken around by the guides. I think the sunset accentuated the magic of the place.  It was all so beautiful and peaceful! Standing there, looking at the Yamuna flowing by serenely, you feel this sense of wonder at the magnificence of the place and the amount of effort it must have taken to build this memento to a man’s love for a woman, one that seemingly blinded him to everything else ( how could he have ordered the artisans’ fingers be cut off?! How can one love so much and still be so heartless?!)

The thing about Delhi is, it’s got so many of these old monuments just along the road from you that you tend to take most of them for granted after a while.  My favourite was the Qutub Minar.  But I’ve only been there once. For some reason, I found the place very romantic, but I never went there again cos, you know… I can go there anytime! But I didn’t!

I had the same experience with Old Fort, I went there once on a sunny winter’s day, roamed around, went on one of those cheesy looking boats (which was a lot of fun!), and just walked around, marveling at the place! It felt so old! You can almost believe that you’d been transported back in time as you walk around, feeling the rough walls beneath your fingers, still warm from the sun’s rays but cooling now,  readying itself for another night in eternity.

Even now, the beginning of summer brings with it an air that reminds me so much of Delhi!  Of early morning jogs around the park where people did yoga with the sun rising behind them.  Of breakfasting out in the balcony on kesar-flavoured milk and egg burji with toast. Of bike-rides on cold nights and mango-milkshakes on hot summer days.  Of friendships made for life, of romance and heart-break.

I keep going back there to recapture these memories. And every time I go back, I find myself with a whole new list of things to love about the place, new memories, new experiences, new things to eat! ;o)

Ah! I could write a book about Delhi! Maybe, one of these days, I will. :o)