Travel Notepad – Not so Delhi

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Travel Notepad – Not so Delhi

Six un-Dilli experiences.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Unknown]

In March, 2009, I traveled to six places and did six things which I had never done in Delhi.

No book browsing in Surat
I was in this pretty Gujarati city for three days and did not browse in any bookshop. I had no choice. There is no Khan Market in Surat. A fellow booklover who spent his childhood there told me that he had left the town as soon as he turned 18 because… there were no bookshops. Perhaps he was exaggerating. There are actually two bookstores in Surat but they are, in the words of a friend, good for nothing.

Boat ride on a river
I was on Narmada, near the town of Bharuch in Gujarat, when I sailed on a ramshackle boat. It was being rowed by a fisherman who was said to be ‘half-mad’. I was scared that the fisherman would throw me into the river (I don’t know swimming) but instead I had the time of my life. I have never taken a ride on Delhi’s Yamuna. Now I must.

Going Veg with whiskey
I was alone in a 2-penny hotel room in Ahemadabad, Gujarat, when I was invited by a kind society hostess to her lavishly furnished row house in a richer part of the city. There I had whiskey with vegetarian food. (In Delhi, I always have whiskey with chicken tikka). When it was time for dinner, I was so drunk that I spilled the potato curry on the table. Ten minutes later, I spilled the custard, too. The hostess forgave me.

In the Other India
While driving around the rural regions of north Gujarat, I left the car on the highway, walked deep into the countryside and saw golden-coloured wheat fields milling with handsome farmers wearing elaborately designed turbans. Their’s must be a hard life but to my city eyes, it all looked soft, simple and idealistic. So unlike Delhi.

First time at Pizza Hut
The Taj Mahal in Agra was photogenic but soulless, not even close to its first draft – Delhi’s Humayun Tomb. But that is not the point. Agra is a city where 21st century small-townism lives in the ruins of 17th century cosmopolitanism. There is nothing to do there except to walk around in dead monuments. When that got boring, I whiled away the hours at Pizza Hut. In Delhi, I had never entered inside one.

Dam maro dam
While walking to the Dargah of Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz, I met two kalandar Sufis in an unlit bylane in the old quarter of Ajmer, Rajasthan. Huddled beside an unknown tomb, they were smoking hash. It was midnight. The Sufis invited me in; I joined them. Ecstasy.