Monday, April 30, 2012

Skanky Money

Something you learn very quickly on arriving in India is not to accept dirty, stained or ripped rupees, because once you have them, they are virtually impossible to get rid of. I have never come across a country that is so obsessed with crisp clean money and such a disdain for dirty bills.

It seems that the people of India believe that the value of cash is multidimensional; you have to take into account the number written on the bill as well as the condition… sometimes a rumpled old 20 rupee note is not actually worth 20 rupees when you consider the trouble to get rid of it.

I have become pretty good at scanning the cash that is handed to me and rejecting any of questionable quality, but Ray, not so much. And this means, that most of the time, it becomes my job to get these dirty buggers back into circulation.
So how do you get rid of them-
  • Invest in a roll of invisible scotch tape… it will pay for itself.
  • Repeat the karma and palm it off on someone else...à la Chicago bank roll- hidden amongst clean notes
  • Give it to someone who wants your money no matter how dodgy the condition. I find this works well in cafes after you have eaten and you insist.. 'this is the only money I have'.
  • Hand it over at a toll plaza or a parking garage and sit there until they open the boom gate; it doesn't take long before the people behind you are going off their na-na forcing acceptance.

Interestingly, I heard about an enterprising man sitting in a marketplace with a pile of dirty bills and a pile of crisp clean notes. He was changing old ripped and dirty currency for new clean notes and charging people for the service…entrepreneurial indeed. On average he would give people 70% of the notes face value.

Here is a thought… in a culture dense with social hierarchy, where rank is pervasive; I wonder if those of a higher rank can use their position to palm off their undesirable notes to those of lesser social stature.

Now, the official position of the Indian government is that money is money and that you should be able to trade your damaged notes at any bank, however, in reality, this is not the case. I have heard of people receiving dodgy notes from ATMs and upon taking them inside the branch they are refused an exchange as the ATM is serviced by another branch on the other side of the city.

It must be entertaining watching Indians traveling abroad refusing to accept damaged notes of other countries. I can just imagine the confusion of the other party.
Yes, the clean rupees fetish is just that; it is not a clean US dollar or Australian dollar fetish. In Australia damaged notes, where large chunks of the note are missing, are handed from person to person without incident until they find themselves at a bank and are removed from circulation.

Oh, and if you want to know where all the crisp new rupee notes come from, it seems to be from the ATM at the American embassy ;)

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Madhuri from the TV show Outsourced... worth a watch

The other day I got to see what it is really like on the inside of an infamous Indian call centre. I was expecting some crazy loud place with all sorts of hoohaa going on and about a million people working there. But this was not the case, at least not in this particular call centre. It was a small, quiet place with about 30 cubicles sparsely furnished with just a computer and a phone on the desks and no pictures on the bland walls.

As it turned out, the reason I thought I was there was not the real reason I was there for at all. It all started when a linguistics company put out a call for Australians in Delhi to take part in a training session teaching Indian call centre workers to understand the Australian vernacular. They were to send a taxi to pick me up and drop me home and would pay me a reasonable amount for my time. So I thought, why not.

So I rock up to the building that housed the call centre and I go through some crazy security. All phones, iPods, cameras and memory sticks have to be locked in a locker and bags are left in the security office… I guess they don't want me nicking the data from all their calls to Australian households at dinner time.

So I meet the person I am to be working with and I am given my 'script'. Basically it is one of those typical questionnaires they run through over the phone when you are actually doing a survey, the only difference is my survey had all the answers filled in. At this point I am thinking something fishy is going on. I am given a run through of all the questions, the set answers and how to answer questions that require more than a yes or a no answer. Finally, I am told to be myself and answer the questions as any Australian would...Okay.

I am then taken to a small room outside the call centre and handed a mobile phone. A man is with me to supervise my 'performance'.
The phone rings and I answer it. I feel like I am back in Australia receiving a typical survey call from an Indian call centre. The person on the other end says his spiel, including the line 'this call may be recorded for training purposes' by now I know I am not here to educate call centre workers in the understanding of the Australian vernacular.
So, the survey is underway and I spend about half an hour answering the questions, as instructed, getting the occasional thumbs up from my supervisor. By the time the survey is over I have a few possibilities forming in my head as to why they need me to do this… all are dodgy-
Recreating lost recordings
Making up data
Skewing data to suit a purpose
Or, were they not able to get anyone to answer such a long-winded boring survey so they had to make it up?

Frankly, I though it best not to ask any questions; firstly because of all the security and secondly because I wouldn't mind being invited back… not because I want to be involved in dodgy dealings, just because I am intrigued and I could do with the cash.

I have so many thoughts and questions but I doubt any will be answered…
I wonder how many other Australians in Delhi have participated.
I imagine I am getting paid more for my 1 hour of work than the call centre workers are paid for 2 or more days. Is it really worth it for them to pay me a relatively large sum for a half hour recording?
I wonder what the Australian company that commissioned the survey would think if they knew? Do they know? Does this happen all the time?

A few hours later, back at home, I get a call. They left off one of the questions from the survey off the script, could they record it now? Sure. They tell me what to answer and ask me the question. I answer and they hang-up.

Well okay then

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First world problems Vs Third world problems

I was stretching before my run around Lodi Gardens yesterday morning and I said to my friend that I was sick of my running playlist on my iPod. And my friend says… ahh, first world problem, my latest is not being able to open the sauce packets at McDonald's.

So this got me thinking about some of my first world problems and how ridiculous they are… lets put it into perspective.

Wondering if I am going to have the stamina to do my 6k run in 35 (95) degree heat.

Cycle rickshaw rider wondering if he will have the stamina to ride people around all day in 35 degree heat so he can feed is family.

Feeling exhausted after an hour driving through hideous Delhi traffic in my big air-conditioned car, avoiding all manner of obstacles including, cars, pedestrians and cows.

Feeling exhausted after begging all day in Delhi traffic while trying to avoid being hit by cars.

Calling Subway to get dinner home delivered only to be told they had no delivery boys today and I will have to pick it up.

Wondering if there will be any food for dinner.

Having no clean cups in the kitchen because it's the maids day off.

Being a 13-year-old enslaved maid locked in an apartment for two weeks while the employers are overseas on holiday. Please read this link and sign the petition.

It looked like rain so I had to race home to bring the washing in.

It rained and all worldly possessions are saturated

Went shopping at an outlet store but had to leave earlier than I would have liked because I was hungry and couldn't concentrate.

The Indian subcontinent has nearly half the worlds starving people.

Thinking that traveling across Delhi to earn $30 for 2 hours work is not worth my time.

Earning $30 a month for 2 hours of work/per day

And now I am lost for words... something to think about.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hanging with an elephant

Elephants would have to be one of my favourite animals. Their sheer size and unusual features make them something special. Living in Delhi I probably spot an elephant in traffic maybe once every two or three weeks and I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing these amazing beasts. So when friends of ours, that live in our neighbourhood, said they were hiring an elephant for their daughters birthday I jumped at the opportunity to go and hangout with it and of course go for a ride.

The elephants name was Rupa and she was 45 years old. She was such a beautiful creature all painted up with blue and yellow chalk designs. She seemed like such a gentle giant but I was well aware that elephants can go on a rampage after the slightest startle.
It's funny the things you notice when you can get up close and feel their rough skin. I was standing next to her for a photo, she was crouched down on the ground and it was a little disconcerting feeling this huge rough ear flap against my back.
We fed her peanuts; first we had to hold up the peanuts so she could see them, then she would hold her trunk in a way that we could drop them in and then she would then toss them into her mouth.
She drank a couple of buckets of water, draining half a bucket with one slurp and the squirting it into her mouth.
Climbing up onto her back for a ride was no easy feat. You had to stand on her bent leg and pull yourself up. When she stood up the lurch was a little scary as you leaned so far back all you could see was sky. Her gait was slow and lumbering and would not be a form of transport that would be enjoyable over long distances.
To get down you climbed onto her neck and kind of slid off feeling her spiky hairs and scaly skin chaffing your legs on the way down. 

It was interesting learning about the lives of the Delhi elephants from her mahout (elephant handler). The elephants of Delhi live down by the Yamuna river; it took Rupa about 2 hours to walk to our neighbourhood (15 minute drive sans traffic). Sadly the Yamuna is horrifically polluted so the living conditions for the elephants is less than ideal.
Apparently an elephant calf costs between $46,000 and $110,000 depending on the tusk size, the health and gender of the calf. Good thing their working life is a good 50 years. Elephants can live up to 80 years and cost bout $400 a month in food and maintenance. It takes about 2 years to train an elephant for service at parties, weddings and other ceremonies. They are taught to lift their trunks on command, make noises, stand and sit and not to spray water on their back while they have their ornate fabric saddle on.

A few pics...
Check out the texture of her skin
Hunter and friends
In keeping with the theme of this post I had to add this pic of my fave Delhi street sign

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sky Rats

Bordering my neighbourhood is a large flyover which straddles a train line. The crest of this flyover is covered with thousands of pigeons. In my mind pigeons equal pigeon poop, stray grimy feathers and mess… gross. Quite often when I am driving over the flyover I will see cars pulled over by the side of the road and the occupants will be spreading out grain or old chapatis for the pigeons. Sometimes I see people washing out the festy* water bowls and leaving fresh water for the pigeons… why? I don't get it. It's not like they are colourful pretty birds; they are ugly grey sky rats. On occasion I have been riding my scooter toward the crest of the flyover and all of a sudden all the pigeons take off and swoop across the road, turn sharply swoop the other way and then come back to land. It freaks the living daylights out of me.

Def Col/Jangpura flyover

On the way to Hunter's school there is a T intersection with a small traffic island. This is another spot that people seem to be compelled to feed pigeons. Sometimes the occasional goat or chicken trying to get in on the grain action as well, but mostly it's just pigeons. On the days I pick-up Hunter from school in a cycle rickshaw she just about has a panic attack when we round that corner of birds. I don't know where her irrational fear of birds came from.

So why do people around here insist on feeding these sky rodents… well I did a bit of research.

Apparently pigeons have religious significance in quite a few religions; two of which are Islam and Sikhism. Now my area has a rather large population of both Sikhs and Muslims so that equals a double whammy of pigeon feeding.

In Islam, doves and the pigeon family in general are respected and favoured because they are believed to have assisted the final prophet of Islam, Muhammad, in distracting his enemies outside the cave of Thaw'r in the great Hijra. This seems to have lead to a few folk tales and superstitions... Apparently there was a man who was very poor, he could not afford anything. But despite his poverty he would feed hungry birds, with scraps of left over food. In return the birds prayed to Allah over and over again so that the man would become richer and luckier. Allah heard the birds prayers and slowly the man became richer and richer with much luck.

Another superstition I came across is that if a woman is having trouble bearing a child, she should eat 7 or 11 grains that are still in chaff from the ground where pigeons feed in Makkah… ewww

In Old Delhi there is a sport played called Kabooter Bazi. In the late afternoon Kabooter Bazi players head up to their rooftops and give signals for their groups of pigeons to fly around in packs. They then throw seed in the air and the pigeons circle back to eat a few and then resume circling. The pigeons know which rooftop is there home and promptly return to their rooftop when seed is thrown. The aim of the game is to get other pigeons to join your pack, increasing the size of your pack and basically gaining ownership of the pigeons. You could basically say it's winner takes all gambling with pigeons. Apparently you can buy pigeons to train up to play and good pigeons can be ridiculously expensive.

So there you have it… I learned something new today.

*festy- Australian word related to the word fester.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The day everything stopped.

On Saturday night we had planned to have a few friends around for homemade pasta (yes, we make the fettuccine from scratch) and pina coladas. However, our cocktail plan was changed at the last minute; there were to be elections in Delhi on Sunday which means Saturday was a dry day… go figure. So no Pina Coladas for us, instead we had to make do with the beer we had in the fridge…blah. We had a fun night, great food, great company and great fun competing with SingStar.

Sunday was hideously boring as nothing was open due to the elections, so we stayed home all afternoon and ate, read, watched TV and blogged.

On Monday I noticed something; just about every person I came across had a black permanent marker line down their thumb nail. Apparently this is how you are checked off when you vote. I guess this stops people from voting more than once. I somehow don't think this would work in the posh areas of Sydney, too many women would be cranky about having their manicures ruined.

So it's a couple of days later and those black lines are not washing off. It's going to be interesting to see how long they last.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Woodstock School

Last night we were invited to a dinner to meet the new principal of Woodstock School, Dr Long. Sam had spoken quite highly of Dr Long and how personable he is so we decided to go along.
The dinner was hosted by a family in Delhi who had a long history with the school. So we rocked up to the address and it turns out the house was about the largest single dwelling we have ever been in. To put things in perspective our 2 bedroom apartment would fit into the living room twice. The room 18 foot ceilings with huge windows and opulent furniture. Against two of the walls were display cabinets housing about a hundred Lladro porcelain figures. So you get the picture.
There were about 40 people in attendance and it was nice to meet some other Woodstock families from Delhi. I am probably going to catch up with a Japanese woman I met who has 3 children attending Woodstock.

Dr Long and his wife were very easygoing and very diplomatic, a skill that is particularly necessary when it comes to cross cultural relations in India. Dr Long made a short speech which reminded me of how fortunate Sam is to have this opportunity to go to such an amazing school in such a fabulous location… good thing he loves it.
Living in Australia we never would have considered shipping our kids off to boarding school but sending Sam to Woodstock is probably one of the best decisions we have ever made… or I should say Sam has ever made. It is unbelievable to see how far he has come in such a short time in terms of his academic progress. And the opportunity to live in such an incredible environment and to interact with so many different cultures is priceless. It may take a little while to sort out his accent when he is done but it will be worth it :)
I would encourage all families to think about giving their kids the opportunity to complete some of their education in a foreign environment, even if it is just a semester as part of an exchange program, as it will absolutely be a defining time in their life.

Woodstock School, Mussoorie, India

Articles and blogs featuring Woodstock School

Woodstock School- Asian Correspondent

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gandhi Smriti

Yesterday was exceedingly dull, so rather than follow up with another day full of non-events I decided to be a tourist for a few hours and take myself on a visit of Gandhi Smriti aka Birla House or the place where Gandhi lived his last 144 days and was assassinated.

I had been to visit the National Gandhi Museum in Rajghat previously, which was fairly comprehensive, so visiting Gandhi Smriti was not high on my to do list. But seeing as it is listed in the top 10 things to do in Delhi I thought I would make the effort.

Before I left home I did a bit of research about opening hours, cost and the like. I found that the official website for Gandhi Smriti was about one of the worst and strangest websites I have come across. Frankly, there was not much information about the place anywhere on the web, not even tips on how to get there. So on an unseasonably cool day armed with very little information I made my visit.

Outside Gandhi Smriti there were the usual sellers of touristy trinkets whom were surprisingly un-pushy… refreshing. There was not an entrance fee but you are obliged to sign the guest book.
Upon entry I first took my time exploring the gardens. The grounds are quite extensive with various statues, sculptures, a huge Peace Gong and a ubiquitous broken fountain. From the side of the house you can trace the path of Gandhi's last steps up to the elevated lawn where he was assassinated. The spot is now marked with a Martyr's column.

Inside Birla House I was ushered upstairs to visit the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum. I have to say I was impressed. I was not expecting such a professional set up. Each visitor is given a well dressed complementary guide so show them around the museum and to explain each of the installations. Each installation is a mix between art, history and multimedia display. Most displays are quite intriguing and creative. Well worth a visit.

Downstairs the hallways of Birla House are lined with boards depicting various times of Gandhi's life, his death and his philosophies. It would take all day to read every board of information and frankly I am not that much of a history buff.
At the end of one of the hallways is Gandhi's bedroom with its simple furnishings. The room also houses a display cabinet of his worldly possessions, comprising of his glasses, eating utensils, other bits and pieces and a fob watch. I doubt the watch was his actual watch, which stopped at the time of his death, as the face appeared to be a photocopy. These same earthly possessions are found in the National Gandhi Museum. I am guessing the ones here are a representation?

'Scuse the crappy iPhone pic

Other things to do at the museum include watching the twice daily screening of the Life of Gandhi movie as well as taking in the interesting display of dioramas of key events in Gandhi's life.

Meeting the King of England... loving the Queen's hair

The thing that struck me about this place was how quiet and peaceful it is compared to so many other Delhi tourist destinations. I would definitely add it to your to do list.


Getting There

I ended up driving. There is MCD parking on Tees January Lane next to the Claridges Hotel. If you are taking public transport the nearest station is Race Course and it is about a half kilometre walk.


Opening Hours

Tuesday to Sunday 9.30-5.30 (closed Monday)
The Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum is open 10am- 1.30pm and 2pm-5pm. Closed Mondays and the 2nd Saturday of the month.




Thursday, April 12, 2012


Well, today was fairly mundane. I have been looking for inspiration as to what to write all day. So far… nothing. Here is my day.

  • Took Hunter to school
  • Went for a run in Lodi Gardens - not sure how much longer that will last, it's getting hot
  • Ray dropped me at the market on his way to a meeting - getting used to riding side-saddle on the back of the scooter
  • Cleaned up the house it was a mess after the dust storm the other night - you would think I had left all the doors and windows open during the storm
  • Trawled the internet and caught up on the news
  • Picked up Hunter from school
  • Made banana ice-cream by blending frozen bananas with milk
  • Tried to find a CrossFit gym in Delhi that isn't a million miles away
  • Went through Hunter's wardrobe and got together a big bag of clothes to donate to the ashram
  • Put up a wall decal on Hunter's bedroom wall
  • Made Pina colada ice blocks - my current obsession
  • Went to dinner with friends at one of my fave Indian Restaurants - Colonel Kababz at Defense Colony

A very ordinary day… I think I might play tourist tomorrow and go check out Gandhi's house

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Turn off your high-beams... grrr

Heads up! This is going to be a rant. All efforts to be diplomatic are out the window and as for the gross generalisation, tough luck… here we go!

Dear Drivers of Delhi,

Why do you insist on driving around with your high-beams on? Where does this come from? Are you selfish, do you have a herd mentality, or are you just plain clueless?

Seriously, is it not obvious to you that when people approach you from the opposite direction with high-beams blaring that you are temporarily blinded? Does it not occur to you that this might be dangerous? It does not need to be law, it is common sense… Just in case you needed clarification here is the law...

Under Rule 112.4 (a) of Delhi Motor Vehicles Act, "Driver of a motor vehicle shall at all times, when the lights of the vehicle are in use, so manipulate them that danger or undue convenience is not caused to any person by dazzle.

Also, here is the results of a survey, further highlighting how dangerous cruising around with your high-beams permanently on is… 'the main cause of road accidents are human error, use of high beam and drink driving'.
In my opinion the last two equal plain stupidity.
Now for the the generalisation… I have never come across a city of people that is so oblivious to how their actions might affect those around them. Where does this come from? I don't understand.

I just had to get that off my chest

Any abuse, name calling or clarification is welcome. I don't pretend this post won't raise a few hackles.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kingdom of Dreams

I played tourist the other night with some friends and went and checked out Kingdom of Dreams. I was not quite sure what to expect as the website is not that clear as to what it is all about… even after visiting I am still a bit confused about the whole place.
The best comparison I can come up with is a cross between Disneyland and Las Vegas without the rides and the gambling. 

First impression, wow… feast for the eyes; lots of lights, colour and impressive sculptures. Welcoming guests are street performers including a scary looking god, a stilt waker and a monkey that likes to scare people…beware!
After taking in the splendour of the buildings we headed into Culture Gully. Now I am a little confused by the name of this area… When one says 'gully' to me I picture a ravine in a bush setting worn away by water. Needless to say that is not what Culture Gully is. I think what it is meant to be is 'gall' which is an Urdu word for an alleyway in a city, which would make far more sense. Basically Culture Gully is a rather impressive indoor street of India complete with sky dome. Along the street there are themed buildings, restaurants and shops representing various states of India. The culture of each state represented has been incredibly well captured, the only thing that makes it unreal is that is is all a bit too perfect. Now had the website been a little more clear we might have allowed a bit more time to hangout in Culture Gully before the 8pm show. You could spend a couple of hours exploring all it has to offer. As we did not have a lot of time we chucked back some Thupka and momos before the show. The food was good but fairly overpriced by Indian standards… foreigners would think it quite reasonable. The food is paid for by prepaying rupees onto a card which you then use at various restaurants. The only criticism with this is that they charge a non refundable 100rs for the card. Similar systems are used in food courts in shopping malls but the card cost of 15Rs is always refunded. So 100Rs not refundable, to me, is quite unreasonable, especially for tourists who are not likely to have the opportunity to use the card more than once.

Culture Gully

At 8pm we went to see the Bollywood show Zangoora. Zangoora is a story about a gypsy prince. It reminded me of a typical Disney story such as Aladdin or Anastasia where you have your good guys, bad guys, the supernatural and romance. If you are a foreigner it is best to pay the 200Rs and get the translation headset (you could share one headset between 2 people) as the dialogue on stage is all in Hindi. The only problem is that most of the time the headset dialogue is ahead of the stage dialogue so at times the actions don't match up with the words and it gets confusing… you get the gist though.
The production itself is highly entertaining, it is completely over the top and often quirky with strange animations and cartoon like backdrops. The costumes are vibrant and colourful and the music just a bit too loud to be comfortable. The production seemed to include an unusually large amount of acrobatic wires at unusual times… all part of the entertainment and definitely worth a visit.
The productions sell out several days in advance with the cheaper seats selling out first. If you are on a budget (or even if you are not) I would recommend going for the cheapest seats as there are no bad seats.

We did not hang around after the performance as we assumed we had seen it all and it was going to be a long drive home. The next day, in preparation for this review, I revisited the Kingdom of Dreams website to see if it was clearer having visited and I would have to say no it wasn't. It also seems we missed two of the attractions being Showshaa Theatre and the iffa Buzz cafe. Although not a big area Kingdom of Dreams is poorly signposted and it would be very easy to miss attractions. The website does not give any timings, or prices for what goes on in The Showshaa Theatre and I saw no sign of iifa Buzz which is promoted on the website.

So would I go back again… Yes, if I had visiting guests from overseas, I definitely would. It is a very professional and highly entertaining place that showcases Indian culture and the best of Bollywood, which is always highly fascinating to foreigners.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Early morning wake up call by a 5 legged cow

So, my doorbell rang around 7am this morning, I assumed it was the carwash guy wanting the key so he could clean the inside of the car. After a late night and being woken from a deep sleep I decided to ignore it. Good thing I did because I would not have been happy if I had found I was being dragged out of bed to touch the extra leg of a five legged cow. My friend Dave who lives down the street got the same wake-up call but he actually answered the door to the cow and its two handlers who wanted money for the good luck of touching the extra leg.

After a little bit of googling I discovered that five legged cows are not unheard of, it's just one of those things. I could not uncover much about the significance of them, only that they are considered extra holy and it is considered good luck to touch the extra leg… well ok then.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Guide to market shopping in Delhi

I was recently asked to show a friend of a friend around the best markets in Delhi, which I would have done with bells on if I was going to be in the country at the time. There is nothing I love more than sharing the fun of Delhi markets with visiting friends. Seeing as I was unable to be their guide I compiled a list of markets that mostly appeal to foreigners and the best way to get around to visiting them on limited time; then I realised it would make a pretty good blog… so here it is.

Sarojini Nagar Market- Opens 11am ish. Closed Mondays
This market is all about export surplus and sample clothing even though it sells just about everything else. You can pick up lots of great brands here including ASOS, Fleur Wood, O'Neil, Billabong, Tigerlily, Zara etc. The trick is to have a good look at the pieces as there are sometimes flaws… many are easily repairable. In terms of prices you have to negotiate. Just about everything sells between 100-150Rs very occasionally you might have to pay more for say a good quality fully lined dress with lots of detail.
The key is not to act too interested. Pretend you are a little unsure and if there are flaws point them out. If you walk away they will just about always call you back and give it to you at your price.
Other good things here are the 50Rs scarf racks.
Shoes are mostly fixed price which means you might get a small discount of if you are lucky.
There are also a lot of sports stores at Sarojini. The door frame chin up bars are popular with boys.

Finding your way around Sarojini

Ask your auto driver should drop you off at the end near the fruit and veg sellers (Subzi Market). In this area bordering the market there is also a few shops that sell great cushion covers, table cloths and bed covers. On the middle of this strip there is an archway that leads into the main market. This is where the fun begins. You will see the walls covered with clothes. From here the market is an '][' shape. The best places to shop are the areas that look like caves covered with clothing. Not so much the ones that look more shop-like.
There are a few restaurants in the market that are cheap and cheerful.

Next stop Yashwant Place. Around 30Rs by auto from Sarojini
This market is all about leather, jewellery and fur (if you are into that).  I have a couple of favorite shops on the upper level that sell great leather jackets, leather bags and gloves. Sorry I can't be more specific with the shops.
Jackets start at around 2500Rs (rare) up to and over 6000Rs for a trench coat style. Gloves are around 600Rs, less if you buy a few pairs. My favorite guy is at the top of one of the two ramps on the right.
Handbags vary - 500ish for a clutch, 1000ish for a regular size bag and 2000 for something larger or with more detail. You have to find the good stuff amongst it all.
There is also a strip of restaurants here which are ok. Pick anyone they are all much the same. The Thupka is generally good.

If you still have energy head to Dilli Haat about 40Rs via auto from Yashwant.
This market is best at night (closes at 9pm). It is a very organised market that is more touristy. You have to pay a small entry fee. The stalls in this market change every two weeks but really it always feels the same. Lots of scarves, saris, jewellery, art and rugs. As always you have to negotiate.
Although not my favorite market I think it is worth a visit and it is kind of peaceful. It is a favorite with tourists who need a break from the sensory overload.
This market also has great restaurants. One for every state in India. I don't have a particular favorite, though if you like pork go to Nagaland.
Outside the market there are ladies that will try very hard to sell you Henna and Hair wraps. Not a bad place to have some henna done if you are up for it. It is about 20-50Rs for a design on one hand.

Janpath. Closed Sundays
You can get here via metro and walk from Connaught Place. Otherwise auto and I recommend starting at the Tibetan end. Don't bother showing up here before midday.
McDonald's is across the street if you need a clean bathroom and some air-conditionong.
This market starts right next to the Imperial Hotel (which does a great high tea from 3pm) The Tibetan strip sells great nick-naks and cheap jewellery. Prices are a little negotiable. The next block sells Indian clothing, Indian tourist stuff (negotiate hard), and loads of scarf shops (once again negotiate hard).
You will then reach a side street that has lots of street stalls down one side. There is some nice stuff here but prices are inflated. You should get them down to a 1/3 or sometimes less of the starting price.
Back on the main road it is more of the same, you will then reach a section which is more market style that sells clothing, cheap jewellery and sunglasses. Everything is very negotiable although this place does not seem to be as cheap as Sarojini.
Back on Janpath there are more shops selling the same old. About a hundred metres you will be at Connaught Place. If you are hungry on the block to the right there is a Subway.

Connaught Place.
All a bit same old really. Lots of western brands. One good eating place is the International Coffee House on the inner circle. Not really cheap, but they do a great apple pie with cinnamon ice-cream.
Also at Connaught Place is the underground market Palika Bazaar. I would not recommend going to this place except for one really good and cheap leather jacket shop. I think the shop number is 226. There are a few leather shops here but most are rubbish except for the one.
Palika Bazzar has lots of junky stuff , cheap electrical, fake perfumes and Beats headphones. Do not buy a USB stick here… it will not work and there is no such thing as a 250GB USB stick.

From Connaught Place you can take the metro one stop to R.K Ashram Marg and you will be at Pharganj. This is the backpackers hangout. Pharganj is all about hippie Indian style clotting, leather, Indian shoes and sandals as well as jewellery.
There are lots of beggars here… Do not fall for the 'buy my baby milk powder trick' or any of the other tricks. They will sell it back to the chemist at a loss after you are gone.

So that is the best of it.
Bear in mind Indians are masters at reading body language. They can tell if you are just off the plane or if it is your first time visiting a place. They will target you and pretend to be all helpful, try to sell you tours or take you to their shop. Interestingly I was in a shop in Pharganj with a visiting friend and the shopkeeper said to me 'you live here but your friend is new here' and it wasn't because I had been in the shop before.
I have never had people come up to me in Connaught Place and try and befriend me except for the very first time I was there. I don't know how they spot the newbie.
I think the key is to not look around as though you are trying to see where you are. You have to act like you know the place which means eyes exactly where you are going.

Have fun… I hope you find some bargains :)

Monday, April 2, 2012

How many Indians does it take to change a lightbulb?

I am quite sure that in India it takes longer to get things repaired and things break down more frequently than they do back home. Here is a list of things that have broken and needed repair in just the last three months. Oh and by the way, if anything in the apartment you are renting breaks or stops working for any reason it is your responsibility to pay for repairs, not the landlords (message to Indian's reading this, this is not the case in Australia)
  • Hot water heater sprung a leak- not repaired…too hot to use hot water anyway.
  • Intercom/buzzer- 3 months (this one is when we found out we had to pay for repairs not the landlord)
  • Power point in lounge room stopped working- called electrician, would not repair?
  • Power point in kitchen stopped working- same story
  • Power point in Hunter's room stopped working- partially repaired after a few weeks, now one switch operates two power-points?
  • Fuse blown half the power in the house went out- 18 hours
  • Multiple handles in the kitchen snapped off in my hand on opening cupboards- not repaired- same thing in two of the bedrooms
  • Flat tyre- 24 hours
  • No water coming out of the taps- apparently due to an air bubble? 24hours
  • Aquagurad water filter service- 1 week and four phone calls service man came and washed filters, now not working like it used to, called again no one showed up.
  • Internet connection being temperamental- multiple phone calls… about a month
  • Refrigerator not cold- Spent all day Saturday calling the service number. Out of the 15 calls I made 14 were busy, one time I got a recorded message that said press '2' for english, so I did and then everything was in hindi, so I thought I will hang up and try again pressing another number, but for the rest of the day the number was busy…grr.
  • Multiple tube lights- have not even bothered
  • Blocked waste drain in the bathroom- tried Draino, need to call a plumber, couldn't be bothered.
  • Ceiling fan in the bathroom- Electrician came, said it was broken and then left???
  • Hot water system had sparks between the pipes- Electrician came, shoved a piece of plastic between the two pipes and charged me $1.
  • Hot water tap gives electric shocks- Electrician came, repaired, no change.
  • Toilet would not stop flushing- repaired four times in four weeks... I think the last time it was fixed properly... at least the plumber is prompt.

Now I am sure if there was not the language barrier and the cultural differences and perhaps if I was a little more motivated things could be sorted a lot quicker and better, but frankly it's easier to just go with the flow.

Vino the Sexy Scooter

Most people who visit India or even those who haven't understand that the roads here are pretty crazy but once you have been driving on them for a few months it all seems rather normal, in fact after three years I find it as normal as Sydney streets. This means I have to be careful to make sure when I am back in Sydney I switch back from my Delhi driving style to Sydney style. Fortunately I am not a big horn user in Delhi, unlike most people.. don't get me wrong, I use it at least once per journey but I seem to be able to transition back into not using it when in Sydney. The thing I have to focus on when returning to Sydney is the roundabouts. In Sydney the rule is give way to your right or to traffic already in the roundabout, if I did this in Delhi I would never actually get into the roundabout. In Delhi if you see a small gap go for it… in fact forget looking for a gap just close your eyes and go!

The other thing about Delhi drivers is they never look in side mirrors or check blind-spots. In Delhi all that matters is what is going on in front of you. In fact most cars have had their side mirrors knocked off… probably because they didn't check their blind-spot.

Now Delhi roads are dead flat aside from the occasional rise leading onto a flyover. This means there are 20million people in Delhi who cannot hill start. Should you find yourself in an underground carpark never stop behind someone on a ramp… they will roll back into you. What  makes for even scarier driving is when Delhiites escape the summer heat and drive up to the mountains…words cannot convey.
Our car was the victim of a Delhi driver in the mountains. Last October Ray was supposed to drive Sam and his school friends back to Woodstock School in Mussoorie after quarter break but he was sick with chickungunya. So we arranged for one of the ashram drivers to drive them back in our car. In short he could not get the car up the mountain, so the driver resorted to paying a local driver to get the kids up the mountain but it was too late, the clutch and gearbox was destroyed. 
Back in Delhi we found ourselves without a car. For a few weeks we relied on the metro and rickshaws but we missed the convenience of our own transport so we hired a scooter from Uride. Now one would think that if driving a car in Delhi is often dangerous then a scooter must be 100x worse… not the case. In Delhi people are aware of bikes, in Syndey they are not. In Delhi the traffic rarely moves faster than 40km/hour, in Sydney it's much faster. So even with my healthy fear of gravel rash I feel much safer riding in Delhi than in Sydney. I wish I had a photo of three of us and a guitar on the scooter as proof that we have completely assimilated into Delhi life.

In February we got our car back but we missed the scooter. So when I came across an advertisement for a purple second-hand scooter for sale for $150 I was on it. We bought 'Vino the sexy scooter' (original owners description) from an Australian who was moving back to Sydney… a sign?… I think so.
Vino has taken a little getting used to. It's a manual with the gears on the left handle and it has a kick-start which I can only do when it is on its stand. So when I have stalled in traffic or outside Hunter's school I have to ask a friendly passerby to kick-start it for me :) good times.

Here is a photo of Vino