Friday, February 16, 2007

Start of a road trip

So after dire miscommunication between a dumb colleague of my mum’s, my mum and my dad, we are cruising along the beautiful Greater Noida expressway, with the Nik in control of the car. Of course we are on the wrong route as we ignore the billboard signs expounding the virtues of the Taj Expressway being built. But the car is going so fast, the road is so smooth, there is nobody honking or anywhere within 200 ft. of us, that we are all loathe to stop and check. The blame game is being played – "You said, she said, No I did not, But I heard", etc. It does not matter that we have to turn around halfway to Greater Noida, half wondering what it would be like. The flying detour has put us off our schedule by an hour but never you mind, soon we are amidst the madness that is Faridabad.

I can already see that this will be an epic journey, five of us cocooned in our very new Chevrolet Aveo, the boom box in the boot providing the vibrating, massage-like beat to the passengers on the back seat. It is the first all-brand new car my parents have ever bought and has been lovingly, proudly, honorarily Delhi-punjabi style been christened ‘Nai Gaddi’ (first name Nai, last name Gaddi, therefore the Capitals). It gleams with newness and the love that my parents shower upon it, like an added late sibling, the baby. We buy some very dirty grapes from a roadside thela and attempt to wash them with our Evian, which turns out to be a huge waste of water, making no impact against the dirt that determinedly clings to them. Passing through Palval we hear how wonderful the teethar of his youth was when dad visited Palval and how we should stop for some. Poor dad is ignored and we bullet on, chattering and listening to some mixed CD that dad calls ‘noise’.

We stop for lunch at Bharat Punjabi Dhaba. It is non-descript, like the tens of other dhaba’s enroute this highway. A faux half wooden fence demarcating a patch of ground that is the floor of the restaurant. The little mud shack that serves as the kitchen. The khatias I remember from my last trip this way in 1997 have been replaced by bright blue plastic chairs and tables, sponsored by Pepsi. The proprietor rattles of the menu and with some canny convincing we seem to have ordered almost the entire list. We tuck into multiple plates of paneer tikka’s, saag paneer, gobhi, sukhe aloo, kali dal and fresh hot roti’s (foods too tasty and numerous to adequately translate below). And we eat like we have never seen food before. I guess long car journey’s can do that, turn us into ravenous monsters.

It is early evening by the time we reach Agra and all of Agra seems to be out on the road to greet us. In cars, trucks and buses, on bikes and cycles, in rickshaws, by foot – the throngs of people jostle for their square inch of the road. Nai Gaddi is carefully maneuvered through gritty single lanes, shrinking back from being touched by sweaty palms as cyclist lean on us to pass through. Much honking and quick-braking later we are on the right track, having taken directions from various traffic policemen, dudes in other cars, people stopped by us at a railroad crossing. We pull into our hotel driveway and suddenly we are in an oasis of calm. All five of us re-adjust bone and muscle alignment as we step out of the car and into the foyer. The Nik gets a pat on the back for his patience and control while driving. I can hear the traffic and the voices of humanity, feel the heaviness of an evening smog settling upon our shoulders but miraculously the road just traveled is removed to the other side of a wall, as if in another time.

I had forgotten how pleasing it is to stay in an Indian five star hotel. The service is exemplary and you certainly get your money’s worth. Our hotel suites are stunningly beautiful, adorned with Mughal inspired art and furnishings worthy of being stolen and transported to my London home. We have a varied bookshelf of coffee table tomes and fiction, which we shall never have a chance to read. The luxury goes on - a dining table and a big screen TV in the living area. Another TV and a chaise lounge strategically placed around our four poster bed. The plush bathroom is the size of our second bedroom at home. In England they would add a single bed to it and market it as a studio apartment. There are small glass bottles of ittr for our use, their strong and heady fragrance escaping into the room as I lift the lid to check what they smell like. Jasmine, rose and frangipani, their scents mingling, relaxing and smoothing out our tired limbs. I lie on the bed and lounge on the huge sofa’s, and marvel at the view. That is without a doubt how this strategically placed room pays for itself. From every point in our rooms we look at what we have come to see. It’s beauty has not dimmed in these 10 years since I saw it, and it sits so majestically and looks so ethereal that it takes my breath away. It is that wonder, the Taj Mahal.

Soon it shall be time for dinner. What wonders shall we eat?

Nai Gaddi: New Car
thela: cart
teethar: partridge
dhaba: roadside eatery, basic
khatias: cots, strung with rope
ittr: frangrance, scent, essence


  1. Anonymous1:09 AM

    wow!!!have not been since 1982!!!hopefully someday...40in2006

  2. dhaaba food....oh man...

  3. Sounds like a fun trip. Taj Mahal, sigh!

  4. Nai Gaddi, new expressways, old dhabas and the Taj all in day work eh ?
    great post.

  5. Believe it or not, I still haven't seen the Taj Mahal. Your post makes me want to. Will be back for more of your unique style.