Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski is spending three days in New Delhi, India, detailing experiences about his first trip to the country.
DAY 2: My Air India flight arrived at Indira Gandhi International at 4:30 p.m. The international terminal is undergoing renovations, so it took a few detours through construction zones to get to immigration and customs, and then baggage claim.
Ah, here it was, the developing world’s delicious chaos! Finally, the real India.
Alas, it was not be. Mine was one of only two flights that had landed, so the lines, confusion and aggravation were miniscule. There was a bucket of wet cement that I had to avoid while maneuvering around a contractor installing sheet rock. I’ve seen worse at LaGuardia.
Possessions in tow, I headed toward the arrivals hall, bracing myself. I was ready for the mysteries of East to unfold. What I got was a chauffeured, air-conditioned ride in a Mercedes Benz town car to the Taj Mahal Hotel. Not that I’m complaining -- the iced towel and bottled spring water hit the spot.
India sped by alongside on two, three and four wheels. Daredevil bicyclists. Swarms of tricycle rickshaws, motorized and human-propelled. Dusty, lurching municipal buses.
Many of New Delhi’s highways and streets are broken up or half-finished. Along the way, signs and small billboards advertised the India-Africa Summit Forum to convene here April 8 and 9.
India is playing catch-up on the geopolitical and economic fronts with China, looking to secure markets and materials and win friends in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Heard of dollar diplomacy? In India, it’s rupee wrangling.
A half-hour of rickshaw roulette later, my car pulled off of Mansingh Road and into the stately and sumptuous Taj Mahal Hotel, arguably the top hotel in all Delhi, Old and New. I was welcomed -- well, the elegant equivalent of mobbed -- upon arrival by what felt like the entire hotel staff.
I was given the traditional greeting of tilak, a dab of red vermilion paste, between the eyebrows to evoke the “third eye” of the mind and a garland of fragrant jasmine and orchids. Each and every staff member, including the public relations director, the manager, the butler, the porter and the lobby elevator button-pusher (yes, there is one) greeted me perfectly by name, no easy feat given my name’s Polish provenance.
Suspicious, I asked if I was getting special treatment, but was told all guests are made to feel at home. Good answer.
Exhausted and with a busy day of sightseeing ahead of me in the morning, I retired to my Club Suite and opted for room service and an early night. I ordered a hamburger, steamed veggies and a glass of lassi, an Indian yogurt drink. Two tuxedoed butlers cheerfully rearranged my room to convert it into a dining room, and then just as happily converted it back into a bedroom when I had finished eating.
I crawled into bed with visions of rickshaws, jasmine and vermilion dancing in my head.
Kenneth Kiesnoski is Travel Weekly's destinations editor. E-mail him at [email protected].