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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Eating in the New Delhi

To be perfectly honest, I was dreading coming to Delhi. After my experiences in the big metros Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai, I really wasn't up for another huge, crowded, smelly, disorganized and filthy fourth-world megopolis. I was coming for an art festival. I would hold my nose. And that would be it.

Well, imagine my surprise to stumble onto what must be India's most pleasant and intriguing metropolis.

I started out in the Tibetan Colony of Manju ka Tilla several kilometers northeast of the city center. It was like a little piece of Dharamsala in the middle of Delhi. Clean, organized, suffused with dhamma, it had a positive feeling all around, and I appreciated the quiet as an introduction back into India. All the hotels were full, as they were having a "Free Tibet" day demonstration (I found a room in the end, but it wasn't easy). It is safe to assume that this is a regular occurrence in those parts, and it was nice to be able to take part in such a good cause.

On that note, I should like to mention at this point that the Dalai Lama has put the occupation of Tibet on the world agenda against a far more formidable enemy, a superpower no less, all through nonviolence. Have you ever heard of a Tibetan insurgent blowing himself up in a Beijing cafe to protest the occupation? Of course not. That would be absurd. And that is my point exactly. Perhaps China is further from making concessions on the Tibet issue than Israel is on the Palestinian one. But don't think for a moment that the question will go away. And it's hard not to have true sympathy for a people that has borne so much hardship with such stoicism and yet maintained, in every way, the moral high ground. If the Palestinians had used such tactics, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they certainly would have had their state long ago.

Getting out and about in Delhi was a bit of a challenge from that lovely enclave, so after a few days, I made the decision to move to the city center, in the form of Connaught Place, or CP, as it is known by the locals. It is somewhat confusing to navigate. There is an outer circle, a middle circle (noticeably dingier, where incidentally I found my room) and an inner circle with more high-end establishments, a park and its own metro station. Yes, Delhi has a metro, and a sparkling clean, modern and efficient one at that.

I spent an evening in Saket, in posh south Delhi. There is an outdoor pedestrian mall, and it is a most pleasant place to spend time on a warm summer night. I later discovered that Delhi has many of such places, and it was at this point that the city began to really endear itself to me. What's more, the residential quarter of Saket very much reminded me of affluent north Tel Aviv, and I must say I felt quite at home there.

Nehru University is also in south Delhi. There are an astonishing number of foreign students there, from every country imaginable. As a matter of fact, Delhi is a delightfully cosmopolitan place, and this is another one of its great charms. As an example, I met a student from Tajikistan who spent, as I did, a year in Indonesia, and speaks fluent Bahasa (as I have discovered I no longer do).

A propos Indonesia, I managed to get myself invited to their embassy for lunch one day. Skye Frontier reckons that Indonesia could be the next travel destination towards the end of the year. It would be a pity not to revive my Bahasa since I now have the opportunity.

The opening night of the Monsoon Festival 2 was held at the British Council, so all in all, I've been power networking, seemingly without any exertion, with a very hip crowd. And there's more to come.

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