Our group leader is Shagzil Khan who in his undergraduate work studied Islamist culture and comparative religions, and now in his spare time is working toward an MBA. He is perfect - articulate, informed, amusing. This morning, at the Jama Masjid - an historical mosque - in Old Delhi (just prior to our hair-raising bicycle rickshaw rides!), Tripadi, a licensed guide, enlightened us about the significance of the architecture of the mosque. At the National Museum Arundati, a young university art history lecturer, guided us through Indian archeology and art from 3500 BC to about 1500 AD.
But there is more to this tour than the educational component.
There was the rickshaw ride through small crowded alleys around the Jama Masjid. These alleys are lined with shops - fabric, food both cooked and not, tiny pharmacies, books, blankets, car parts (so many used car parts shops that Shagzil swears you could buy all the separate parts for a car to assemble at home) - and packed with people, and where you would swear that one rickshaw would not fit through, two plus several bodies squeeze by. The alleys are unevenly paved; occasionally a wheel gets stuck, but quickly gets unstuck as other drivers and pedestrians pitch in to get the rickshaw going again.
By the time we were ready to leave the narrow streets of Old Delhi, our 35-seat tour bus was entirely boxed in by other buses and car and rickshaw traffic. Shagzil had brought the wares of several hawkers into the bus so we could make purchases without being swarmed by other anxious vendors. In exchange those hawkers helped guide the bus out of the tight parking space by stopping traffic and giving our driver hand signals. As Shagzil says, there is a real brotherhood at work in India.
Then there's the food. Oh, the food!
Our lunch at Chor Bizarre, a well-known Delhi restaurant, was truly scrumptious. Pappadams to start, then dal (lentil soup), hot paneer (cheese) and a rolled roti stuffed with minced meat that may be the most delicious food I have ever tasted. These were followed by spinach paneer (cheese in a spinach puree), tandoori chicken, butter chicken, mutton in some unknown but superb sauce, roasted potatoes and rice. The final irresistible morsel was a gulab jamun (deep fried dough balls soaked in a sweet honey sauce - trust me, they're a treat!), but not the light-coloured, room-temperature variety we get in Vancouver. This gulab jamun was dark brown and straight from the stove and lightly drizzled with a honey sauce.
And as if these luscious discoveries weren't enough for one day, this evening we dined on regional specialties served with a very decent Indian shiraz!
How will I ever leave this country of delectable, delightful flavours?
First full day of the tour and proper introductions. We are an accomplished (alphabetical) group: architect, chemical engineer, clinical laboratory manager, cultural anthropologist, economist (me!), engineering consultant, insurance executive, international law professor, physics professor, psychiatrist, two school teachers and more - some of us retired, some not. Many of us have been on previous Road Scholar tours. After today's activities I understand why.