I’m looking out the window at my back yard in Ottawa covered in a dusting of snow, but my mind is still in the bamboo warren of Beldangi camp, and eclectic, cacophonous, exhilarating Delhi. I haven’t posted much on my research in India, will correct that soon, but before too long I wanted to tip my hat to some of the great advice I got along the way.
Toronto writer Mariellen Ward has a lovely and extremely useful blog about travel in India, Breathe, Dream, Go. Her attitude and advice are inspiring, her packing tips for women right on the money, and when I needed more specific advice, she came through by email with speed and grace.
I was sad to read that Mariellen is having trouble sustaining the blog and is at a crossroads, contemplating next steps. It sounds like the same crossroads all of us working in “legacy” (i.e., dead-tree) and digital media are struggling with, and there are no easy answers. What I do know is that Breathe, Dream, Go is a beautiful and valuable resource, well worth supporting.
It was from Mariellen that I heard about a travel guide called Love, Delhi. And I love Love, Delhi. First because the book itself is a work of art, with a simple, delicate design on gorgeous handmade paper. It announces that you are embarking on a journey simply by opening the book. That was half the fun – diving into Love Delhi each night in the weeks leading up to my departure, dreaming of where I would go.
Love Delhi helped me discover the city from the perspective of someone who really, truly loves Delhi (or Mumbai, of Jaipur – there is a whole line of guides). Inside the pages of Love, Delhi you get advice and information that takes you to shops, restaurants and places you might otherwise overlook.
I only wish I’d had more time to explore its recommendations. As it is, I was usually working the phones, or rushing by auto-rickshaw from one interview to the next. Still, I valued the general tips on life in Delhi (a mobile phone is, indeed, essential if you’re trying to get anything done), plus a few of the more specific ones. Her recommendation to have a delicious, hot masala chai at the Rajasthan stand at Dilli Haat market paid off – it was hands-down the best of the trip (I think cinnamon was the key).
I also found a city tour with Delhi Magic through Love, Delhi. It was a wonderful one-on-one tour through parts of Old and New Delhi with Uma, a graduate of local youth-empowerment NGO Manzil (the proceeds of the tour are divided between the guide, Manzil and Delhi Magic).
Uma took me on an adventure by auto-rickshaw, Delhi Metro (efficient, clean – just a dream), bicycle rickshaw and finally on foot through Old Delhi’s markets and places of worship. It gave me a marvellous orientation to the city and a taste of Delhi life in its many different flavours.
Before I left Canada, I looked for a hotel that would be safe, clean, comfortable and have wifi – at less than $125 a night (yes, my days of backpacker slumming it are well and truly behind me, and thankfully so). There were a few promising options on TripAdvisor, and I decided to email one called the Red Maple Homestay (with a name like that, how could a Canadian not check it out?).
Turns out its owners, Harminder and Tejinder Singh, have family connections to Canada, and their son is studying here now. Harminder’s family has long been in the tourism business, and he runs a tour operator company, Apollo Travel. He told me the Red Maple is his “hobby”. Other people collect stamps, Harminder creates a great little hotel.
I couldn’t have asked for more: lovely, spotless rooms, comfy bed, great food on order, convenient neighbourhood, reliable Internet connection. The best part about it, though, was the friendly, welcoming vibe. Harminder, Tejinder and their team – Prakash, Alum and Bikram – took such great care of me that when I returned to Red Maple after a couple of days in Mumbai, I felt like I was coming home.
Now I really am home, and getting back into the rhythm of a daily life that does not involve random firecrackers at midnight, the sound of stuffed parathas sizzling in a pan, or cows ambling down highways and alleys. Time to get down to work and figure out what I learned on the road.