Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
First day in Delhi
The Gold Regency Hotel, tourist agency and monkeys

view from delhi hotel roof
View from the Gold Regency hotel roof
The Gold Regency Hotel is located in New Delhi on a random 12-foot wide side street, which is designed with people, animals, street stalls rickshaws and motorbikes in mind; the car is an afterthought that may be able to fit. One of the benefits of arranging for transport from the airport by the hotel is the guarantee of delivery to the right place. Unlike all the shops on this street, which spill their clothes, foods, shoes, and jewelry out of shallow rooms and onto the potholed and always lively street, the Gold's entranceway, located near the Connaught Place area of New Delhi, is black and recessed into the wall.

Reading the benefits of staying at the hotel, which are painted on the steps up to the lobby, we see instantly that this is the place to come for an Internet connection, for beer and whisky, or to hang out in a nightclub. At the desk we discover that there is no computer lab yet built, we hear only silence from the space designating a nightclub, but at least the beer is served by room service in large and very cold bottles. It is brought to us by a man who either had a fetish for opening bottles of beer, or feels that people really need to be shown how to work a bottle opener.

There is one item missing from the Gold's self-advertising steps; "largest bath tubs in Delhi." Any tourist walking in Delhi during the heat of May feels the dust and smog leeching into every pore. Any streetwalker staying at the Gold will relish the massive stone tubs that fill half the bathroom and have two showerheads that cascade a refreshing blend of cold and warmish water all over any body standing, or sitting on the tub's inbuilt bench of stone. We discover in the morning that the water heater is connected to the strip of light switches that we turned off at night; the heat of the city first thing in the morning, even in an air-conditioned room, removes the need for a hot water shower.

lemons on the hotel roof
Lemons on the Gold Regency public balcony.
Every morning we see old newspapers filled with sliced lemons and limes that are left outside to dry on our public balcony. We don't know why they are there, or why they are gone by evening. We see these drying fruits first-thing in the morning, before eating our perfectly sufficient breakfast created by a chef who hates the idea of any foodstuffs touching one another; an omelet on one side, two patties of potato on the other and perhaps a tomato in between. Toast needs its own plate. On our third day the server suggests that we take a masala omelet instead of the plain. Perhaps they hired a new chef the night before because masala simply a mix of spices and this new omelet requires many spices to touch one another. The omelet is also touching the potato.

The restaurant has two sections and we can't figure out what determines which restaurant will be used in the morning. Both are dimly lit, and the main dining area has the feel of a lovely old train carriage with a dark finish to the wood of the booths. It is brought oddly into our modern age with eight repetitive ads of large wax-paper Pepsi cups next various foodstuffs that would be served in a fast food restaurant. We make the assumption that the "burger and a Pepsi" picture is not that of the sacred cow variety. With a great deal of respect, the staff of the Gold Regency restaurant has framed these posters of ice cubes flying out of huge cups of Pepsi. This is our introduction to the humungous saturation advertising that covers this country and not just as posters; almost every building with an exterior wall surface is painted in the colours of Pepsi's brand in Rajasthan or Kit Kat in North Bengal.

Not only does the Hotel Gold provide us with transport from the airport, they connect us with a travel agency run by their "little brother". In actuality there is no kinship here, businesses in India are successful based only on the connections that are established between people. When a bond is established, competitive relationships with other businesses are not pursued due to respect for the "brother's" business. These business ties extend across generations and create an interesting market system. In Calcutta, for example, if you wish to buy a particular item like tea, or watches, or paper or obscure steel engine parts, there is no need to scour the streets to find a shop. Instead, you walk to the area of the city where there are streets and streets of shops that sell only that one particular item. There are hundreds to choose from and so, if you already have a relationship you need not waste time looking for someone with whom to do business.

We find ourselves drinking chai with Javed, the 'little brother' of the Gold Regency's manager. Javed looks at our preplanned itinerary, train to Agra and Jaipur, flying to Udaipur another to Darjeeling and a final flight to Kolkata and, after telling us that such flights and train reservations are possible, asks just one question, "Why do we not want a driver?" Having read about drivers in guidebooks we know these are commonalities in a country where every foreigner's driving rights awarded in their home country are meaningless here - perhaps because the requirement to have the name of your father on your driver's license is not demanded elsewhere in the world. However, in all the books, few details are given about acquiring drivers.

We do not have a good answer to Javed's question. We recall our romantic thoughts in Brooklyn of navigating the ingenious train system, battling for tickets, battling for seats, and battling with the rickshaw drivers to take us to our hotels where we will haggle for cheaper rates. None of this romance overpowers the suggestion of an air-conditioned car in 40 degree Celsius weather.

Javed assigns Sanju and Raju to us for our time in Delhi…thankfully Sanju is the driver; when Raju drives it is like being in an old and creaky fun fair ride without the fun. The jarring sideways movements and the irritating horn use are a standard with Raju, while a calm and gentle maneuvering of the car silently is Sanju's style. Raju only drove once, just to prove to us he used to be a driver. Now he is technically our guide; an 'unofficial' guide he likes to stress (meaning he doesn't have a guide's license). However, he does have laminated letters of praise he has received from tourists of the past, like an ex-policeman from Florida who described Raju as a 'helpful friend.'

We saw a monkey by the side of the road, which instantly made Julie squeal with delight. Seeing her reaction, Raju suggested a quick trip to a park to feed monkeys. He bought an entire watermelon which we fed to the troup of monkeys waiting for the food. In India, wherever there are monkeys being fed, you'll also see cows or pigs who are there to eat the fruit rinds and the parts the monkeys don't eat. Julie's favorite moment with this first group of monkeys (yes, there will be more!!!), was when one of the younger monkeys jumped on top of a pig and rode him around the park!

Julie feeding monkeys Monkey takes pig for a ride Hungry monkeys

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