Chennai is HOME

Packing our bags for a holiday brings in the excitement of seeing new places, meeting old friends and making new ones, experiencing a different culture, sampling new (and exotic) dishes, and shopping for souvenirs. For our trip early this month, the packing experience was a hurried one since I had to work late to keep things in the office running well when I am on leave for the next few days. But that did not dampen the excitement. The trip, though semi-official, was an exciting opportunity for us to see the country’s capital and finally visit the ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river.

The grogginess of the early morning flight was immediately 1substituted with elation upon seeing the swanky new look of the Chennai International Airport. The green-white-saffron decoration, remnants of last month’s Republic Day celebration, added glow to the chic look brought in by the recent renovations. The breakfast of idly/sambar, dosa, and filter kaapi gave us the much needed boost of energy.

Red, hot, spicy … the slogan of the airline we were flying brought us giggles as it sounds like a Thai curry we used to have at our favorite resto, Kaidi Kitchen! Boarding announcement came and we embarked on a trip to New Delhi. The flight was uneventful though one thing struck me — this airline’s flight attendants fall below the usual standard for flight crews. Ok, fine … this may be a budget airline, but does that mean they can wear their hair any way they want to the extent of strands falling on the coffee they serve? Or they can be in saggy-fitting jeans topped with unflattering blouses under an apron that makes them look like a server in a local tea shop? Most of them are under 5.3 feet tall (or short!) and with make-up that gives an Indian bride a run for her money, they all looked like school girls trying to crash a party at a local club. Browsing through the inflight magazine, that seems to have seen better days, my husband showed me the airline’ ad for crew members…the only requirement is a plus-2 certificate! I rest my case.

Landing at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, we were welcomed with a pleasant 14-degrees cool breeze. The airport is nothing spectacular, nothing to complain as people dash to the taxi stand in a rush to reach their destination.  Outside is a different story.  The high level of air pollution is evident as soon atraffics we hit the road. Grease can be felt on the skin. The noise made it difficult to carry out a conversation in open spaces. Thousands of vehicles were vying for their slots on the already congested highway.  An hour later, we reached our hotel. Again, nothing spectacular! For the price we paid, we expected better. But then, it’s just a place to crash after long days of sightseeing and meeting friends, so fine.

The first order of the trip was to get our passports renewed. We headed to the embassy where I learned that its is better not to set any expectations from your own people.  Disappointment is an understatement! We did what we went passthere for, and left. To lift my fallen spirit, hubby decided to take me to the mall where of course I got my bubbly self back as my daughter and I combed every outlet, and did our bit of shopping. The day was capped with a sumptuous dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant, a bit costly but worth every penny.

For our second day at the capital, a friend helped us book a cab to take us on a city tour. After a hearty breakfast of Poha and baked goodies, we headed off to see the sights. First stop was Qutub Minar, a soaring 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. We had fun frolicking around the beautiful structures and edifice that reminded us of those we saw when we were in Aleppo. Next on the itinerary was Humayun’s Tomb. Built in 1565 A.D. nine years after the death of Humayun. Insi3de the walled enclosure are garden squares (chaharbagh) with water channels surrounding the well proportional mausoleum topped by double dome.  Awesome was not even enough to describe this place. We didn’t feel like leaving as there were just thousands of “Instagram” opportunities, according to my daughter.But of course, we had to leave as we had to pay tribute to Gandhiji at Rajghat, and visit the temple built in the shape of a lotus flower and is the last of seven Major Bahai’s temples in the world. The experience was jus4t like visiting Matri Mandir in Auroville but a lot more relaxing. For the next two hours we drove around the city stopping to admire the India Gate, the Parliament house, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the famous Red Fort. Tiring yet satisfying. We headed back to the hotel before being transported again to the city’s biggest mall, DLF Saket Mall for Japanese Ramen and Takoyaki, and more shopping!

We had to get up early on our third day as we have to beat the traffic coming out of the city to join the highway that would take us to Agra. At 11 degrees centigrade, the visibility was almost zero. We had to inch our way till about 8:30 in the morning when the sun finally decided to show up. After three hours, we found ourselves in awe of the Taj Mahal. Nothing could prepare anybody at the grandeur of this jewel of Mughal art in India and one o5f the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. Commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child, the edifice is simply breathtaking. A check on my bucket list and we headed back home, yes…after some shopping at Agra!

The last day was relaxed. We just had an early lunch with my husband’s old colleagues and friends at India International Center before heading to the crowded Delhi (IGIA) airport where we could not even get a place to sit and wait. And then we finally boarded the flight and I found myself looking forward to landing in Chennai. My home, wherein despite the recent political drama that seems to unfold every second day … this place is still the best for me!