The wing tip creates a brilliant contrast as the bright crimson colors of the Union Jack bob gently through the clouds. Then, in an instant, the white barriers are gone and we are descending rapidly towards the sprawling city of New Delhi.
This was the start of a two-week trip throughout Northern India accompanied by Compass India Inc., a luxury touring company specializing in unique and highly detailed tour packages. As I waited for the Compass representative to collect me from the airport, I prepared myself for what has been referred to as the scent of heaven and hell combined. As soon as I took my first steps on Indian soil however, I was thoroughly surprised. Not only was the air scent free, but the weather was warm and balmy, with a light breeze gently floating around.
The ride to the airport provided a brief introduction to the city, as I was thrust straight into Delhi’s famous rush hour. Fortunate to be moving at all, cars in the opposite direction were gridlocked as far as the eye could see. I craned my neck out the window to get a better look at the transportation in this city and was rewarded with a monsoon season advertisement. “Plant a tree this Monsoon season,” it urged, and I couldn’t help but picture the tiny saplings being washed away in the heavy seasonal storms. The noise from the road jerked me back to the present as we wove our way through the highway. From the buses, cars, mopeds, tuk tuks, and a few brave pedestrians, each road created a vibrant slice of city life, always changing and very much alive.
Situated in the south of Delhi, the ride to the Crowne Plaza Hotel seemed to take just under an hour from the airport. My jet lag felt threateningly close to taking over as we pulled up to the hotel. After proceeding through a variety of strict security measures, including checking the hood of each car, and body scanning every guest, I was ushered inside to the reception lounge. A sip of some invigorating rose infused ice tea and I was shown to my room.
Not wanting to waste the few hours left of my first day in India, I took a quick catnap and then headed out for my first taste of Indian cuisine. The city seemed quieter at night, and the streets were virtually empty, a nice change of pace from the frenzied traffic just a few hours ago. I arrived to the Mantra Amaltas Hotel and Restaurant and was shown to a private outdoor dining terrace. The few dining tables were ringed by lush tropical plants and the sky was spread out before me, providing the perfect opportunity to enjoy a pre-dinner heat lightning show. As the bolts lit up in the air, I dug into my meal of piping hot naan bread, dall makhani, and buttery chicken. The sauces mixed together and created the perfect blend of sweet and savory, with just a touch of spice. Ending with the decadently sweet gulab jamun, a warm cheese bun with a side of vanilla ice cream, I headed back to my hotel room, full and happy.
As I crawled into bed and gazed out my window at the panoramic cityscape below me, I realized just how lucky I was to have such a travel fantasy finally become my reality.