The end of a week in Delhi, and I'm ready for the not-so-fresh mountain air of Dharchula. Still, have managed to entertain myself pretty royally in the week since Christina departed. Checked into the old school Central Court Hotel after a few days at the Baldauf House of Mirth (where my friends Scott and Kashmira live; he's bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor). The CCH is a throw-back place off the happening center of New Delhi, Connaught Place. A little run-down, but a pleasant surprise to get what I paid for, for a change. I had a clean room and private bathroom down the hall. The walls were not-quite-sparkling white, but aside from the bus horns in the early morning dawn the nights were peaceful.

At Scott and Kash's joint, I got to share my room with their tailor; not to rat my friends out, but their servant situation is a bit over the top. There's also Scott's driver (and I don't blame him for not wanting to take to the mad Delhi roads), a part-time cook, a nanny and a maid. It's the sort of thing one could get used to, perhaps. It's not bad having someone prepare breakfast and sew curtains, after all, but there are only four Baldaufs, including two beautiful little girls, so the idea that they need five pairs of helping hands... well, you do the math.

Of course, I should be grateful, and I am; Scott shared his stash of Stella Artois, and despite having to deal with the shards of fabric left behind by the tailor, who apparently sees cleaning up after himself a lowly, unworthy task, everybody helped me feel welcome. It's just a different life is all.

I managed to partake in some new experiences in New Delhi, as well. Friends from publishing took me out for lunch at a little joint down south of downtown, where we dined on Kerala-style curried beef -- you got that right. More likely buffalo than cow, but not the sort of thing typically advertised and more than likely to get the proprietor arrested in this Hindu milieu. Unfortunately, the consistency was just a step above spicy shoeleather, but the illicit thrill was (clearly) worth writing home about.

I further expanded my cultural horizons by heading for a performance of Sufi quaali music outside the tomb of Saint Nizamuddin yesterday evening; a group of 10 Muslim men collected money, sitting on the floor before a crowd of about 400 hundred, banging out rhythms on a two-headed drum and singing mystical chants. Very, very cool.

Tonite, am off to the hills for a spell. Did I mention I'm dreading the trip? It starts with an overnight train run, and concludes with 10 hours cramped in a shared jeep chasing mountain curves over valleys running 2,000 feet or more. If I can control my terror, car sickness and bladder, all that will remain is retaining sanity while relentless Bollywood showtunes worm their way into the deepest recesses of my grey matter.

Hopefully, the beauty of the landscape will provide some respite -- word has it, there's even some snow for a change in them thar hills.


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