Q: What do fabulous cocktails, elephants, cobras, cockroaches and the President of Cambodia all have in common?
A: They were all part of my roller-coaster weekend.
It all started on Friday at Smokehouse Grill where Manuel and I went to have dinner with Stephen and Pierre and I immediately dove into the cocktail menu which had so many options it was intoxicating just reading it. We settled for a round of varied drinks, cinnamon mojitos, smoked melon margaritas, wet ginger martinis and I opted for the spicy martini, a mix of guava juice, mint, coriander, house spices and vodka that would be better described as Tabasco in a glass. It was a Bloody Mary without the tomato or celery stick... A few sips of that and my mouth was on fire. I am normally a two drink minimum kind of guy, but this was a one drink maximum kind of combo that is probably best served with a shot of Pepto Bismal.
It was over cocktails that I discovered I have been living a life of ignorant or at least sub-ignorant semi-bliss. Contrary to popular belief, beliefs that I myself held to be true, beef is alive and well and being served in various states of done-ness all over the place. I feel like I have been living under a rock. Not only were the steaks amazing, I have to say they were among the best I have ever had, and with the added bonus of the wasabi sauce, I was one happy gora.
The next day, Manuel and I decided it was time for a bit of pampering... Off we went to Defence Colony Market for haircuts, head massages, face massages and manicures (I threw in a shave for old time's sake) and we emerged looking younger, coifed and moist, with just enough time to change out of our rags and into something glamorous for a dinner party at the Hyatt with a collection of glamorous friends, who for this part of the story shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.
There we were, 6 of us at La Piazza at the Hyatt in New Delhi, having a great time over starters and wine and basically having a great time. After a bit I noticed that the friend sitting to my right had been missing for quite some time. I looked at the plate in front of the empty chair and there it was, a cockroach all cooked and seasoned, sitting on the side of an almost entirely empty bowl of soup. We summoned the manager and the chef, who stood at our table holding the bowl of soup and all he said was that he didn't know what to say. And then, as if that wasn't shocking enough, the restaurant staff in a staggering display of incompetence and complete disregard for what had happened, began to set our table for the main course and when my friend arrived back, he was asked if he would also be eating the main course. Dialogue was exchanged and still the staff did not seem to understand the difference between serving a cold cup of coffee and a bowl of soup with a full cockroach in it. It was not until another member of the party threatened to go table to table and tell everyone what had happened that the manager looked the least bit concerned. Things were escalated to various members of hotel management who all seem to be at a complete loss as to the magnitude of the problem, and finally in frustration we left to go to 360 at the Oberoi, where they know how to treat their guests. We had the manager at the Hyatt arrange a table, and he did not even have the courtesy to even send a complimentary cocktail to my friend or anyone else in our group. Needless to say. letters have been and are being written and we are all waiting to see how they respond to this. I fully intend to push my friend until he notifies every paper and tells every one of what happened. It isn't even the fact of the cockroach that is so upsetting, it is the way they chose to handle (or not handle) the situation.
The next day was to be a lazy day, with the only plans being to meet Stephen, Abdul, Suzy and Pierre at Aqua for the usual Sunday festivities. Manuel wanted to see elephants and while I had actually been plotting and planning to surprise him with one at the house this coming weekend, he wanted to see them last Sunday. I feigned ignorance as to their whereabouts and he reminded me of a full page newspaper article I had detailing where they are kept. A quick phone call to a friend to confirm and we were on our way to Yamuna Pushta, at the middle of the ITO bridge crossing the river and heading toward East Delhi, where we were greeted by a swarm of people offering us elephant rides. They brought one around and up we went and soon we were slowly making our way down the path along the river.
Our Mahout (elephant driver) guided the elephant off the path and down the steep incline to the banks of the river and into the water. The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and I had visions of the elephant, Rajah, taking a trunk full of water and throwing it all over us. Instead, he had other plans and decided to relieve himself there in the river. Well, I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go.
After the elephant ride, it was off to Raj Ghat in old to see the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi. We got there and found the place closed for the visit of the President of Cambodia. They closed the whole park and it's not like he is the president of a major country, the president of a minor country sitting on stockpiles of WMD or even the president of a fan club for a major star like Shakira, he's just your average president throwing around whatever weight he has so that the peeps back home have something to oooh and aaah over.
Next choice and stop was the Red Fort. Manuel has been begging to go almost since he arrived and finally, on Sunday he got his wish. The place was the most crowded I had ever seen and the day had turned amazingly hot. An hour of snapping pics we were walking outside and for the first time since arriving in Delhi I was confronted with a number of snake charmers with cobras poking their hooded heads out of the woven baskets. It was a bit of a surprise as they used to be everywhere when I came to India 10 years, but I had heard that they were banned in Delhi. Manuel was a bit stunned to see a cobra staring at him. It was all very "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
With that, we were off to Aqua to cool down and have some drinks poolside while watching the worst volleyball players we had ever seen try and hit the ball over the net. No offense to and Indians reading this, but you all play pool volleyball like you swim. You make a lot of noise and do a heck of a lot of splashing but don't seem to accomplish anything except getting everyone around you wet and annoyed.