Eating our last meal together in the same wonderful Tamil restaurant in Colombo that we visited on one of our first nights (the Renuka City hotel’s Palmyrah), Abbie and I had come full circle. We reminisced about lassies past, watched Notting Hill on her top bunk, and after a tearful goodbye the next day I was alone.
I can’t quite say that I committed to solo travel though: by the following evening I was in Dambulla being spoiled by my uncle and aunt, who were visiting for the Easter holidays with my 9-year-old cousin. During the few days I spent with them, we explored Dambulla’s cave temples and Ritigala’s evocative monastery ruins, built in the ninth century for a group of monks in recognition of their commitment to an austere lifestyle free from the lavish excesses of their peers. But mostly we relaxed by the pool in Geoffrey Bawa’s magnificent jungle-set Kandalama hotel, an architectural gem that blossoms out from the curls of ivy almost unnoticed by the monkey families that bound across its balconies. It was a welcome few days of family and luxury, but don’t worry – I won’t get used to it.
In fact, Delhi is about as far from the leafy tranquility of the Kandalama as one can get. Dust in your eyes, merciless sun on your neck, honking, shouting and a whole lot of people – this was my Indian greeting after a short flight from Colombo. Sri Lanka seemed increasingly like a playground in comparison.
What Delhi does have going for it – aside from a few thousand years’ captivating history of conquests and rebirths – is street food. My boyfriend Winston (who’s joined me after a stint in the Americas) is quite the gastronome and led me on a survey of the street delights of Old Delhi. If you haven’t seen the Food Ranger videos on YouTube, made by a Canadian guy living in Szechuan and travelling Asia to find the best street food, you should check them out; we roughly followed his Old Delhi route and weren’t disappointed. Especially mouthwatering was the butter chicken at Mughlai roadside stop Karim’s.
Seeking refuge from the intensity of central Delhi, we found Hauz Khas, a funky village on the outskirts brimming with artisan clothing stores, retro poster shops and South Indian eateries. Here there is a park with real trees and a real(ish) lake, and we spent a happy afternoon watching the couples that sit close together among the Romeo and Juliet stone pillars of the tomb ruins that fringe the park, and breathing in new oxygen.
Next stop: Udaipur.